Baby sign language expert Monta Briant is helping Carmel Valley babies communicate and it doesn't get much more precious than a baby's small hands being able to express "I love you" before they can speak the words.
Briant, who teaches baby sign language classes at Love to Dance in Torrey Hills, said that the lessons not only give parents and children an arsenal of American Sign Language signs, but it can also be a lot of fun. The signing doesn't have to be perfect — a baby's cutely clumsy approximation of a sign still gets the message across.
"It's great for bonding," Briant said. "You're really able to have a two-way conversation; they can tell you things you never knew they were thinking."
A new session of classes kicked off at Love to Dance in Torrey Corner on Oct. 29 and take place at 11:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. Thursdays.
Briant is the author of the bestselling book "Sign, Sing and Play," and has put out a kit with flash cards and activities as well as a CD, "Songs for Little Hands."
She also put out a DVD, "Baby Sign Language Basics," in June.
Briant said she found baby sign language after her mother took a class in 1999. She tried it with her own daughter and was hooked.
"I was amazed at how she was able to communicate so early and by how fun it was," Briant said.
She would use the signs with her child while she was out and about and people were always asking her what she was doing and how effective it was. She found herself giving mini-lessons in the supermarket line or in the park — teaching classes seemed a logical next step.
Briant has been teaching now since 2000 and is the first in San Diego to offer such classes. She teaches six-week series in Downtown, La Jolla, Pacific Beach, South Park and locally at Love to Dance.
In class, parents and babies learn new signs by playing, reading books and signing songs. The children are drawn to Briant, watching her every move with wide eyes, stumbling or crawling toward her to get a closer look.
Kirsten Toro's 15-month-old daughter Brooke has been taking sign language classes since she was eight months old. Toro said in the beginning, Brooke was always doing the sign for puppy when she saw or heard a dog.
"When she turned one year old she just exploded with the signing," Toro said.
Now while she is reading books, she'll do signs when she sees a word she knows, like bear. She knows the signs for diaper, more and "nigh-nigh" time.
"It's a great way for them to communicate because they can't say what they want to say to us," Toro said, noting it's nice to see they recognize what something is or means even though they can't say it.
One of the best examples of this, Toro said, was when they were on a walk in Carmel Country Highlands and Brooke made the sign for horse because she saw the horses on the neighborhood's emblem.
When the children notice things that parents don't even see is one of the great benefits of signing, said Anika Gamberg, of her 14-month-old daughter.
"It's like we're seeing the world through their eyes," said Gamberg. "We take everything for granted, she makes us stop and see the world again."
Having a baby that can sign can even be a huge asset. Briant told a story of a baby who had been playing outside and started to cry, the parents noticing a small cut on its hand. The baby did the sign for snake and the parents were confused at first, until the father spotted a baby rattlesnake in their yard.
The child had to be air lifted to the hospital and the doctor said if the parents had just put a band-aid on the cut without knowing it was snakebite, he could've died.
"You just never know when it can come in handy," Briant said, noting that parents can opt to learn just a few signs or 200. "For the baby to learn just 'more,' 'finished' and 'help,' those three can be a huge help."
To find out more, visit www.babysignlanguage.net.