BST Instructor Karen Gutrath Reflects on Her First Year

Annual Report 2011 – My First Year in Review

by Karen Gutrath, BST Instructor

Before I can review my first year, I have to start at the beginning. I started learning sign language with my daughter, Kailyn, in 2006. Kailyn was born prematurely and I was an anxious first time parent. Several people in my family had speech delays when they were young, so I started to search for things that I could do to help Kailyn with her communication skills. My Pilates Instructor, Blanka, suggested renting the Signing Time videos from the local library. Kailyn and I fell in love with the Signing Time DVDs for their catchy songs. I loved the positive and inspiring messages about being a parent. Kailyn loved watching the children signing. When Kailyn started signing her first signs like more, eat, ball, and dog, my husband and other family members were impressed and wanted to know more about it. By the time Kailyn was 2, she had a large vocabulary. I can’t say for sure that signing was the reason that she had no speaking challenges, but I can say it helped me be a more confident parent. Using signs reduced frustration for both of us and it gave us something special to do together.

 

When my son, Deven, was born in 2010, I started to sign with him right from the start. I never worried about Deven and his learning abilities. He was that perfect angel baby. I wanted to sign with him because by that time, I had learned there were many benefits of signing with children even if they had no learning challenges.
 
After Deven was born, Kailyn became interested in signing again. We realized signing came in handy when she was shy in certain situations or when we wanted to have a special moment with each other, like saying, “I love you” from across the room. Recently, we have used signs for learning how to spell out words and translating words from English to French. Kailyn is proud that she knows another language and she loves showing her friends and teachers.

 

When I wanted to buy some more Signing Time products, I discovered that they had an Academy for Instructors. I decided to become a Certified Instructor so I could share signing with other families as well as have part-time income while my son was young.

 

Kailyn’s elementary school offered Pre-K family programs to the Anglophone community. I thought it was a perfect place for me to teach classes. They were as excited as me about sign language being offered to the community, so we decided to start the first session right after the March Reading Break. I ran around putting up posters, introducing myself to various playgroups, and brainstorming how I could get the word out to local new parents.

 

Doing free presentations was a great way to meet people directly and introduce myself. I went to several different playgroups where I talked about the benefits of signing with hearing children. Depending on the amount of time, I sang familiar children songs and read books to introduce some first signs. It is easy to add signing to everyday activities. I went to the St-Francis playgroup in St. Lambert, Mums & Tots of Brossard playgroup, the Greenfield Park Creative Co-op, Premiers Pas Summer Camp, Wee Wiggles, and Kids Butterfly Yoga Studio in Lachine.

 

Ecomuseum

During school breaks, I offered free events around town. At Easter, we went to the animal farm at Place Portobello and showed the signs for the farm animals. We had 21 people come and join us. Then our next event was at the Ecomuseum and 10 of us walked around the perfect sized zoo for little ones and learned the signs to the local animals. In the summer, we went to Granby Zoo and 6 of us learned the signs for the African zoo animals. Kailyn and I rode the camel and sang, “Sally, the camel”. It turned out that the camel’s name was Stanley, so we changed the song a little to “Stanley, the camel had 2 humps!”

 

Throughout the year, I was involved with several tradeshows. At each show, I would raffle a DVD or music CD. Every time after a long day, I wondered if it had been worth it. And after every event, sure enough I would receive a phone call or an email that led to a sale or a contact for a new participant in my class. The events were the CLC Showcase at St Lambert Elementary School, Le Marche de Tout P’tits in Lasalle, Defi Allaitement in Brossard, Mums & Tots of Brossard Tradefair, and I even hosted my own Discovery Toy Party before Christmas.

 

Easter Farm Day with Emmy signing Duck and Kailyn, my very best assistant.

I decided to continue my ASL studies and work towards my Advanced Signing Time Instructor certification which I received last October. Taking official courses, I started to learn how to create full phrases and learn past and future tenses.

 

Over the first year, I offered 3 sessions at the St-Lambert Community Learning Centre. I taught 4 moms, 1 grandmother, and 6 children. Every time I teach a class, I have more energy afterwards, so I know I am on the right path. I am thrilled to share the signs that I had used with my kids. My son came to classes with me and we had a blast singing and playing together. I ended each session with a pj party where I taught the signs for the nighttime routine.

 

Session 1 last class pj party

Before Christmas, a mom contacted me who was part of a French speaking mommy/baby group in southwest Montreal. A popular café, Parentheses, in Griffentown hosted their weekly group. We organized 3 intensive signing classes together. There were 10 participants. I translated my lessons and practiced my French. They were very patient with my not so perfect French. Now I am comfortable with doing bilingual classes. I need to work on the song translations a bit more so they can fit with the beat of the music.

 

I think singing is a big part of the success of the program. Kids love to listen to music and dance. Whenever I put on a song, the kid’s attention comes back to focus on me and the signs that I am doing. And the songs are great reminders of what signs we have learned. I look forward to teaching more classes at Parentheses in the New Year and possibly at their garderie as well.

 

As for marketing, I had over 600 postcards printed and distributed throughout the year. I placed over 60 posters in local businesses. My email list grew to over 200+ people. I am always searching for new places to let people know that I offer Signing Time classes and products. I send out a monthly e-newsletter on what I am up to around town. And on my Facebook page, Sign and Play, I add articles about sign language as well as anything I find interesting on parenting and kids. It was pretty cool to see my classes listed in the St-Lambert leisure publication. I have been listed on various websites, facebook pages and blogs, such as I Spy Montreal, Wee Wiggles, Kids Butterfly Yoga Studio, South Shore Community Partners, Baby on the Way, Kijiji, South Shore Mama outings, Café Parentheses, and Kidscoop.
In my first year, I taught 21 one hour classes. Along with teaching my classes, I sold 53 products including Baby Signing Time DVDs, CDs, Flashcards, an ABC Board book, Potty Time DVD and watch, Signing Time Series 1 DVDs, and a Baby Signing Time Starter Kit. Once people see the Signing Time products and start signing with their kids, they understand why we have so much fun signing with our kids. It is so much more than communicating with them before they can talk.

 

Signing Time introduced some excellent new products this year called the Preschool and Childcare Program (PCCP). It is a great resource for any educational facility with kids under 5 and also for parents doing at-home studies. The packages are filled with ideas and resources specifically for the classroom. I am excited to start bringing the program to schools because it is not only beneficial for children but research is now showing that teachers pay more attention and communicate more with the children when they use signing as a communication tool.

Also new to the Signing Time library is Potty Time. Even my older daughter was signing the “potty, wipe, flush, clean” dance. My son is starting to show interest in the Potty now too. The Potty Time DVD is perfect for anyone going through the Potty stage even if they did not sign previously with their infants. It is a great tool to start talking about using the potty and how to teach little ones that their bodies are amazing.

 

Lastly, Signing Time created an OnDemand Library for download purchases of all the DVDs from the Signing Time series. There are many benefits to downloading rather than purchasing DVDs. It is the wave of the future so it is nice to know that Signing Time is keeping up with the times. Signing Time now has over 800 instructors worldwide. It is great to be part of such a successful team.

 

Thank you for reading about my first year as a sign language instructor. I hope I can sign with you soon. If there is anything that you would like more information about, please contact me and I would love to hear from you.

 

Happy Signing,

Karen Gutrath
Baby Sign Language Instructor
karengb@signingtimeacademy.com
www.facebook.com/signandplay

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