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Learn to talk to your baby

Caring for a baby can be frustrating. They need something, so they cry and it's up to the adult to figure out what the baby needs. While it seems like it should be easy to figure out, it's not.

At some point during the process of feeding, changing, playing, rocking and whatever else one can think of the thought will come to mind, "I just wish this baby could just tell me what they want."

According to Dakota County Technical College professor Dawn Braa, starting at about 6 months babies can learn how to communicate their needs through sign language. And while it may seem a little hokey to some, Braa swears it works.

"I've used it as a child care provider, an educator and a parent," Braa said.

This summer Braa will teach a course on how to teach infants and young children sign language. The class is intended for parents, child care providers, early education teachers and anyone else who deals with small children. The course will teach students how to use American Sign Language with young children who haven't yet developed their verbal skills.

"It's empowering babies with the ability to communicate," said Braa.

The ideal age to begin using sign language with babies is about 6 months, but Braa said older children can benefit, too.

Delaney Dunphy took the course last summer and said it has been useful in communicating with her baby. Dunphy is in the child development program at DCTC.

"It's really fun. My daughter signs and can tell me when she's hungry, wants to play and when she's all done," Dunphy said.Shauna Thilmany is working towards an associates degree in Early Childhood education. She took the class as part of her education and to teach her two young children. She said using sign language made it easier connect with her children."It made me realize that there is a solution to some of the frustrations that young children and toddlers go through when learning to speak their needs and wants," Thilmany said.

While Dunphy hasn't gotten to use the skill professionally yet she said will this summer while she completes her internship.

Teaching babies and toddlers sign language has benefits beyond making things easier for the adult and the child. Braa said research has shown kids who learn sign language have higher IQs and less aggression and have an easier time learning foreign languages later on.

Adults can find additional benefits as well. Jeremy Thilmany took the class with his wife to learn to communicate with his two young boys. But he also has found it useful at work."I use it with several co-workers," Thilmany said.

Braa said students in her class will learn more than 200 signs. She teaches signs on all sorts of topics including foods, animals, night time routine and basic needs. Additionally, Braa will include games, songs and nursery rhymes to do with the babies.

A 6-month-old baby won't use all 200 signs, Braa said, so she teaches when it is appropriate to incorporate new signs into a child's vocabulary.

"It's fast paced and hands on, no pun intended," Braa said.

While it can all be a little overwhelming at first, Dunphy said she quickly caught on and that learning to sign wasn't as hard as she had initially thought it would be.

"It was easier than I thought and has been useful," said Dunphy.

Braa has taught the course at DCTC the last few summers. For the first time this summer she will offer a six-week online course. While it is easier to understand the concepts in the classroom, Braa has worked hard to develop an online course that will rival the classroom instruction. To help students, Braa said the online course will include videos of her giving descriptions and showing demonstrations of the signs.

The classroom students will meet twice a week for three weeks starting June 15. Those taking the online class will get six weeks of instruction starting June 8. Braa said the class is popular and usually fills up.

For more information on the baby sign language course at DCTC call 651-423-8315 or visit Braa's blog at