I wasn’t always an artist…
Before I had children, I was a special education music teacher for children with Emotional Behavior Disabilities at Hillside Children’s Center in Rochester, NY. I used music to soothe anxieties and stimulate non-verbal communication and self expression. In return, the children showed improved self esteem. I enjoyed bringing smiles to their faces in the midst of their emotional turmoil.
When I became a mother, I decided to leave my job to devote my entire life to making my children’s lives happy and full of love. I thought about how I could make a difference in the world, while still remaining a stay-at-home Mom. It became my life goal to make the impossible possible for children through art! However, my love for music will always be strong and it definitely played a large roll in my children’s childhood.
Years ago, the Nickjr channel was called Noggin and it opened up my world to new children’s music!
That is where I discovered Rachel Coleman!
Many people don’t know this about me, but I have struggled with hearing my entire life. While I am not deaf, I do have hearing loss and wear a hearing aid in one ear. I have spent countless times in my life smiling and nodding in situations where I have no idea what is being said to me.
When I discovered Rachel, at first I was captivated by her happy orange shirt and colorful fingers. However, I was immediately drawn to her message in the song “What are you feeling!” Not only did it bring music to children who could not hear or communicate verbally, but it also introduced sign language to children who could hear and speak!
I had an incredible opportunity to speak with Rachel on the phone last week! Her stories tugged at my heart strings! So much so that I found myself trying really hard to hold back the tears on the other end of the line…only able to muster out the words for my next question. She is an amazing woman and has done so much for children! I feel so honored to have spoken with her!
For those of you who don’t know her, Rachel Coleman and her sister Emilie own Two Little Hands Productions, which creates educational programming to teach children sign language. Rachel has received many awards for her Signing Time television series, including an Emmy nomination! She even created a Signing Time Foundation to help make sign language “fun and accessible to all children” throughout the world!
So how did all this begin? Let’s start at the very beginning…
Rachel grew up in a family of nine children and was always very shy. Her father was a composer of Mormon music, so the love of music filled their lives on a daily basis.
When Rachel was little, she shared a room with her sister Rebecca who was two years younger than her. They loved to play house together! She remembers a time when they saved up money to buy a plastic clubhouse for their room.
They would often walk down to the local store to buy chocolates. When the sales woman asked if it was for a gift, they would always say yes, so that each chocolate would be wrapped in the most beautiful wrapping paper. Rachel and her sister would then take them home to their clubhouse and invite all their teddy bears, their pet snail and her sister’s imaginary friend Glandy to join them. Everyone would get a pretty chocolate package to unwrap and enjoy. It was a memorable imaginary game that Rachel and her sister enjoyed playing often throughout their childhood.
When Rachel was in college, she discovered her music ability as a singer/song writer and played guitar with her folk rock band. She continued to perform until Rachel discovered her daughter Leah was deaf at 14 months old. She gave up music to devote her life to learning sign language, so that she could communicate with her daughter.
Unlike ordinary imagination games we play with hearing children, Rachel loved to play the Hand Shape Game with her daughter Leah. It was sort of a like a word association game with signs. Rachel would begin the game by giving a sign and then Leah would have to come up with a sign that has the same hand shape. It would continue on, until they had run out of ideas. Leah loved this game!
Rachel and her sister Emilie decided to start Two Little Hands Productions to help other children and parents learn sign language together through educational videos called Signing Time. It is a family run business. “Rachel and Emilie’s father, Lex de Azevedo, is now the CEO, their youngest brother, Aaron, is involved in production and marketing, and Rachel’s husband, Aaron, is involved in filming.”
“You must believe in your children!”
Emilie had asked Rachel to create a theme song using her musical talent. In addition to creating a theme song, she also wrote a song called Show Me A Sign, which they ended up using as the closing credits of each video. This song was dedicated to her other daughter Lucy, who was born with Spinal Bifida and Cerebral Palsy and did not communicate with anyone. To her surprise, one day, while watching Signing Time, Lucy actually signed “more!” Rachel could not have been more happy! She had found her life’s purpose!
Since then, Rachel has written over 200 songs for Signing Time, Potty Time, Baby Signing Time, and her newest series Rachel and the Treeschoolers. When composing her songs, she sees “music like a puzzle.” Instead of teaching the children random words, she likes to create songs with words teaching them how to be responsible and have manners, such as the sign for clean your room or make your bed. Her songs are filled with love!
“There’s always heart there…my experiences as a Mom and my family.”
As I spoke to Rachel about family, she told me a tear filled story of another daughter named Laura, who she had when she was 17. She had given her up for adoption in hopes that she would live a great life that she was not ready to give. She missed her terribly and wrote a song about her sad feelings called Nobody Would Know. Even though she had no idea if she would ever meet her again, she still celebrated Laura’s birthday every year.
Back when Rachel realized Leah was deaf, she decided it was important to send a letter to the adoption agency, informing the family. Then, when Lucy was diagnosed with Spinal Bifida and Cerebral Palsy, she sent another letter. Rachel never really knew whether or not Laura’s family received these letters, but thought it was important to try and tell her family anyway.
As it turns out, Laura’s family did read those letters! When Laura was in high school, she decided to learn sign language, so that one day when she met her deaf sister, she would to be able to communicate with her! During her sign language class, someone presented an article on Signing Time’s Rachel Coleman, who just happens to have a little girl who was deaf and a little girl with Spinal Bifida. Could it be?! The room began to spin as she realized that she was quite possibly looking right at her birth mother’s face! Tears filled her eyes as she ran from the classroom…
Completely unaware of what had unfolded, Rachel was still hoping that Laura might decide to come and find her on her 18th birthday. However, when her birthday came and went, Rachel was filled with sadness once again. Maybe she wouldn’t ever come. But to her disbelief, on Mother’s Day, Rachel received the email she had been waiting 18 years for. “Happy Mother’s Day. You are always in my prayers and in my heart.” Laura had written to her! Rachel’s heart filled with enormous joy that day! “My heart was healed!” The big day had finally arrived! Laura is now very much a part of Rachel and her family’s lives and they couldn’t be happier!
“My wildest dream had just come true!”
Rachel has done a lot of amazing things for children, but what was the best moment in her career so far?
Of course she could say, “Well my Emmy Nomination of course…” However, Rachel‘s greatest moments in her career are not about her at all! It is about the children and family’s lives that she touches. “It’s the moments I share with the families. I am just so lucky to be a part of it.”
Not once, but FOUR TIMES, children from the Make-A-Wish Foundation wished for a visit from Rachel!
“Out of everything that a child could wish for in their last days, they wished for me!”
Rachel wanted to make it even more special than just a visit. She told me of one visit, where she flew across the country to give a private concert for one little girl, her family and her closest friends. She invited her onto the stage for the concert and gave her one of her orange jackets. It was so incredibly special, because it turns out that what she wanted most in life was to wear one of her orange jackets!
A few months ago, Rachel called to check in on the little girl and she had taken a turn for the worst. Rachel wanted to surprise her with another visit, but unfortunately, she passed on before she arrived. Rachel was kind enough to sing at her funeral, because she meant the world to that little girl.
“It’s such a gift to have the love and trust of children.”
Now you are probably wondering…why on earth did I make a silly picture of Rachel Coleman riding on a dolphin?
I asked Rachel “When you were a child, if you could have any animal in the world, what would your dream pet be?”
It turns out, when she was little, she was in LOVE with dolphins. She can remember begging her Grandma to allow her have a pet dolphin to keep in her Grandma’s pool. She wanted to do all kinds of tricks with her dolphin friend, but mostly, she just wanted to ride on the dolphin’s nose.
Rachel has made so many dreams come true for other children, that I was happy to make her childhood dream come true as well! Enjoy your new pet dolphin Rachel and thank you so much for speaking with me! I love what you do!!
If you are interested in learning sign language, please visit Rachel Coleman’s website and see what she has to offer! She has a little something for every age!
What do you love about Rachel Coleman?
Let us know what makes you smile!
Blog Images: Dolphin portrait from Julie McGann Fine Art Portraits, logos/series pictures from Two Little Hands Productions, Rachel’s family pictures from Rachel’s Website, Rachel’s business portrait from Rachel’s Facebook Page, dolphin stock from Love Photoshop, and pool stock from Jean52
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