Melissa Wardell
Certified My Smart Hands Instructor since 2009 
Owner of My Smart Hands - Des Moines

I have worked with children both professionally and as a volunteer for over two decades. After learning the manual alphabet in the fourth grade, I fell in love with sign language and began teaching myself signs using as many books as I could get my hands on. Through my sign language research, I read about the benefits of using sign language with hearing children and was excited to use sign language with my own children.

My son Max was born in November of 2007, and I have seen firsthand the benefits of using sign language with him. Max used his first sign around 9 months and had a sign vocabulary of nearly 40 signs by the time he was one. That number more than doubled to nearly 100 signs by age 18 months. By age 22 months, Max could read and recite the alphabet. I credit Max's early reading skills to his use of sign language and ability to communicate through signs at such a young age. He is in 5th grade and reads at the level of a 12th grader.

My daughter Charlotte was born in September of 2009. She waited until 14 months to begin signing, but she caught on quickly and was using two-word sentences in sign language at only 16 months, such as "Milk, please" and "More cheese!"  Charlotte continues to expand her signing and spoken vocabulary on a daily basis, as she frequently asks, "Mommy, what's the sign for...?" She loves to use the ASL alphabet to practice spelling and sounding out words. She is in 3rd grade and NEVER stops talking!

Our third child, Alexander, was born in October of 2011.  He used his first sign when he was 10 months (milk!) and learned signs the fastest of all three of my children.  He only had to be shown a sign once and he would repeat it, then use it correctly in conversation later.  He is also the only one of my three to "babble" with his hands, as described here, which I find completely fascinating!  Alexander is following in his brother's footsteps as an early reader.  He knew all his letters at age 2, all the letter sounds at age 3, and began sounding out words around the time he turned 4.  He is in 1st grade and can read at a 2nd grade level!  I credit his early reading skills to the use of sign language!

I am passionate about the benefits and importance of using sign language with hearing children and would love to help you get started in this exciting and rewarding experience! For more information or to sign up for a class, contact me at or 515-577-5743.