Helping your kids sign on

Tuesday, June 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Mattel's new Sign Language Barbie comes with a chalkboard and hands molded to form an American Sign Language phrase, "I love you." She looks like a great way to teach kids about communicating with the hearing impaired.

But even if your kids aren't into dolls, it can be fun for them to learn sign language with you. Kids like the idea of speaking a "secret" language across a crowded school yard.

And maybe you can relate to it because all those loud concerts might have already taken a toll, and you want to be sure you can still communicate later on.

Besides, it has been fun seeing all those recent great performances by Marlee Matlin on The West Wing, Politically Incorrect and The Practice. (Particularly cool was a silent signed shouting match between The Practice's Camryn Manheim and Ms. Matlin near the end of the season.)

Of course, becoming fluent in any language requires a few years of speaking it in the real world, but there's enough information in print and online to gauge the kids' interest in sign language without a big investment. Here are some places to start.

Log on: Check out the Sign Language Dictionary ( to learn a new sign every day. See how often you can incorporate what you learn into daily conversation.

Read: Parents of infants and their brothers and sisters might like Sign With Your Baby (Northlight Communications, $14.95). It teaches basic signs that can help parents communicate with their babies over the months before they fully develop speech. For example, you can teach your 8-month-old how to tell you when he wants more milk.

Get out: Hook up with The Deaf Action Center's family literacy program. For information on a program that teaches families how to sign together, call 214-521-0407.

The only drawback: Speaking silently makes it a lot easier for the kids to talk about you behind your back.