The Sing and Sign Story
Sasha Felix created the Sing and Sign programme when her daughter was a baby. Now in its 20th year, this unique programme the very first of its kind has taught a whole generation of children and the approach is as relevant today as when it first launched in January 2001.
The Original Idea
In 1999, Sasha's daughter Francesca was a delightful and happy baby but even though she was clearly very bright and adored musical activities with her mum, she was less interested in communicating in the more typical way of her little friends. Her communication caused some concern as she had no babbling, no pointing and was becoming somewhat insular unless music and singing were being enjoyed. Sasha was told Francesca was too young for any intervention and she should wait until she was at least two or even three before any help could be offered (!) Luckily Sasha ignored this suggestion and instead asked advice from a speech and language therapist who recommended introducing a few signs to help things along. This was at a far earlier age than was usual, but Sasha could see the logic in it and after one evening's lesson at a 'Say it and Sign it' course run in West Sussex (attendance fee cost Sasha just £2!) she started using some key signs with her little girl.
Starting with the sign for 'finished' in the high chair at lunchtime, moving on to 'more' and 'music' and then a range of animals (elephants a particular hit) Francesca's communication improved within weeks. Sasha played many therapy games with her to consolidate the progress and this inspired the idea to give other parents the same level of fun and benefit she and Francesca had enjoyed. Thrilled by the impact of this so-simple way of encouraging development Sasha incorporated the signs and her experiences of early intervention speech and language therapy into her plans for a parent and baby music group and called the classes 'Sing and Sign'.
At that time there were no baby classes designed specifically with the development of speech and communication in mind. Sing and Sign was a fresh idea and 'opened the batting' for the many baby development classes which have followed since.
Thanks to her professional background as a piano player and musical director, Sasha created all the music backing tracks for the launch in January 2001, adapting classic nursery rhyme tunes and writing many of her own songs. The format and content were checked and approved by our consultant, Senior Speech and Language Therapist Sue Crane, whose experience is extensive and whose wisdom is second to none! The country’s first ever baby signing music classes opened in Brighton, with just five parents and by the end of term word had spread and two full classes were running. That first term it was clear that Sing and Sign had broken new ground, was unlike any other class and needed to be shared. Sasha decided to record all her music and film her approach and invited twenty-five families to a windy park in April for the first filming day of the now famous music video 'Sing and Sign' which was released later that year. With the sale of the video through the website, franchising the classes nationally was the next obvious step and the first Sing and Sign Franchisee started her own classes in Bristol in 2002.
Strength to Strength
Things moved very quickly from that point. High Street giant Mothercare asked us to run the classes across a range of their stores including their Watford Head Office. Too much has happened in the last twenty years to list everything (!) but since its release the Sing and Sign DVD has grown in popularity to legendary status, we have won numerous awards including gold and platinum discs from the BPI, launched new curricula (including the wonderful Stage 2 which allows children who adore class to stay on just that little bit longer and our introductory Babes course for those under 6 months). We have released two further DVDs, 'More Sing and Sign - Stage 2' and 'Have a Sing and Sign Christmas' and CDs also a range of Jessie Cat books. As the general popularity of DVD format has waned in favour of streaming we have moved all our filmed content online into The Jessie Cat Club. Despite enormous success our ethos remains the same and everything continues to be carefully designed to improve communication in pre-verbal babies and toddlers while speech is developing.
Franchisees for Southampton, Bedford, Harrow, Edinburgh and Sheffield had been among the earliest to join us. We had acquired well over a hundred franchisees by our fifteenth birthday. There are currently 120 franchisees operating across the UK (2020) running classes of their own within a family-friendly and generous business model. Coronavirus has not dented our teachers determination or enthusiasm in bringing classes to their families and all are offering our complete online learning courses, with many including Zoom sessions and online support as a part of the experience. Baby signing the fun way continues at full strength!
Sasha has always insisted Sing and Sign take part in a significant fundraise every year. Initially our preferred cause was children's communication charity ICAN but since the sad death of a little Sing and Sign friend in 2012 we have concentrated our efforts on raising for Cancer Research UK. We chose this charity as we know many of the babies who attend our groups will one day need the benefit of research into cancer which is being done NOW. This is our motivation, the future health of Sing and Sign children. We have raised around £50K to date for the charity and this year our 'Jessie Cat Party' fundraising will go ahead, pandemic or no pandemic! We have a fabulous online class to share with our parents, all proceeds going to the charity. Visit Jessie Cat's Facebook page to learn more!
‘Jessica Cat' was the favourite cuddly of Sasha's daughter Francesca, gifted to her on her second birthday. She was one of a variety of animal toys who played ‘peekaboo’ in that first ever Sing and Sign course of classes. Jessie was chosen for her starring role in the Sing and Sign DVD just to surprise Francesca and make her laugh. Since then she has become an icon. We are extremely proud of Jessie and how she is loved so deeply by the children. She is the true superstar of Sing and Sign!
Sing and Sign has grown into a major national franchise and Francesca has grown into a wonderful young woman. She has an exciting future as a musician in her own right (that early obsession with music certainly did no harm!) and anyone interested in knowing more about her can find her glorious voice and her music at francescamorris.co.uk