An upcoming program at the Henderson Library is set to help kids become bilingual, but not in the way some might think.
The West Alexander-based Society for Manitobans with Disabilities (SMD) Sign-a-Story program is entering its third year. After two years at the Millennium Library, the program is enjoying a change of scenery this time around, moving to the Winnipeg Public Library’s 1-1050 Henderson Hwy. branch.
As part of the program, a deaf storyteller will go into the library and teach children aged two to six how to read the book in English and American sign language (ASL).
"The deaf storyteller focuses on pre-literacy skills, so developing the language first in order to read the book," explained SMD community counsellor Cathy Grafton, who is based out of the organization’s Notre Dame Avenue office. "Once the kids learn the language, and the parents also learn the language, then we can start teaching them how to read with their children."
The session will run for six weeks, with two books being covered over the length of the session. Grafton said 10 to 13 families tend to sign up for each session.
Rita Bomak, who lives in The Maples, has attended each of the first two sessions with granddaughter Mally Braunlich. Bomak is deaf, as is Mally’s mother, while Mally is able to hear but has learned ASL from a young age. Mally also attends the Manitoba School for the Deaf, which offers programs for hearing children, so she has become fluent in ASL.
"My granddaughter absolutely loves it. When we go, we learn all the new vocabulary, all the new signs," Bomak said through ASL interpreter Hubert Demers. "The other children may not have as much exposure, and so my granddaughter will sometimes help them learn a new sign. There’s lots of peer interaction and peer teaching, even at that age."
Bomak said parents at the program will sometimes approach her for advice on anything from the signs themselves to helping their children learn the language, and discipline.
"(I can help provide) language so these non-deaf parents can communicate with their child," Bomak said.
Since the storyteller is deaf, Bomak appreciates the opportunity for children to have a deaf role model. Interpreters are available for parents who don’t know sign language.
Bomak added she is glad to see hearing parents with hearing children coming to Sign-a-Story as well.
"It might be a bit more challenging, but I’m thoroughly impressed with them coming because they have no connection to anything deaf in their experience, and yet they’re willing to participate," Bomak said. "I’m very impressed by their openness."
The program is a redesign of the shared reading project, which was a one-on-one version of the program that was revamped because of lack of funding.
Grafton noted funding for the current incarnation came from Brematson and Associates.
Sign-a-Story will be offered Tuesday nights from Oct. 15 to Nov. 19 from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. For more information or to register, contact Grafton at firstname.lastname@example.org, 204-975-3273 or at her TTY number 204-975-3083.
Children who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing are all welcome.