Child's Play: Rina Coury teaches babies how to talk before they can speak

So, you've got a kid, huh? Whether it's your own rambunctious preschooler or the bratty nephew you've been charged with keeping alive for the next five hours, the most important thing is leaving your house where valuables are liable to be destroyed and seeking refuge on somebody else's property. In this series, we'll be exploring fun, local, and quirky spots that are kid-tastic and adult-friendly, too.

Baby sign language is one of those super trendy things that screams, "Gimmick." Or, is it? "Many parents start classes a bit skeptical about the concept," admits local guru Rina Coury. "The joy and wonder on their faces when they realize their child is signing for the first time is priceless," she says.

See also: It's two for the money at the Denver Mint

Most kiddos gain control over the gross motor skills required to move their hands and arms by the time they are six or seven months old. But, typically, they won't develop the fine motor skills required for speech for another year, give or take, she explains. Using sign language with hearing infants and toddlers offers a practical way for parents and caregivers to communicate with babies long before spoken conversation is possible.

Coury is one of only three Signing Smart Master Instructors in the country and is sort of a big deal in the baby-signing community. She founded her business, Signing Child, in 2004, but was signing long before that with her own daughter.

"We took a Signing Smart Parent Workshop when she was four months old," explains Coury, who also attended subsequent Signing Smart classes with her daughter. "She started signing back at nine months, had 25 signs by a year." By eighteen months, Coury's daughter had too many signs to count and was also becoming increasingly verbal.

It was this experience that led Coury to teaching Signing Smart classes. "There seemed to be such a demand for signing with young babies, and the Signing Smart curriculum was such a wonderful tool," she says. That was over ten years and a thousand babies ago, and Coury's classes are still every bit as coveted and incredible.

You don't have to tell this mom twice: Parenting young, non-verbal children can be frustrating. Long before they can talk, kids have desires and wants, and trying to decipher those damn desires and wants is sort of like attempting to backcountry ski while blindfolded. It's scary, it's dangerous, and it might even kill you.

"Signing can help reduce frustration for both the child and the parent, as it offers them alternative tools for communication," says Coury. She teaches over 100 signs during ten-week beginner sessions, focusing on themes that matter to babies: mealtime, playtime, health and safety, and the outdoors.

Signing with hearing infants and toddlers allows them to communicate not just their needs, but their interests, too. "Parents love being able to experience the world as their baby sees it," says Coury, adding "It is remarkable how aware of their surroundings the very youngest of babies are, and how motivated they are to communicate their thoughts and interests."

Coury's baby sign classes are distinct for a few reasons. First off, Coury doesn't use made-up "baby signs." She uses a real language, American Sign Language, which technically makes her students bilingual.

Coury's classes focus on other things beyond signing, too. The curriculum teaches parents about child development, helping them understand how babies perceive the world, acquire language, and form categories. And, aside from being educational, Coury's classes fun and playful. It's one of those situations where you have such a good time learning, you don't even realize you're doing it. The proof's in the pudding: "I've had several families bring three babies through my classes," Coury says.

While parents and caregivers can begin signing with their babies at any age, Coury recommends her Beginner Signing Smart classes for kiddos five months old and up. During these sessions, participating adults will learn strategies to help children sign back as quickly as possible. Many youngsters will produce their first sign before the end of the first session; children over one-years-old might have fifteen or twenty signs in their budding vocabularies by the end of a session.

For older kiddos who are already talking, there's also a Signing Smart Talking Toddlers series that is meant to follow the beginner class and focuses specifically on older children who have begun talking, offering tools to bolster and build an ever-growing spoken vocabulary. "This advanced class also focuses on strategies to support long-term learning, concept development, and literacy," adds Coury.

Classes are held throughout the Denver metro area. For more information, visit Corey's website or find her on Facebook. Spring registration is currently underway. To *sign* up, call Corey at 303-777-7078, or email [email protected]

Follow Jamie Siebrase on Twitter.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jamie Siebrase is a Denver-based freelance writer, and author of the forthcoming Falcon Guide Hiking Wth Kids, Colorado: 52 Great Hikes for Families.
Contact: Jamie Siebrase