Deirdre McLaughlin, 41, owns Sign2Music, Northern Ireland's own baby signing company, supporting communication for all children via the use of signs. She takes classes in Lisburn but lives near Crossgar with her husband Jonathan twins Eoghan and Aine aged 15 and Cara 4.
Deirdre is a qualified Social Worker and has worked with young people and families for the past 13 years. She studied Psychology to degree and Masters level at QUB. Since then, she has had varied and interesting experience, from the financial field, residential work with people with disabilities to work with deaf blind people. She started using signs with her twins, not because she had ever heard of baby signing, but because it made sense to her that it would aid their communication. When her daughter Cara was born she was delighted to learn that the concept of 'baby signing' had exploded. After doing some research on the internet she was even more convinced about the benefits. She started signing with Cara from she was 5 months old. By the age of 12 months she could use 50 - 70 signs and was able to tell her parents when she was hungry, thirsty, tired, needed her nappy changed for example.
She joined the Sign2Me presenters network in May 2007 and 'Sign 2 Music' was born. Deirdre now successfully runs the company and offers others opportunities to set up their own classes and become a Sign2Music teacher in their area.
The night before I usually prepare the props and have everything I need packed and ready to go. As well as running the business I also jobshare as a social worker for a local government agency so I am always busy.
Once my children are at school I head to my first group. In Lisburn I take classes in Wallace Prep and it is becoming really popular. I will set up the room with mats, words to the music, instruments and the puppets. We start off by singing a hello song and a warm up song for the little hands. Programmes are an enriched developmental and bonding experience, with a big sprinkling of fun. Everything is aimed to enhance children's development and relationship with parents, carers. Sessions involve loads of music, puppets and props to make this an enjoyable experience for all. I run classes for parents and children, nurseries, preschool, schools, birthday parties and lots more. The sessions are fun filled and there's several characters - Signing Sandy our popular signing puppet who introduces the signs; Daisy Doggy who is a big hit and she introduces our musical instruments. As well as using popular children's songs I have written my own songs for various topics and have produced the companies first CD which is proving popular with parents.
Of course behind all the fun there is a serious purpose to what the other teachers and I do. Babies naturally gesture to tell their carers what they want (raising arms to be lifted, pointing, waving bye).
By using a 'sign' when saying the word a baby understands the word and sign mean the same thing. Until they can say the word they use the sign to communicate their wants and needs. It works and it actually helps speech development too. It is also helpful for older children to support their understanding of complex ideas like colours and numbers, enhance emotional development and stimulate early literacy development.
There are huge benefits: reduced frustration, increased communication and bonding; raised self esteem; cognitive development due to its multisensory nature; introducing vocabulary from an active second language (we use NI BSL signs, the same as those used by most NI deaf people); it is loads of fun. It is vey beneficial for children with hearing impairments, speech delay, communication difficulties and from a bilingual environment. However, it is actually hugely beneficial for all children.
Once a class has finished there time for the children to play while the adults have a cuppa and for parents or carers to ask me questions. Setting up the business in Northern Ireland has been a dream come true. It am so privileged to do be able to do a 'job' that embodies my passion, bringing fun to families while sharing a great bonding, communication and developmental tool.