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Mixed Dentition Episode 4 - Shira Fogel

Shira Fogel sits down with Dr. Stafford to talk about her company Tiny Talkers which help parents and caregivers communicate with small children through sign language. They discuss the origins of Tiny Talkers, the various class offerings, and the benefits to both kids and the grown-ups who care for them.

You can learn more about tiny talkers HERE

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Dr. Stafford: Hi, this is doctor Michelle Stafford with World of Smiles and we're here today with another podcast, Mixed Dentition. And today, I have a special guest star, Shira Fogel, with Tiny Talkers.

Shira Fogel: Hello.

Dr. Stafford: Hello, thank you for coming in.

Shira Fogel: Yeah, thanks for having me.

Dr. Stafford: So tell us a little bit about Tiny Talkers.

Shira Fogel: So Tiny Talkers was born 10 years ago when my son was using sign language. Actually the idea of it came longer than that when my daughter was really using it. But I needed a couple of years to sort of formulate the idea of how I could teach others about this. Basically, both of my kids were so good at using sign language to communicate before they could talk to me, that I found myself at the park teaching other parents. Like I was actually teaching classes at the park. And actually both of my kids were signing so much with me before they could actually speak that a lot of people just assume that they were deaf.

Dr. Stafford: Oh Wow.

Shira Fogel: So we would be at the park and they would say, "more swinging", or "stop", "all done", "want water", that kind of thing. So they were signing all these different things and you know, it just really made my life so much easier and I wanted to help other parents to make their lives easier because parenting's hard. And any kind of parenting life hack that you can do, I consider signing like the biggest life hack for parenting. It's amazing and just makes things so much easier.

Dr. Stafford: I love that.

Shira Fogel: Yeah.

Dr. Stafford: I love that.

Shira Fogel: Yeah.

Dr. Stafford: It's such a great way to communicate with your kids. And I remember you and I met right around that time, maybe nine years ago or so. It was before I had kids and thinking, gosh, what a great thing that you can offer your children, this early education and ability to communicate with you before their vocal chords can make... form words.

Shira Fogel: Exactly.

Dr. Stafford: Their hands can make these signs. And so we actually taught our kids a few basic signs based on what I learned from you. Years before I had kids. But I will say so if you're listening, instead of watching, you should tune into parts of the video so you can see some of the signs as they are pretty amazing.

Dr. Stafford: And I have a funny story from yesterday, hilariously. You know how life happens. One of my team members, she has a son and she's trying to wean him. He's passed a year and she's trying to wean them off the nursing. So when she gets home from work, he just follows her around like this with the sign for wanting milk. And he just like, squeezes his hand, "Milk, milk, milk, milk, milk". She's like, "No, no, no, no, no". She tries to put him off at least until later. And then she finally gives in.

Shira Fogel: And it's funny because you know, if he was trying to say the word milk, if he's only a year, he would probably be struggling with that a bit. But sign language is so clear. It's so obvious what he wants.

Dr. Stafford: He's like telling her what he wants from her. And she's like, "No, no, no water. Let's drink some water".

Shira Fogel: Exactly.

Dr. Stafford: That's really cute.

Shira Fogel: That is funny.

Dr. Stafford: So you offer classes for parents.

Shira Fogel: I do.

Dr. Stafford: Great, well tell us a little more about what you offer.

Shira Fogel: So I have actually a lot of different classes. What I recommend that parents and caregivers, I have grandparents and nannies and anyone who takes care of kids start with the baby sign language, one on one workshop. And basically what that is, is two hours of just everything you could possibly need to know to get started right at home. Because that's where the learning takes place, it's at home. If your child's in daycare, it should continue during the day there. But really the basis is at home. So if you could just give me two hours of your time, I will get you set up with everything you need to know.

Shira Fogel: And for working parents or busy families, or even anybody who might be listening to this who doesn't live in Portland, I have a webcast so it's the same information but it's online.

Dr. Stafford: That's great.

Shira Fogel: And then that is not a prerequisite though. I like for families to start there. I have weekly classes called sign, sing and play. And that's from nine months to two, two and a half years. And it's infused with a ton of music. We do a lot of dancing, we do a lot of play. And it's just a really engaging way for caregivers and children to connect and learn at the same time. And it's a lot of fun. And what I have a lot of caregivers tell me is that coming every week reminds them to be consistent with their practice.

Shira Fogel: And then I had so many families that would graduate, meaning they started talking and they said, "We're not ready to leave, but we don't want to take up a spot for babies in the class, you need it". So for them, I created a preschool class, so we keep going for ages two to five. And that causes a lot of fun because they can engage more and so they can learn higher level signs. So instead of just learning one sign at a time, we can say, "Hello, how are you?", You know, and do many different signs with them in colors and concepts. So it's a lot of fun.

Dr. Stafford: Yeah. That's really Wonderful. I think exposing kids to a second language early on too is so important.

Shira Fogel: Very.

Dr. Stafford: For the parents to learn with their children at the same time and be able to communicate and practice at home.

Shira Fogel: Definitely.

Dr. Stafford: It's a really great skill.

Shira Fogel: Definitely. And I have a lot of bilingual families in my classes and initially they were concerned, well can we do this, because we speak two different languages. But signing is actually great for that because it helps to bridge the gap between the two languages. So let's say for example, one parent was speaking English and one was speaking Spanish. If they're both saying their words and their language, but they're both signing the same thing, then the child makes the connection that this word and this word is both the same thing.

Dr. Stafford: Oh, that's great.

Dr. Stafford: So then they're really learning three languages.

Shira Fogel: Exactly.

Dr. Stafford: That they're making that connection-

Shira Fogel: Exactly.

Dr. Stafford: Early on. Oh, that's really great. Wonderful.

Shira Fogel: It is fun. And you know, a lot of people just assume that babies don't really know what's going on. We don't give them credit for how smart they are until we teach them how to sign. They have so much to say and they understand so much of what we're saying, but the muscles in the mouth take so long to develop. And as a dentist, you would know that. And so the hand muscles develop a lot faster. And so that's, you know how we can enable them to communicate with us a lot earlier.

Dr. Stafford: I love that. It's true. So with your facial muscles, sometimes you'll see kids kind of like moving their jaw around and even like grinding their teeth. And a lot of times it's the muscle recruitment to work on those muscle fibers bringing them in and then just learning, you know, not just how to speak, but how to chew properly, and everything. It's amazing watching kids develop and it's really great that to have a way to communicate during that development process where they can tell us what they need if they're thirsty versus hungry or you know, if they're tired even.

Shira Fogel: Right.

Dr. Stafford: You want to play.

Shira Fogel: Right. Yeah.

Dr. Stafford: It's nice to be able to empower your children to communicate with you. I love that.

Shira Fogel: For sure. And you know, just thinking about you being a dentist, which my kids have always enjoyed going to the dentist. It's never been a traumatic experience. But thinking back to when my son was... I want to say he was 13, 14 months old. We are the doctor and he had just gotten a shot and I was chit chatting with a doctor a little too long and he looked at me and he signed, "Home", but his mouth wasn't developed enough to actually say the word home, he said "Ohm". and had he not signed home, I never would have picked up that ohm was he was saying, "Let's go".

Shira Fogel: And it really saved us in that moment cause I said, "Hurt all done, we're going to go home now, we're communicating here. I feel you". And so you know some of that can be applied in the dentist office too for the little ones who, "How are you doing? Are we happy today? Everything's good?".

Dr. Stafford: When I pick up that the parents have worked with their kids on sign language, I definitely utilize that, "all done" after the exam is over and I can see their eyes like, "Oh, okay, all done". I take my gloves off hand them their toy and they're like, "Oh, she is done, okay". No more crying, I feel good. I'm going to watch for the, the home sign as well. For those of you who are watching, can you show me again?

Shira Fogel: So "home" you touch your chin, and then up near your temple. And what this is, is a variation of "eat" and "bed". So think about what do you do at home a lot, you eat and sleep. So home is like that.

Dr. Stafford: I like that.

Shira Fogel: Yeah, that's a good one.

Dr. Stafford: Yeah, that's great.

Dr. Stafford: What other signs could you teach us today?

Shira Fogel: "Brush teeth".

Dr. Stafford: Oh, I love that one.

Shira Fogel: That would be a good one. That's a pretty easy one too, and a good one for little kids because it's so visual. So you're just basically, for those of you who are just listening, we are just mimicking, brushing our teeth with our index finger and flossing is the same exact mimicking.

Dr. Stafford: Oh yes. I like that. [crosstalk 00:10:08]

Shira Fogel: Let's see, dentist, you don't actually touch your tooth, but you pretend that you're touching your tooth twice. And then what you do with a lot of professions, is you sign something and then you do a classifier. So you just take your hands from up and go down and that represents a person. So you are a tooth person.

Dr. Stafford: Person. I like it. That's fantastic.

Shira Fogel: It's pretty cool.

Dr. Stafford: Thank you. I'm going to use that one.

Shira Fogel: And then of course some basics here, you know, "more"-

Dr. Stafford: Yes, "more", I remember that.

Shira Fogel: "All done".

Dr. Stafford: "All done".

Shira Fogel: "Help" might be a good one.

Dr. Stafford: Oh yeah, "Help".

Shira Fogel: "Help". If they're needing help getting into the chair will you, you know, maybe if you want to help them take ownership of their visit, "Do you want to help hold this?"

Dr. Stafford: Yes.

Shira Fogel: Or something like that.

Dr. Stafford: Yeah, I like that. I just like that I'm a tooth person. I kind of want to be a floss person.

Shira Fogel: Yeah. You can be a tooth and a floss person.

Dr. Stafford: [inaudible 00:11:11] floss person.

Shira Fogel: It is a good one.

Dr. Stafford: So Shira, before we go, is there anything else you would like our audience to know?

Shira Fogel: Yeah, I would just like to say if you have thought about signing but you feel like you're exhausted as all new parents are, which we can relate to. Just to give it a try because it is really was the greatest thing that I did with my kids to make them feel good about themselves and to help us communicate, and it just made life easier. And emotions too for them to be able to tell me when they were scared or they were feeling mad. All the little things that you actually don't think about.

Shira Fogel: Most people think about sign language, they think about "more", and "milk", and "all done". But it can go much further than that. So even if you just think about five to 10 signs that would be helpful for your daily routine. And maybe mix in with that, a couple of signs that you know your kids are really excited about. If you have a dog and your child loves the dog, then you would want to add in the sign for "dog", which is just slapping your leg because that gets them excited about language. And so it's not about using a ton of science. It's more about just using at least if you're new to it, using a handful of signs and being successful in that. I wish everybody would just give it a try.

Dr. Stafford: I think that's great advice.

Shira Fogel: Yeah. For sure.

Dr. Stafford: And speaking from experience, we only learned about five 10 signs for each of our kids and it was very helpful. When you were talking about earlier, I specifically remember the sign for "more" and when my son was eating and there was something he really liked instead of crying about it, or throwing a fit, or not knowing how to tell us that he liked it, he would like point at it and be, "more, more, more". And we were able to communicate with him and just learn a little bit more about what he liked and didn't like.

Shira Fogel: Definitely.

Dr. Stafford: And it was a really nice way for him to be able to communicate. And we remember the sign for "water" and even "help", sometimes he would ask for help that way.

Shira Fogel: "Help" is in my top five [inaudible 00:13:34] signs for in the house.

Dr. Stafford: Yes. Because they can actually express themselves-

Shira Fogel: Exactly.

Dr. Stafford: Through the sign language rather than, you know, crying, which is what a lot of kids do when they need help. Like let's say, well I remember being at the playground and my son wanted to swing and he couldn't climb up on the swing and so he was able to ask us for help, I believe this is the sign for "help".

Shira Fogel: Help, most kids look like this. When they do it, just hands up. [crosstalk 00:14:01]

Dr. Stafford: And we were able to put him on the swing, 'cause that's what he wanted to do and then he could tell us, "More, more swinging". So I just remember really appreciating the few signs that we did learn, seem to go a long way.

Shira Fogel: I think that's great.

Dr. Stafford: Even for working parents learning that and not feeling pressured that you have to learn a hundred signs. Just take a few in a week, in a month and then try to build on that and learn a few more. I think it's a really great way-

Shira Fogel: Do make sure that you're talking to daycare though, and that daycare knows what signs you're working on because babies do expect that all the big people in their world understand the signs that you're doing so they can get a little frustrated. And on the flip side, a lot of daycares do signs and then the parents find that they don't know what they're doing, you know? So if your is doing sign language, make sure that you know what the signs are.

Dr. Stafford: Great

Shira Fogel: And what they're doing.

Dr. Stafford: And so tell our audience how can they learn more about you in the classes you offer.

Shira Fogel: So just head over to my website, it's and you'll find all the different classes that I offer including the webcast and you can just kind of get a feel for the class too through photos on there and videos.

Dr. Stafford: Wonderful.

Shira Fogel: I'm also on Facebook and Instagram, so it's a good way to see a lot of my students signing and I teach a lot of signs on there as well.

Dr. Stafford: Great. And we would love to have you teach a class here at the office sometime. [crosstalk 00:15:29]

Shira Fogel: We did that awhile ago, I would love to do that again.

Dr. Stafford: We did. Alright, well stay tuned. We're going to plan a class for you.

Shira Fogel: Sounds good.

Dr. Stafford: To teach here.

Shira Fogel: Sounds good.

Dr. Stafford: All right. Well thank you so much, Shira for coming.

Shira Fogel: Thanks for having me.

Dr. Stafford: And thank you to our audience for listening. Have a great day.

Shira Fogel: Thank you.

Dr. Stafford: Thank you.



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