MAPLEWOOD, NJ – Area parents have a new way to communicate with their infants.

Robbie Berry, a South Orange resident, teaches parents and their infants sign language through the “Smart Hands Program,” designed to help ease the frustration that can sometimes come from trying to communicate. 

The Smart Hands Program was started by Laura Berg from Toronto, Canada, who has several degrees in child studies and began signing with her child. 

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Berry explained that it is easier for babies to communicate their needs with their hands through simple signs, rather than vocally at younger ages because they already have the urge to communicate. 

Parents teach their babies the signs for words such as mom, dad and milk, she said.  They might teach them “O” for Cheerios and teach them the words for some of their favorite toys.

The infants that Berry teaches are not hearing impaired, and according to research, teaching sign language to children does not hinder the child’s ability to speak.   

Babies in the sessions can be as young as 6 months.  Berry said that moms can sign with their babies from birth. The age of the child and his or her rate of development will determine how quickly parents see results. 

Sessions run for eight weeks and are held at the Burgdorff Community Center in downtown Maplewood on Fridays.  Berry offers two class levels.   

During Berry’s teaching sessions, she encourages mothers to recognize “teachable” moments at home to enhance learning. 

“We are providing something that they can take home with them to help communicate,” Berry said. 

Berry, a Las Vegas native, also has a degree in American sign language  and worked conducting research for eight years, as well as teaching ASL to both hearing and hearing-impaired communities.  Berry obtained her certification from the Smart Hands Program in November 2011 and began teaching in January.  

“Signing uses both sides of the brain, recalling words, and actually convey meaning through sign,” Berry said. “It’s not just a fad.”

Alexandra Lubischer is participating in a hyperlocal journalism partnership between The Alternative Press and Seton Hall University's Department of Communication & The Arts designed to give students real-world experience.