silly girlsA note from Melissa Augustyn, Owner and Instructor

I wanted to share a little about why I opened Sign and Doodle, as well as, why I choose to use the products and curriculum that I do.

I have been working with children who have special needs for over 15 years.  For 11 of these years I taught special education in the public school system.  Over the years the majority of my students have been on the autism spectrum.  With communication deficits being such a large part of the autism puzzle, I was always looking for ways to increase communication skills.

I began using sign language to supplement communication efforts for my students, most of which were nonverbal and could communicate with picture symbols, augmentative communication, and a few basic signs.  As soon as my first daughter arrived I knew I wanted to use these same basic signs with her and could not wait to start!

When Carly was 4 months old we began feeding her infant cereal which provided a natural opportunity to teach the signs for eat and more.  When she was 6 months old, we discovered Signing Time and our signing exploded!   When she was 10 months old, we came home from a long shopping trip and I needed to unload groceries…a tantrum was brewing, I assumed from exhaustion and overstimulation…I assumed wrong!!!  On the brink of a complete meltdown, I was frustrated and asked her what she wanted; I did not expect a reply.  She stopped in her tracks and signed banana!!!  Much to my amazement, she had remembered the bananas I put in the buggy and she wanted one.  I would love to know how many potential tantrums sign language helped us to avoid.

When Carly started preschool at the age of one, we wanted her teachers and classmates to know how to sign with her so we bought her teacher the Baby Signing Time set.  She loved having other children to communicate with!  The teachers and students loved Signing Time as well.  Looking back I wish there had been a signing class for her to join so that she could communicate with other children who were using sign language.

By the age of two, she was signing well over 200 signs and talking in complex sentences for her age.  I attribute her advanced language development to her early ability to communicate effectively.  I also begin to realize she had extremely good fine motor skills for her age.  Having been a special education teacher for 11 years, I had taught her the proper pincer grasp from her earliest coloring days, but now at only 2 she was able to control her crayon and keep her coloring in specific areas of the page, there had to be more to it than just the proper grip.

At around the age of two and a half, we were teaching Carly to spell her name, she kept forgetting the order of the letters.  One day on the way home from school I signed her name while saying the letters and she did this with me.  Then I just signed the letters while she said them.  By the time we got home she could sign and say the letters in her name, in the correct order and all by herself!  This was a skill I had been trying to teach her for weeks and as soon as I added the signing component she learned in 5 minutes!  What a testimony to the fact that children learn better when their bodies are involved!  By signing her name we were no longer limited to auditory processing, she know could see her name signed, form the letters with her hands, and say the letters.  This multifaceted approach to learning was just what she needed to remember the sequence of letters.

It wasn’t long after this that she began writing her name.  We also began testing out a new product developed by Carolina Pad, called Fundanoodle.  This program made it fun to practice fine motor and writing skills!  The Fundanoodle learning kits and activity pads were designed by pediatric occupational therapist.  Working with kids with special needs, I had spent many hours consulting with occupational therapist and working on my students’ fine motor deficits.  After trying out the Fundanoodle products I knew they were designed extremely well and truly made learning fun!

Through the use of the Fundanoodle learning system, Carly developed motor skills, learned to cut, and properly form letters.  Now, at 3.5 years old, she writes all her uppercase letters and can write words and sentences if you spell them for her.  Not only does she do all this, but she loves to do it, she initiates writing on a daily basis, during her free time!  Fundanoodle products made learning so much fun that my daughter begs me to spell word after word for her so that she can write notes to people.

I couldn’t help but see the connection between sign language, social development, and fine motor skills when I looked at our daughter through the eyes of a teacher.  I knew we were on to something great and wanted to share it with more parents and children!

We now have another little girl and we have started signing even earlier with her.  I decided to take a break from full-time education to spend more time with our girls and expand our family farm, Augustyn Acres Alpacas.  However, I still wanted to pursue my passion and utilize my skills as a teacher. Since I love Signing Time and fully believe in the many benefits of teaching sign language to hearing children, I decided to become a Signing Time Instructor!  I also love teaching social skills and wanted to incorporate the wonderful Fundanoodle products into my classes.  Fine motor skills and social development are positively affected by sign language and all three go hand in hand, and so Sign and Doodle was born.  I am so excited to help other families experience the benefits of sign langauge, increase fine motor skills, and develop social awareness.

Thank you for joining me on this exciting journey!