About Michelle Lerner
Michelle Lerner is the founder of Baby Says More™. She helps parents like you to teach their infants baby sign in their natural language environments. Michelle received a Bachelor of Arts in the Speech-Language-Hearing-Sciences at Hofstra University and a Master of Science in Speech and Language Pathology from Teacher’s College Columbia University. She holds the ASHA Certificate of Clinical Competence for Speech and Language Pathologists (CCC-SLP), the New York State License to practice Speech and Language Pathology and the Professional Certificate for Teachers of Students with Speech and Language Disabilities (TSSLD) with a Bilingual Extension in English/Spanish from the Bilingual Institute at Teacher’s College Columbia University.
Love of Children
I was born on January 5, 1984, in Manhasset, New York. From very early on I had an inclination towards caring for babies and young children, which was evidenced by my continued desire to “hold” any babies that I came across. It was great for my parents’ friends, as I was a traveling and trustworthy “babysitter”…a free one for that matter. That is, until I turned 11 years old and began to babysit for a local family with two children, ages 2 and 6. My first night babysitting was both exciting and challenging, including an unexpected “accident” that left me searching the shiny, marble floors for a wet spot for more time than I’d care to admit. Nevertheless, I was not in the least discouraged and continued a long journey of babysitting and forging bonds with young families in my community.
The Nanny Life
Throughout undergraduate at Hofstra University and graduate school at Columbia University, I worked part-time as a nanny for several different families with children ranging from 2 to 7 years old. I would like to reflect on a first grade homework assignment that inadvertently opened my eyes to experiential learning: write a list of words ending in “-tion.” How did such a run of the mill word family assignment become my Holy Grail? It happened when the girl’s father suggested the word “traction” to his 6 year-old, “How about ‘traction’? You know…when daddy presses the breaks when he’s driving and the car stops…that’s traction.” As I looked at the girl’s confused expression I couldn’t decide whether to intervene or to wait my turn. Next, her mother’s explanation of using the breaks on her daughter’s bicycle appeared to hit a bit closer to home, but I just didn’t see that light bulb go off and I couldn’t leave the situation unresolved. Luckily, we had the perfect context in which to teach “traction”: a cold, snowy evening in New York. I asked the girl, “Lets go outside right now. What shoes should you wear?” She looked at me as if I thought that she was a baby and responded, “My snow boots so I don’t slip.” I asked her why she wouldn’t slip in her snow boots, to which she responded that the rubber soles prevent her from falling.
Case in point, experience is our most promising tool for learning. I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson early on in my career. Nowadays, children are inundated with information that is presented via flashcards, worksheets and the like. I am not sure what happened to the notion of learning in context, but that does not seem to be the trend as evidenced by the wealth of products available to teach baby sign… Let me ask you a question: did you learn to communicate via flashcards?
The next stop on my educational journey was the NYC school system as a speech and language pathologist for students of all ages with various diagnoses. My specialty was, and still remains, Augmentative and Alternative Communication Systems (AAC); that is, any alternate mode of communication that either substitutes for or facilitates verbal communication, i.e. signs, gestures, communication books and voice output technologies. I worked predominantly with high school-aged students with significant Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In case you are unaware, individuals with ASD often require more than one mode of language input, i.e. aural (verbal) and visual (sign), to help improve overall comprehension.
Outside of the office, my first niece was born. At approximately 3 months, I decided to start introducing her to manual communication. Specifically, I taught her parents to pair speaking with routine baby signs within her natural language environment. I was able to work with them constantly as I lived a block away in NYC. My niece started her signing journey through observation, then approximation, and ultimately, at about 9 months of age, she could sign her basic wants/needs and use the politeness phrases (i.e. “please” and “thank you”). In fact, my interaction with my little niece consisted of so much dancing and so much signing, that when she ultimately started calling her family members by name, not long after her first birthday, my “name” included a dance move and the sign for “dance”… What else are aunts for?
Additionally, my role as speech and language pathologist in the school system afforded me the opportunity to wear many hats, including that of Adjunct Professor at Marymount Manhattan College. My course was geared specifically towards dual speech pathology and education majors working towards their teaching certification (TSSLD). The role of Professor was very rewarding for me and has since become one of my long-term goals.
I currently live abroad in pursuit of the perfect PhD program while I fine-tune my multilingual tongue (specifically, English/Spanish). I started Baby Says More™ as a means to combine my passions for language, children and traveling. The fact of the matter is that communication is the root of all relationships that we forge throughout life, including those that begin in utero. My goal is to afford parents the opportunity to communicate with their children as early on as possible. I am offering you this service in the comfort of your own home; that is, within your child’s natural language environment. Teaching your baby to sign takes time and commitment, and, to reiterate, does not require that you purchase any special language learning tools. And don’t forget that by reducing your baby’s need to cry, you can reduce consequential feelings of anxiety felt by both child and parent.
I will continue helping people all over the globe to sign with their babies, as well as to eliminate any misconceptions that signing with your baby can “delay” verbal language development. I will eventually incorporate my research regarding the matter into a formal PhD program. My goal is to do all of the above while simultaneously helping individuals with developmental disabilities communicate through alternative means.