Sign Language for Newborns, Infants, and Toddlers: Podcast Episode #163
December 16, 2022

Sign Language for Newborns, Infants, and Toddlers: Podcast Episode #163

We talk with Cara Tyrrell about using sign language with newborns, infants, and toddlers.  You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts. Be sure to listen to find out how to get a free download on the benefits of ASL for your little ones!

Welcome.  You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting.  Let’s chat!

Kristin:  Hello, hello!  This is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I am so excited to chat with Cara Tyrrell today.  Cara has a bachelor’s degree in ASL and linguistics and a master’s degree in education.  She’s a trained early childhood teacher and early years caregiver, continuing education consultant, and a parent coach.  In her preschool and kindergarten classrooms, Cara identified a pattern of underdeveloped skill sets in her students indicating a lack of overall readiness to learn.  After years of hearing parents say, “I’m so glad you’re their first teacher,” she realized she wasn’t.  The solutions to arming preschoolers and kindergarteners with comprehensive readiness skills for finding success in school started with these same parents in the family home at birth.  This led her to professionally pivot.  She left the classroom to test her earliest years methodology as a full service nanny, serving a family from the birth of their child until they entered a traditional school setting.  Years of implementing strategies, systems, and scripts confirmed her hypotheses.  All children, regardless of their birth origin or natural characteristics, can thrive as early learners in the Core4 readiness areas when parents and caregivers create the home environment with intention.  So early in the onset of the COVID pandemic, Cara felt called to bring the Core4 methodology for raising truly world-ready kids to the world to arm proactive parents with the tools they want and need to raise happy, healthy, successful kids.  Through Core4 Parenting, Cara is shifting the focus.  Parenting personal development meets early childhood education.  She coined the phrases “parenting GPS” and teaches how to write a personalized parenting mission statement as a cornerstone of the Core4 methodology serving the invisible learning years from birth to age 5.  Welcome, Cara!

Cara:  Thank you!  So glad to be here and thanks for that beautiful introduction.

Kristin:  What an amazing journey from teacher to really testing out your methodology as a nanny and creating this much-needed program during the pandemic when parents were overwhelmed and isolated.

Cara:  You know, it was like coming home for me because I started my journey to serving little people as a nanny when I was a teenager and then a young adult and moved into the teaching space and so coming back to nannying with an agenda, if you will, felt really right, and it was an amazing experience being with little people again in a different time period because clearly, it was 20 years later since I had first become a nanny.

Kristin:  That’s amazing.  So our topic today, although I think I could speak with you about so many different topics, is focused on the child’s first communication, so using sign to speak and ASL classes that you offer for newborn, infant, and toddler parents.

Cara:  Yes.  As you mentioned, I do have a degree in linguistics and in American Sign Language, so for me, this is a real passion point, and the first thing that I always want parents to understand is that communication is not language.  And language is not communication.  They are uniquely different in many ways because your baby communicates with you from the minute that they’re born.  They’re just not using words.

Kristin:  Yes.  So true.  So I know I used a bit of baby sign and took classes with my first child, and it was very helpful, especially with eating communication.  Any tips on really how to find the right program, how families can begin implementing at a very early age some of the ASL techniques?

Cara:  Yes, absolutely.  What’s important to understand is that the earlier you start, the better, but the earlier you start, the longer you will wait to see your child start to produce signs on their own.  It’s one of those “believe it to see it.”  We know our kids are going to talk someday.  We believe it.  But we know we have to wait a really long time for that to happen.  Your baby’s brain is making neurological connections, is creating those language-based pathways from birth, and you are their language source.  You are creating the dictionary from which they will pull from when they have the ability in their physiological body and brain and the muscle motor control in their tongue to start communicating back with you.  So the earlier you start, the bigger and the more complex and rich that dictionary is going to be.  So I highly recommend that parents take my Sign to Speak: The Communication Bridge Course when they’re still pregnant, and start using it immediately when their baby is born.  Obviously, not everybody finds me or my programming that early, and that’s okay, too, because the beautiful part of this is that the human body, your baby’s body, will be ready to produce signs with their hands long before they will be ready to produce words with their mouth.  Right?  Gross motor skills come first.  The moving of their arms up so that you know they want you to pick them up; the index finger pointing when they see something new so you know they want you to tell them what that object is.  These are gross motor movements with their hands and bodies that are communicating in a pre-language way.

Kristin:  And with that delay, their speech, then, as far as their first words, if they’re used to signing and getting, you know, exactly what they need through that early communication, is there any delay in speech if they’re able to express themselves through sign?

Cara:  I am so glad you asked that question because it is the top concern that parents have, and the answer is no.  There is definitely no delay.  The more language inputs, the better in those early years when their brain is developing, and actually, the answer is it helps their speech become a part of their natural life if not on time, even earlier than that typical milestone would have been reached.  And the reason is – well, I guess it’s how you use it, right?  We need to know as parents why we’re choosing to use signs with our babies.  And in my course, I break it down into three groups on purpose.  The first are basic needs, our basic survival needs.  And the next are health, hygiene, and safety signs because after you have a newborn, you now have an infant that is going to be exploring their world a little bit, and your job is to keep them healthy, safe, and clean with hygiene, and then after you have an infant, you have this pre-toddler or you have this toddler who is exploring the world even more with their bodies and now their brains, and now they have opinions and wants and needs and desires.  And so the third group of signs that we tackle in the course are those so you can start building a choice-making relationship with your child inside your home.  So not only doesn’t delay their speech, it encourages it because the arc of the course is such that I’m encouraging you to say the spoken word as you produce the sign, and when you start to see your child try that – I have this cool little video montage that shows a 10-month old signing, exclusively signing, “more.”  And then a 14-month old saying “mu-mu-mu-mu” as they sign “more,” and then an 18-month old who has completely dropped the sign and is just communicating with you.  “More, please.”

Hey, Alyssa here.  I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming.  Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between.  You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood.  You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more.  You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most.  And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls.  If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at, or check it out at  We’d love to see you there.

Kristin:  And I remember my daughter doing some of that.  So she was signing and trying to attempt her first words.  That makes complete sense.  So ideally, you would take the course during pregnancy, and then with these different stages, of course you would be able to refer and refresh your memory.  So you have that extra time during pregnancy to really absorb versus being so focused on that early parenting and postnatal recovery.  So I love that they can reference it versus taking an in-person class and then forgetting or referring to books or handouts.  Really having those videos to accompany as time goes on and our memories are short, so we can refer to that toddler stage and how to basically enhance skills that their child already has from the earlier portion of your course.

Cara:  Absolutely.  And yes, it is yours for life.  You have lifetime access.  You go in there and grab what you need when you need it.  But the only way that you’re going to know to go grab what you need is if you’ve already opened up to the awareness that this is the tool that you’re choosing to support your child’s language development as they grow.  And the other thing that makes it – what I try to do in each module, and just so you are aware and your listeners are aware, each lesson is five minutes or less.

Kristin:  Oh, wonderful.

Cara:  And you don’t even have to think about it.  When you sign up for the course, you get your introduction email, and then once a day, you get a “Here’s your lesson one” email, “Here’s your lesson two” email.  All you have to do is click, watch, and go implement it.  And I did this on purpose because as a teacher, I know that building the habit of signing, creating it as just part of the culture of your home, is what’s going to create long-term transformational results for you.  And so building a habit takes about three weeks.  My course takes three weeks.  And you get one sign a day delivered to you for 21 days in a row, and you have created a new, healthy communication habit that not only is creating the dictionary of your new baby’s brain, but it also takes some of the stress of that early communication between yourself and the other members of your household down a few notches.  And that’s my favorite thing, when I hear people say, “I feel calmer and I feel more confident knowing I’m doing something wonderful for my child.  But also, it’s really helping everybody else in the house stay connected, too.”

Kristin:  I love it.  Yeah, and if there are other children in the house, they can engage.  So it’s beautiful.  And then of course as the modules continue and questions arise, is there an interaction component that our listeners can expect?

Cara:  Yes.  So one of the things that matters to me is that they feel supported.  And what I have created is a virtual village.  It is a private online community for conscious moms raising world-ready kids, and we are all in there together.  And then inside the village is yet another group that is exclusively for people who are taking the sign language class, and in there, we can ask our questions.  I’m hopping into the group all the time.  They can get the answers that they need.  And then they can come back into the larger feed of the virtual village and be interacting with other moms who have same-aged kids.

Kristin:  Yeah, that interaction is so important.  Otherwise you can feel so isolated during pregnancy and certainly in early parenting.  So I love that there’s specific networking for the Sign to Speak students but also the larger community, since you have so many other programs for families.

Cara:  Yes.  And I recently was asked the question, when is the best time to take parenting classes, and quite honestly, the answer is while you’re still pregnant.  We know it’s so much easier to take care of your tiny growing human while they are inside you than after they have joined the world.  It’s a different skill set that’s required, and it’s so much more energy.  And so that’s why inside the virtual village is where I have the rest of the Womb to One digital course series, and parents can just work through it on their own time.  Concerned about the third trimester and it’s approaching quickly?  Eight weeks to go, here’s what you need to know is a course we offer.  Concerned about postpartum, what it’s going to look like when you get home from the hospital?  We have a course and it comes directly after the third trimester course.  What to expect when you’re done expecting.  And so what I tried to do is design these digital courses in such a way that they truly hold you where you are in your pregnancy journey all the way through until your child turns one year old because that first year can be the most overwhelming and hardest to keep perspective in as you navigate your daily life.

Kristin:  Agreed.  Yeah, it’s a similar focus that we have in the Becoming a Mother course in really getting our students to engage in early pregnancy, even though half of our course is focused on the early parenting and postnatal recovery and feeding options and so on.  It’s so much more beneficial to engage during pregnancy when you have the time, even if it’s your fourth child.  You have more time than caring for a newborn, and caring for yourself during recovery.  So I completely agree.  How can our listeners connect with you?  I know you’ve got an amazing website, but you’re also very engaged in social media?

Cara:  Yes, if you’re so looking to connect with me on social, we are @core4parenting on Instagram and the broad birth to five space.  If you’re looking to connect with me specifically about toddlers, you can find me @core4parenting on TikTok.  I have a channel there that’s specifically for pandemic moms raising toddlers now and the strategies that they need in order to feel successful in helping their kids meet their milestones.  And if you want more information why it’s so valuable to arm your child with ASL skills, I have a free download that I am so happy to offer your listeners, 5 Reasons To Use ASL Signs With Your Infants and Toddlers.

Kristin:  So helpful, Cara!  Any final tips for our listeners and what we didn’t cover as they’re preparing for their new baby?

Cara:  As they’re preparing for their new baby – well, since we’ve been talking about language, I’ll just leave them with this: knowing that there’s two different types of language, receptive and expressive, and your new baby comes into the world as a receiver.  They are going to be receiving everything from you.  The words you say, the way you hold them, the emotions you’re feeling.  It’s all being absorbed into their beautiful body and brain.  And so just know that what you have to put in, you’re going to be putting in for a long time before you see any of the expressive pieces start to come back at you.

Kristin:  I love it.  And that can be challenging for partners to not feel as bonded until baby is more expressive, so I love your final tip, especially as you’re looking at partners and fathers and knowing that the engagement will be reciprocal over time once they’re able to communicate.

Cara:  Absolutely.  And we’re often surprised by what comes back at us, and we say, how did they learn that?  Oh, wait, I didn’t realize everything I was doing was being put in this memory bank.

Kristin:  Exactly.  So lovely.  Well, thank you for your time today, Cara, and all of the work you’re doing.  I love everything about your program and can’t wait to connect with you more.

Cara:  The feeling is mutual.  Thank you for the space to share, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Thanks for listening to Gold Coast Doulas.  Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.  If you like this podcast, please subscribe and give us a five-star review.  Thank you!  Remember, these moments are golden.