Freeport Community Library youth service clerk Brandi Lemieux uses sign language along with Ali Reddy’s stories. One child pointed out that the sign for “I love you,” shown here, resembles the way Spider-Man activates his web-shooters. Alex Lear/The Forecaster

FREEPORT — The doors swung open, and the pitter-patter of tiny feet signaled that Tuesday morning storytime at the Freeport Community Library was about to begin.

But it was storytime with a twist for the babies and toddlers. Ali Reddy read the books while fellow youth service clerk Brandi Lemieux followed along using sign language.

Ali Reddy reads the books while fellow youth service clerk Brandi Lemieux follows along using sign language. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Reddy, who’s done the readings since 2017, invited Lemieux to join in last March after learning she had worked as a preschool substitute at the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf. A former nanny, Reddy had used sign language with her charges to aid in their communicative development.

 

“Research has shown that sign language can help enhance and encourage speech development in babies and young children,” said Linda Bonnar, director of communication pathways with the Pine Tree Society. “It can give them a means to help express themselves before they actually know how to talk and can help them build upon their relationships … with family members. It can help reduce frustration and get immediate wants and needs met as they continue developing language.”

A study funded by the National Institutes of Health arrived at that conclusion, according to babysignlanguage.com. One group of 11-month-old babies was taught baby sign language, while the other received verbal training.

“Surprisingly, the signing group were more advanced talkers than the group given verbal training,” the website states. “The lead of the signing group continued to grow, with the signers exhibiting verbal skills three months ahead of the non-signers at 2 years old. Their lead seemed to shrink a little after 2 years old, but even at 3 years old, the signers were still ahead.”

“Anything you do to promote language development is not going to hurt,” Bonnar said, adding that children begin gesturing long before they can talk. “I taught my son sign language when he was just a baby; he was asking for ‘more’ long before he could say ‘more.'”

Anton Schmertman and Chloe Kittredge connect through their own sign language. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

Families often ask her if signing will delay a child from talking, but Bonnar said it’s a “springboard” for language development. “Verbal language is the easiest way to get your wants and needs met, and no one’s going to take the harder road,” she added.

 

Lemieux said she taught her niece “baby sign language,” and “she was awesome at it. It was great to know what she wanted.” The words “more,” “please,” and “thank you” were among her lingo.

While it did delay the child’s speech, Lemieux said, when she began talking she was doing so in full sentences. “Because we always knew what she wanted, she didn’t need to speak, and so she just signed it,” Lemieux said.

Beth Kittredge of Yarmouth attended the storytime with her 15-month-old daughter Chloe, who, she said, has picked up sign language quickly with words like “hi,” “bye,” “more,” “thank you,” and “eat.”

As Reddy read “I love you” at the end of one book, Lemieux pressed her middle and ring fingers to her palm, extending the other three.

“It looks like Spider-Man (web) shooters, yeah,” one mother smiled in response to her son.

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