By Monica Beyer
Nancy Cadjan is the creative lifeforce behind the popular Sign Babies product line, which includes flash cards, board books and a full-length book for parents who are interested in learning to sign with their babies. Nancy lives in Utah with her husband Arthur and her children — Alex is 7 and Anna is 2.
I was able to catch up with Nancy not too long ago and was glad of the opportunity to do so. I have been talking with her since she started the flash cards and as her innovative product line continues to expand I wanted to let everyone get to know her a little better.
SB: Do you have any ASL/signed language background (i.e., academic/educational)? If so, tell me about it.
Nancy: I learned ASL in my youth, but then did not sign for years before researching signing with babies and deciding to sign with my own kids. My business came out of the experience of signing with my son.
SB: How did you hear about using sign language with hearing babies?
Nancy: I was watching Oprah over 15 years ago talking about research on signing with babies. I started following the research and reading everything I could get my hands on. I knew I would sign with my children.
SB: When did you decide you would use sign language with your kids?
Nancy: When I read the research on signing with babies. I have a Master’s Degree in English and Rhetoric and I have always been fascinated by language and communication. I learned 4 languages other than English and have always been very fascinated by how people communicate. Giving my children the opportunity to communicate early was a no-brainer. Then, when my son was born, my OB/GYN delivered him and said “This baby has an attitude!” She was right. He needed to communicate so much that signing saved us both from a lot of frustration.
SB: What sign(s) did you start with, and why?
Nancy: We started with MILK, MORE, EAT, FINISHED, DIAPER CHANGE, BATH and SLEEP. These signs are all distinct and they are signs for things that babies need most.
SB: What led to the creation of your flash cards?
Nancy: While signing with my son, I looked for books and tools to use, but did not find things that were baby-friendly. The books either had vocabulary that was too hard or you had to be able to read to use the ASL flashcards available at the time. I created my own “board book” in a photo album and a friend saw it and said, “If that is not available on the market, you’ve got a product and I will be your first customer.” Since then, we have sold over 60,000 sets of flash cards.
SB: Tell me about the process and the work involved in the creation of the flash cards.
Nancy: I taught hundreds of families about signing with babies and from that experience, I realized that there was a set of signs that really worked well for parents. That is the set of signs we started with. Then, I worked with a friend who is a children’s book illustrator and she and I created the cards.
SB: How are the flash cards used by parents typically?
Nancy: Parents use the cards to learn how to make the signs from the simple illustrations and hints on the back. Then, the front of the card is illustrated to interest the baby/toddler. Parents can use the cards to help the child to learn the sign. The best thing about the cards is that they allow parents to make their own “board books” using the flash cards so each mom can choose what she wants in her own book. If you don’t want to teach your child CANDY, you don’t have to.
SB: What other published works do you have currently? Tell me about them and how they came to be as well.
Nancy: Baby Signing 1, 2, 3: The Easy-to-Use Illustrated Guide to Every Age and Every Stage — this is the first book that combines baby signing with the child development to teach parents what to do at every age and stage. Each chapter focuses on a different stage and teaches parents how signing works with a child’s development and what signs work at each age. This is also the first book with a chapter on Children with Special Needs. It recently won the iParenting Media Award.
More Please is a board book designed for children and parents who sign, focusing on the things that they sign most. It is a story that parents and children can read and sign from begining to end with signs on each page to help parents. There are also additional signs and tips in the back of the book. A fun thing is that I had the book sitting around the house and my 23-month old daughter picked it up and started reading it and signing it by herself. I was really impressed because she was tiny when we developed it and I had not tried it out on her before then. It did exactly what I had hoped–gave kids a book that they could read and sign on their own from begining to end.
SB: Finally, tell me about Babies & Moms radio.
Nancy: This is my new passion–for the past 17 months. I do a radio show/podcast that focuses on the years between birth and 3 years old. This is the most changing time for moms and babies. Everyday your baby wakes up as a new person and there is so much to learn. We discuss everything from diapers to sleep patters to keeping a strong relationship with hubby to PMS. It is really informative and tons of fun because we are always laughing and having a great time. I recently go the following comment from a listener: “I can’t tell you how much I love your show, it has been such a blessing and source of comfort and humor and encouragement to me. Everything you ladies discuss resonates so powerfully for me. I recently downloaded all the old episodes and have almost made my way through them all. I was just telling my husband yesterday that I was excited that you are having more shows. He thinks I am addicted to you guys.”
The website is www.babiesandmomsradio.com and you can download shows in iTunes or listen on our site.
About the Author: Monica Beyer, creator of the highly trafficked website signingbaby.com, gained firsthand knowledge of the benefits of using baby sign language from teaching her own three children. Author of Baby Talk (Tarcher, 2006) and Teach Your Baby to Sign (Fair Winds Press, 2007), she lives in Missouri with her husband and children.