I woke up this morning realizing that exactly 10 years ago today, I had taught my first baby sign language class at Cambie Community Centre. My daughter was just a year old and I had been creating a curriculum to teach my own baby sign language classes, which would allow me to make my own schedule instead of returning to my previous full-time job designing & teaching kids’ recreation programs.
You should know that I am one of those people who likes to plan, prepare, and practice when I teach. I have shelves full of binders and folders of my teaching notes. For this new venture I had written up everything I was going to say, every sign I was going to teach, every song I was going to sing during the hour-long class, and even some anecdotes to share. I had 11 pages of notes and 10 flashcards. I was ready.
Because it was the middle of July, the temperature outside was soaring, and despite wearing a lightweight summer dress and the room’s air conditioning roaring, I was in a full sweat by the time I’d set up the floor mats for us to sit on. Well, perhaps I was a bit nervous, too! I ducked into the bathroom quickly before class started and spritzed some water on my face, patted at myself with some paper towel. I attempted to remain calm but my heart was racing as I walked back to the class.
Soon, mommies pushing strollers and carrying babies started to amble into the room and I directed them to sit down with me on the mats. There were 14 of us sitting in a circle, nervously chatting about the age of our babies and how hot it was outside, waiting for the instructor to begin. Oh, wait, that’s me!
Two things suddenly occurred to me at that moment: one, that the light-weight summer dress I had carefully chosen to appear polished but casual and approachable, while also to stay cool, was indeed the exact wrong thing to wear. It is not easy to sit cross-legged on the floor in a dress so I sat up and folded my knees under me; two, where exactly were my flashcards and notes? Uh, flashcards? Notes? Do you mean the ones I had left in the bathroom? Okay. I’m hooped and my knees hurt.
Never mind, carry on, Lee Ann! I managed to launch into some warm up songs and taught some signs and answered questions about how sign language works and will sign language deter baby’s verbal speech, all while my legs fell asleep. I told the story of how my daughter first signed EAT. We were having so much fun playing, singing and signing! The babies were bouncing and the mommies were giggling. I didn’t notice that the tingling in my legs had stopped altogether, but I knew I couldn’t actually move them so I stayed in that folded up position.
At the end of the hour, we reviewed the new signs and I threw in a few extra action songs to fill the last couple of minutes. I couldn’t stand up to say goodbye as my legs were completely cramped and stuck under my body, and I probably looked a little silly sitting there waving as everyone packed up and left the room. But the smile on my face was ear to ear. I did it! And it was super fun! I love my new job.
10 years later, I still apply a few things I had learned in that first class:
- Don’t use flashcards and notes -just follow the class handouts & improvise.
- Don’t ever wear a skirt or dress teaching on the floor, no matter how hot it is.
- One hour is too long for parents & babies to sit, too (45 minutes is way better).
- Don’t sweat the small stuff!
Photos by Signing Babies mom, Susanne, of Bubblegum Photography