At the age of 12 months, Emma Carr already has an extensive vocabulary, including the words "please," "thanks," "milk" and "eat."
However, she isn't communicating with baby talk. Instead, she uses sign language with the help of sign language instructor Cammie Yick of Dover.
The founder of Sunshine Signing, Yick is a certified master Baby Signing Time instructor, teaching American sign language to children age 6 to 36 months. It's a skill, she said, that provides babies with a method of communicating long before they are able to form words.
Yick began learning sign language while in high school because her best friend was deaf. She went on to receive her bachelor's degree in communications at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., which specializes in visual language.
"It's a mecca for deaf education," said Yick. "People come there from all over the world."
Yick is now working on her master's degree in deaf education. In the meantime, the mother of two has launched Sunshine Signing to teach the language to babies and their parents.
She is currently offering classes at Gumballs & Overalls in Valrico and The Village Early Learning Center in Bloomingdale West. However, in October, she will begin classes at the Osprey Club in FishHawk Ranch and at Bruce Klay's Dance Center in South Tampa.
Using the nationally recognized Baby Signing Time and Signing Time curriculum, Yick shows children and parents signs for colors, inanimate objects and words such as "sleepy," "mommy," "daddy," "sorry," "good job" and "quiet."
She reinforces the signs with stories, songs and visual cues.
Parents learn the signs as their children learn. They also receive handouts including the sign language alphabet, song lyrics and tips for reinforcing signs.
It's a language Yick taught to her 3-year-old daughter, who began signing back at 10 months old. Yick is now teaching sign language to her 6-month-old son.
"For children this age, frustration can be huge," said Yick. "They want to communicate but don't have the physical ability yet to form the words. By teaching them sign language, you reduce the temper tantrums."
That's the reason Bonnie and Phelan Cantrell of Brandon decided to enroll their 15-month-old son, Blaidd, in Yick's class at Gumballs & Overalls.
"We actually started teaching him sign language before we started the class," said Phelan Cantrell. "I had deaf friends in high school and learned some sign language so I started teaching him the basics, such as 'please' and 'thank you.'"
"We wanted Blaidd to be able to communicate with us before he could speak," said Bonnie Cantrell. "With sign language, children can communicate two years before they are verbal."
The Cantrells say Blaidd regularly uses his sign language skills at home to communicate his desires.
"At 15 months, he has a larger vocabulary than other children his age," said Bonnie Cantrell.
Jessica Carr of Brandon said she received the Baby Signing Time curriculum from a friend when she was pregnant with her daughter, Emma.
"I started using sign language with her after she was born and I was amazed at how quickly she learned signs," said Carr. "So I started looking for a class and found this one. I wanted her to learn to sign in a social setting."
Yick suggests parents use sign language consistently with their babies long before the infants can sign back so they learn to associate certain signs with words. Babies are usually able to sign back at age 8 to 14 months.
"The earlier you start, the better," she said.
"Learning a second language is fun and has many developmental benefits," said Yick. "American sign language stimulates learning through different senses. Learning a second language also raises your child's IQ."
Yick said some parents hesitate to teach their babies sign language for fear that it will delay their verbal skills. Actually, said Yick, sign language facilitates speech in children. Children who learn sign language are more likely to begin expressing the signs with words at an earlier age.
By associating signs with written words, Yick said children also learn to read earlier.
A new 45-minute class will begin Wednesday, Oct. 3 at 11:15 a.m. at Gumballs & Overalls.
South Tampa residents can take the class at Brucie Klay's Dance Center, 3601 S. Manhattan Ave., beginning Monday, Oct. 29 at 10 a.m.
And FishHawk Ranch resident can sign up for classes at the Osprey Club, 5721 Osprey Ridge Dr., Lithia, begining Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 10 a.m.
Classes are $40 for a four-week session.