BST Instructor Kelly Konieczeki was featured in Grosse Pointe Times (MI)

GROSSE POINTE PARK – According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, parents can deeply influence the wiring of their young child’s brain through physical interaction. The MDCH says repetitive, positive actions such as singing, touching, talking and reading are vital expressions that positively affect the way a toddler’s brain develops. Grosse Pointe Park resident Kelly Konieczki has put her own twist on this concept – she chose sign language.

Konieczki began teaching her daughter Matilda to sign when she was just 7 months old.

“It was very overwhelming and hard to know where to begin,” she said.

Konieczki’s process was aided by a video series specifically geared toward teaching signing to children ages 3 and under.

“Nothing else has been able to grab her attention for so long. She loved the music, the animation and watching all of the babies signing,” Konieczki said. “We ordered all the volumes and started watching them every day. It quickly became a special time of day that we could share and learn together. I was amazed at how easy it was to learn the signs, and we were both having a lot of fun.” Matilda, now 18 months, has spoken only a few words, but can sign well over 100.

Konieczki became inspired by the signing experience with her daughter.

She is a wife, mother, and as of recently, now a certified Baby Signing Time Academy Instructor. BST is the interactive video series created to teach American Sign Language to children under the age of 3. While searching for something to do with Matilda over winter break, Konieczki decided to launch her own baby signing class by assembling friends and local parents. “They just wanted a playgroup; none of them knew about signing. They all came together with no intentions, and they’re all signing now,” Konieczki said.

When it comes to sign language, Konieczki doesn’t like to call what they’re doing “practicing.” “This is where I think people misunderstand the concept of using sign language with their babies,” she said. “It should not feel awkward or forced, like you are drilling them. It is as simple as incorporating a few signs into your daily activities.” Konieczki suggests that parents use mealtime, playtime and bedtime as an opportunity to integrate sign language into their child’s life.

“Just sign the word you know, every time you say it, and repeat, repeat, repeat! Once your child understands that signing is a way to communicate, then you can start adding to their vocabulary,” Konieczki said. “It’s truly amazing what children are capable of understanding and expressing at such a young age if you just give them the tools to do so.” Konieczki said the benefits of teaching children signing can be monumental. She said her 18-month-old cannot only communicate her basic needs, but also her thoughts and feelings, as well.

“It gives them another way to express themselves and communicate, which in turn makes them a happier toddler because they feel more understood,” she said. “Some of the many benefits include increased vocabulary, social skills, confidence and reduced frustration for both parent and child.” Abbey Cook is an educational speech language pathologist for deaf and hard-of-hearing children. She is also the mother of two young boys who sign.

“There are many life-long benefits, such as increased problem-solving skills, increased literacy skills and the possibility of an increased IQ,” Cook said. “But the biggest immediate benefit is that your child is able to communicate with you at an early age, as well as decreased tantrums.” Josh Eltervoog, a Grosse Pointe Woods resident and friend of the Konieczkis, recently began taking his daughter to the Thursday morning classes. But he admits to having doubts at first.

“I knew Kelly was doing (sign language) with Matilda, but I was skeptical,” Eltervoog said.

After attending their first class, Eltervoog and his wife, Christine, were in the dining room with 18-month-old Claire when they observed a change in their daughter.

“She pointed at a tray of oranges slices and signed ‘more,’ so we gave her more. It was our watershed moment,” he said.

Eltervoog said that once children figure out that they can communicate, they get really excited and because of this, he recommends the sign language classes to other parents.

“It’s a way for children to communicate early on, before words. It removes the level of frustration,” he said. “I would definitely say it’s been a very cool thing.” For more information about Kelly Konieczki’s classes, email momcatkelly@signingtimeacademy.com or visit www.facebook.com/momcats.signing. academy.

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