All posts by Lee Ann Steyns

About Lee Ann Steyns

I am an enthusiastic baby sign language instructor and mom of two kids that both started out being fussy, colicky babies. The ease and grace I managed to attain using sign language with them ignited my passion to share this incredible tool with other families. I've been teaching basic American Sign Language vocabulary to over a thousand families in the last 14 years, and I can't wait to teach you!

Real Mother’s Day Moments

Let’s be real. Being a parent is no easy feat. Babies are amazing and exhausting. I’ve been doing this mothering thing for more than a decade and I still find I’m growing and learning from many botched attempts at perfect parenting. But I promise, there is no perfect in parenting. So don’t worry about it so much!

I’ll freely admit I’ve raised my voice at my kids needlessly, I’ve felt completely unable to help both my colicky babies from crying, I’ve served meals that no one at the table wanted to eat, and I’ve been woken up by kids wailing that the tooth fairy forgot to come more times than I care to say. And it’s okay.

Something I’m thinking a lot about now is making sure I’m staying present in the moments with my kids, and valuing those moments together.

Becoming the mom of a bonafide teenager this year has certainly brought to my attention that childhood is fleeting and I don’t want to miss any of it. How many more moments will she want to snuggle in bed with me and talk about her day? How much will she still want to hold my hand, walking down the street?

At my daughter’s 3rd birthday, I remember having a lot of fun creating a spring-themed toddler party with spring baskets and frilly balloons. I was snapping pics of the kids making their craft, capturing all the prettiness of the table when my very wise, Very-Inspiring-Friend whispered something quietly in my ear. “Don’t forget to enjoy the party, not just take photos of the party”. I looked up from behind the lens and noticed that my daughter was giggling away, both hands covered in paint while I was taking photos of the colour-matched decorations. I remember going over and picking up her paint brush and adding another coat of paint on her thumb and then my own thumb, making her giggle even more. It was ridiculous and so, so fun. No wonder she was giggling!

Uh-oh. Time to start being mindful of the moments, not capturing them.

As much as I love taking photos and creating beautiful photos, I also try to make sure I am enjoying these moments with my kids. The photos can happen, but the moments of being completely there, not just watching from the sides or through a lens, do not come back. And even though I’m still making mistakes and not quite doing everything right as a parent, I always feel okay when I’m thoughtful and present with my family.

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(Sssshhhh… I’m writing this as my kids and husband quietly make Mother’s Day breakfast for me. I’m supposed to be sleeping in, but my mother’s brain is awake and my heart is happily awaiting seeing their smiles as they come upstairs to surprise me. No photos will be taken).

Happy Mother’s Day!

How to Sign MOTHER in American Sign Language --www.growingsigns.com

To sign MOTHER in American Sign Language, tap the thumb of your open hand to your chin.

How to Sign HAPPY BIRTHDAY

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My daughter turned 13 yesterday (deep breath); she’s now a teenager. I feel faint.

I’m not even sure how this happened, but in all seriousness, it’s so exciting to share this milestone with her. She’s always been an amazing kid to me and her dad, and we couldn’t be prouder of her (the crow’s feet around my eyes I could happily wish away, but not if it means I didn’t age these 13 years and get to see this girl grow up, so I guess I’ll need more eye cream).

Here’s a little peak into how we celebrate our kids’ birthdays every year, and how to sign HAPPY BIRTHDAY to your kids!

We’ve always started birthdays early in the morning with our kids. First thing upon waking we gather in our pajamas and open a few little presents. This is her brother opening some presents on his birthday last year.
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We always blast our “birthday playlist” full of different kinds of birthday songs that we’ve been adding to every year. Silly songs like “A Berry Happy Birthday” from Ella’s favourite show as a toddler, Strawberry Shortcake, right to some birthday-themed Beatles and Stevie Wonder and Selena Gomez songs. Those soundbites remind us of the early birthday parties and celebrations through the years (if you search “birthday” you’ll find lots of fun songs). We loop the birthday playlist all morning as we eat breakfast and get ready for school.

This year we decided to step up our birthday morning game a little. Thirteen is a big number and she’s been really excited to become a teenager. The buildup for the past few weeks has been tremendous. So we wanted to watch Ella wake up her first morning as a teenager and start smiling right away…my husband and I snuck into her room at the crack of dawn and put 13 balloons around her bed. Then we crept back in when we heard her stirring. A birthday surprise to get her smiling as soon as she opened her eyes. It was so fun!

Then, downstairs for birthday pancakes.

Happy Birthday Pancakes
Happy Birthday cake toppers by Lisa Leonard

We usually save pancakes for the weekends when there’s more time, but the birthday girl wanted pancakes, so pancakes it is! For dinner the four of us went out for her favourite food -SUSHI! And a party with her friends will happen soon, but for now, it’s all about her.

Happy Birthday Ella!

Here’s a little montage I made of her first 12 birthdays…time flies when you’re having fun! This was a big project, but I am so glad I’ve taken lots of photos and at least tried to get a smiling pic with her cake or at her party each year. Putting them all together with the numbers for her age thirteen years later was pretty neat. She absolutely loved it!
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Do you have birthday rituals you do every birthday with your family?

To sign HAPPY BIRTHDAY in American Sign Language, first brush your flat hand upwards on chest for HAPPY

How to Sign HAPPY in American Sign Language: www.growingsigns.com

Then with middle finger extended, tap your chin once and then your chest once for BIRTHDAY.

How to Sign BIRTHDAY in American Sign Language: www.growingsigns.com

PINK Shirt Day

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Did your city wear PINK today?

PINK Shirt Day originated at a high school in Nova Scotia eight years ago. Travis Price was in grade 12 back then and a student three years younger was being bullied on the first day of school simply for wearing a pink shirt, and that didn’t sit well with Price and his friend David Shepherd. They went out that night, bought 75 PINK tank tops and encouraged as many of their classmates as possible via social media to wear the colour the next day.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen. We didn’t know if we’d be the only two in pink or if everybody would be in pink. We show up the next day, we were a school of 1,000 kids, and about 850 kids showed up that day wearing pink, and Pink Shirt Day was born just from that simple act of kindness,” Price explains.

Incredible. I love how those boys used the power of positive action to subvert a hugely negative force like bullying. Eight years later, Pink Shirt Day has come to be recognized as an international symbol against bullying. Every school in our city promotes and celebrates wearing pink. My son’s school sells PINK lemonade at lunch hour all week with proceeds going to the Kids’ Care Club fundraising for helping low-income families in our neighbourhood. My daughter’s school held a “Friendship Dance” with fundraising also.

Even if you didn’t wear a PINK shirt today, you can learn the sign!

To sign PINK in American Sign Language, slide the tip of your middle finger down your lips.

Goat, Sheep or Ram?

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Today is the beginning of the new Lunar New Year for 2015, a calendar Chinese people have used since 2600 B.C when the mythical Yellow Emperor, or Huang Di, started the first cycle of the Chinese zodiac. According to legend, Huang Di named an animal to represent each year in a 12-year cycle that includes the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig.

But there seems to be some reticence in North America to call it the Year of the GOAT, and choose instead a more “sexier” animal, the “Ram”, or even the softer, fluffier “Sheep”.

Is it the Year of the GOAT, Sheep, or Ram?

I think many in North America consider the GOAT to be a bit banal, a lowly animal un-befitting of the majesty of the Lunar New Year, but the GOAT has always been a very well-respected animal in Chinese culture and history. Since ancient times, the goat became closely linked to Chinese people’s livelihood. Its meat and milk are highly nutritious, and its wool makes fabric that is lightweight, soft, and has other good properties. Chinese people also learned to use its fleece to make writing brushes and its skin to keep warm.

The Chinese character 羊 (yáng), which generally refers to a GOAT, is considered a symbol of auspiciousness, good luck, and peace. Since ancient times, people have used 羊to symbolize good-naturedness.

羊 is among the animals that Chinese people like most. It is generally gentle, calm, and quiet by nature and is a source of many things that benefit humankind.

羊 is close to the meaning of good things. As such, it is used in many Chinese characters to indicate something beneficial.

The most striking characteristic of the GOAT is its peaceful manner and so Goat people tend to be lovers of peace who prefer to avoid disagreements. Thus, the Year of the GOAT is a time for people leave conflicts behind and to get along peacefully.

Epoch Times

Those born in the Year of the GOAT (1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, or 2015), are said to be creative, intelligent, dependable, and calm. GOATS are comfortable being alone with their thoughts, are seen as calm individuals. Their personalities are quiet, reserved, and soothing. They tend to be easygoing and relaxed. GOATS enjoy being part of a group, but prefer staying out of the limelight and letting others take center stage. They are nurturing and pensive.

To sign GOAT in American Sign Language, tap your first two bent fingers (like the horns of a GOAT) to your chin and then tap forehead.


Gung Hei Fat Choi (Happy New Year)!

What do you think –GOAT, Ram, or Sheep?

The I LOVE YOU Challenge

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‘I Love You’ in American Sign Language

Hold up your hand with index finger, pinkie finger, and thumb extended.

I’m challenging you to teach someone you love how to sign ‘I LOVE YOU’ in American Sign Language. Let’s learn and teach and spread some love this month!

Send me a photo of those hands – little or big – signing ‘I LOVE YOU’ on my I LOVE YOU CHALLENGE post on Facebook and Instagram for your friends and family to see & like. Make sure to tag @signingbabies and use the hashtag #SIGNYOURLOVE.

Be creative, make it cute, and show them how to sign. I’ve got some prizes to send some love back to those whose posted pics get plenty of likes on my sign language lovefest!

Please post your photos by midnight PST Feb. 14, 2015. Spread the love by sharing & tagging your friends so they can play & learn ASL, too!

Colors

What’s your favourite colour?

My kids would visibly panic a little when someone asked what their favorite COLOUR was –they didn’t want to pick just one! So I decided to switch up the emphasis and always ask, “What’s your favourite COLOUR today? Then they could change their minds anytime! Sometimes asking questions is an art that requires thinking slightly outside of the box, especially with kids.

But we all like to change our minds, right?

How to Sign COLOURS in American Sign Language by www.SigningBabies.ca
To sign COLOURS in American Sign Language, hold hand up to wiggle all your fingertips on your chin, as if you’re showing all the different COLOURS there are.

And for my COLORful American friends: ( without the ‘U’)

What’s your favorite color today?

How to Sign COLORS in American Sign Language by www.SigningBabies.ca

Snow Day (indoors and out)

My in-laws live next to a lake about 10 minutes away from Whistler Blackcomb, host mountains to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Whistler, B.C. Their little cabin overlooks the lake with both mountains tucked in behind. It is gorgeous here year-round, but it’s especially snowy and beautiful in winter. Every year for New Year’s Eve we come up and stay with the grandparents and play in the SNOW!
Indoor snowball by Snowtime Anytime
(Disclaimer: lots of wintry words ahead, but if it’s not snowy where you are, I have a really delightful indoor solution for you and your littles at the end of this post.)
How to sign SNOW in American Sign Language --www.SigningBabies.ca
To sign SNOW in American Sign Language, hold your hands up in the air. Flutter your fingers as you move your hands down and side to side.

We don’t get much SNOW where we live in Vancouver, so the 90 minute drive up to Whistler always excites us as we watch the terrain slowly morph from shades of brown and green in the city into a frozen wonderland in all shades of white.

As soon as we arrived, I rushed outside while it was lightly snowing and took some photos so I could show you some snowy ASL signs!

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To sign COLD in American Sign Language, hold up both arms with closed fists, and shake them sideways like you’re shivering in the COLD.

Every SNOW day requires you make a SNOWMAN! Here’s our little guy ready to greet the trains passing by, not far from the cabin:
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Signing SNOWMAN is easy -just sign SNOW with your fluttery fingers (see sign above), then sign MAN:
How to sign MAN in American Sign Language --www.SigningBabies.ca
To sign SNOWMAN in American Sign Language, first sign SNOW, then MAN by tapping thumb once to your forehead and then bring thumb down to tap once on chest.

A good PLAY in the snow always tuckers out my kids, hallelujah!
How to sign PLAY in AMerican Sign Language --www.SigningBabies.ca
To sign PLAY in American Sign Language, twist both hands with pinkies and thumbs out (middle fingers stay tucked in).

Of course, a steaming cup of HOT CHOCOLATE is always in order after playing in the snow, right? It’s almost the best part, and always a fitting ending to all that snowy fun.

To sign HOT CHOCOLATE in American Sign Language, sign HOT by placing your open claw hand beside your mouth, then turn it away from your body (like it’s too hot to touch). Then sign CHOCOLATE by circling your ‘C’ hand on top of your other hand in a closed fist.
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*Okay, so here’s my find of the year, brought to me by my Very Inspiring Friend, who first found these incredible Indoor Snowballs online here.
6packsnowball
She then showed me they carried them at a local dollar store near her house and I promptly bought two dozen snowballs to tuck into everyone’s stockings for Christmas. We had a huge snowball fight right after opening our presents and it was completely hilarious. The kids didn’t get tired of chucking snowballs at each other but they did get just as tired as playing outside. The adults had the biggest child-like grins on their faces as they pelted each other, too. The snowballs are made of tightly bunched soft yarn so they aren’t likely to injure people or knock down things in your house. They’re incredibly realistic-looking and just plain fun to throw!

And that leaves me with one more word for you to sign with SNOW:
How to sign BALL in American Sign Language --www.SigningBabaies.ca
To sign BALL in American Sign Language, hold both open claw hands in front of you, like you are holding a BALL.

Are you having some fun this winter in the SNOW (inside or outside)?

Happy New Year!

-Lee Ann

Hurry Up and WAIT

No one likes to WAIT, especially kids. That’s why I’ve found the ASL sign for WAIT to be so incredibly helpful to me as a parent, especially at moments of great anticipation or angst.

Let me paint a recent picture for you: My family was at my 8 year old son’s holiday piano recital. It’s not a fancy event, but the kids get to play one song they’ve been working on from their lessons, and after everyone performs there’s a treat table of goodies that the families contribute from home. You see the usual suspects: cookies, cupcakes, brownies and squares, juice, and some fruit. To the kids, the open table full of sweets is worthy of WAITING through 20 performances, but not much longer. The piano and violin performances last just shy of an hour, and then it’s treat time! Time to race over to the table and fill a paper plate with desserts.

So imagine my son’s face when I pull out my camera and tell him I want to get a nice photo of him at the piano first, before he hits the treat table.

Yup, you imagined right. Full pouty face quickly morphing into an angry “no way” face, which does not suit an 8 year old at all. Then I had an AHA! moment and quickly asked him to sign WAIT for me, too (oh, yes, sometimes being a signing mom has its moments)! He knows that sign quite well because I pull it out whenever my kids are practically jumping out of their shoes to go do something or ask me something while I’m busy.

Here’s the one photo I took before I allowed him to join his musical friends at the treat table (I’m pretty sure there was an eye-roll that I missed on camera):

How to sign WAIT in American Sign Language (www.signingbabies.ca)

To sign WAIT in American Sign Language, hold both hands up with one slightly behind the other and wiggle all your fingers.

Use the sign for WAIT when you want your kids to know you are listening to their request but they need to understand it’s not quite time for what they are asking.

One more story: two years ago, I was speaking with Ian’s teacher after school about an upcoming field trip. I could see Ian hopping around us trying to get my attention, but he knows the rule about interrupting adults when they are speaking, so he didn’t barge in. He kept visibly trying to meet my eye, but I didn’t break away from the conversation with Mr. C. Finally, I held up my hands and signed WAIT to Ian, and he signed back BATHROOM. I nodded and said, “Go ahead, meet me back here” and continued my conversation.

Phew, another moment where Ian and I were so glad we could sign, and I was proud that both he and I could be polite and respectful to Mr. C. but still get what we wanted. It felt like a win, and those moments are simply wonderful.

Have you had some signing wins?

Thankful

At my last check-up, I mentioned to my doctor that I sometimes felt overwhelmed by the many people I know who are sick or battling illness. (I immediately felt like my mother, talking about so-and-so who has this or that, jeesh).

My doctor said that the older we get, the more people we know, and the more people we know, the more people we see going through illness. It’s a numbers game, and that I should also factor into the equation the many people I know who are not sick, and also who are healthy after battling illness.

Huh.

I hadn’t thought of it like that.

She is a realist and I’ve always admired the visible resolve I see in her to not be paralyzed by these things that I find just plain hard. My own father died of cancer at age 43 and my older sister has been suffering from a very debilitating form of fibromyalgia for almost 20 years.

I thought of other people I know who are sick. I have a good friend who, at age 28, had been very suddenly hospitalized with respiratory paralysis from a rare disorder that had her own immune system attacking her nerves. She recovered after a very lengthy hospital stay and rehabilitation, and carried on to become wildly successful in her career and personal life. But now in her forties, she is experiencing an out-of-the-blue comeback of the symptoms and is unable to work.

That’s just the beginning of my list. We all know people in our lives fighting battles of all sizes, and we also hear of actual real-life wars being fought across the world from us, as well as close to home. The list can seem endless, it’s everywhere, and the older we get, as my doctor said, the more we see and learn and know.

But I’ve decided to try and follow my doctor’s (realist) lead, and I’m choosing to be THANKFUL. To take note and experience the highs and lows of all our battles. I don’t find it easy, in any way, reconciling with the hardships of friends and family. The hardships of life. But what is easy is plucking out the simple stuff that is also happening -the little moments of greatness that we all have in our days.

I sat on that paper-covered medical table in my doctor’s office and thought, “It’s true, I know lots of people who are healthy, too”.

I recently met a 5 month old baby who was born with a tumour who has not left hospital care since his birth. His mother, with glossy eyes looking right at me, said he is “kicking radiation and chemotherapy’s butt”! THATTA BOY! And I have a friend who is celebrating year two of remission from emphysema, HOORAY! And another who is in year 5 of remission from breast cancer, WOO HOO! My friend with nerve damage is vibrantly embracing life at home with her 3 kids and a dog, and has come to see a reluctant beauty in being still. OH YEAH!

I know you know those moments, too. Go have them! Go watch them happen. Go gulp them down, send them down into your bellies and savour every nourishing morsel. It’s kind of like turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. THANKFUL.

How to Sign THANK YOU in American Sign Language  www.growingsigns.com
To sign THANK YOU in American Sign Language, touch your fingertips to your chin, then extend them out towards the other person you are thanking.

How to Sign PUMPKIN in American Sign Language

You can’t miss ’em. Vibrant, orange pumpkins decorating storefronts, school rooms, and houses are everywhere during October, and your little ones will notice them. Stop and point them out and say PUMPKIN a couple times while signing it:
How to Sign PUMPKIN in ASL  www.signingbabies.ca
To sign PUMPKIN in ASL, middle finger is held connected to thumb, then is flicked onto the back of the other hand which is held in a fist.

Even better than seeing pumpkins is holding and playing with a big pumpkin, or eating pumpkin. Have some fun with signing PUMPKIN this week, and stay tuned for more HALLOWEEN signs!

-Lee Ann