Local mum and business owner, Katherine Amor is busy.
As well as being a Sing and Sign teacher in Bristol and a mum to an eleven-year old, Katherine has recently taken over all Sing and Sign classes for Bristol and surrounding areas.
For many years Sing and Sign classes have been divided into two main areas within Bristol and surrounding areas, with Katherine leading classes in Bristol and South Gloucestershire and her colleague, Verity Jowett running classes in Bristol and Portishead.
However, Verity is now leaving and so the two areas are now being brought together to make one big area: Sing and Sign – Bristol – all of which will be managed by Katherine.
This will be double the area that Katherine has previously managed, plus double the number of classes and families as well as the Sing and Sign teachers!
Katherine explains that the change is a very exciting one, albeit unexpected:
“I was thinking my work life would go in a different direction completely! But I knew as a family, we couldn’t go through a time with me not earning while I re-trained for a new career. I also realised I would have more time on my hands when my son went to secondary school so I knew I was ready for more work. When the opportunity came up to expand, I had to take it. I knew the business already (having owned my patch since 2013) so it would be more of what I already knew – well, a LOT more!”
Originally hailing from Chicago, America, living there until 2001, Katherine has lived in Bristol for 13 years since moving here from Watford when her husband was offered a teaching job.
She loves Bristol and describes how it is small enough to be manageable yet large enough to be cosmopolitan. She relishes Bristol’s culture, enjoying the good music acts and plays and the city’s “fantastic” food. She also likes how the big name shopping is good and yet there are still great places like the Gloucester Road with its many independent businesses.
Katherine originally discovered Sing and Sign several years ago when her son was little after starting classes on the recommendation of an antenatal friend. She had learned a little American Sign Language before moving to Bristol so was excited to start Sing and Sign classes. She completed all four terms of Sing and Sign, at the end of which, Jonathan was a “fab little signer”, knowing about 100 signs altogether.
Then the Sing and Sign franchisee who was running the business asked for teachers. Katherine explains “She looked right at me. I went home, thought about it and it all went from there! First I was a teacher, then the owner and now I’m expanding!”
Katherine loves her work as a Sing and Sign teacher. “It is not an easy job at all but it’s very rewarding and offers excellent working hours if you have school age children. And that first step led me here!”
With her new and unexpected challenge of taking on Sing and Sign – Bristol, Katherine is understandably a little nervous.
“I feel quite daunted about the number of families that will be coming to our Sing and Sign classes and I’m afraid I will forget something important or fail my teachers in some way. On that note, it is difficult because I can’t control how many people enrol – no matter how much advertising or Facebook posting I do! – and I know my teachers rely on the work for their own families. So it can be a difficult balance to find – offering enough classes to give teachers a good income (they are so terrific and I don’t want any of them to leave me!) and still making a profit in my business.”
However, sometimes things just work out perfectly and, with a son soon heading off to secondary school in September, Katherine should soon have a bit more time at home enabling her to cope with the busy demands of running more than 30 Sing and Sign classes across Bristol!
“I am expecting my son to need my chauffeuring services a bit less during the school week when he starts secondary school. I’ll be able to get to my desk early in the morning before I teach. I can be around when he is home in the afternoons and evenings, if only to be ignored! And we are setting up a desk for him upstairs where my husband (a teacher) and I work, so we’ll all be up there in the evening doing homework, marking papers, working and generally keeping an eye on one another!”
The main challenge that Katherine will face in taking on Sing and Sign – Bristol will be in the form of admin, and, with fourteen different venues across Bristol to manage, there’ll be lots of it! This will include lots more emails, organising classes, book-keeping, accounting and more.
“My organisational skills will be tested! My friends would say I am very organised but this will really challenge me and my memory too – something that is not necessarily improving as I get older!”
While Katherine has always worked independently of Verity, she explains that it was always nice to have someone at the end of the text to ask a question or get an opinion from:
“I have other franchisees that help me and I have a terrific team of experienced teachers. But certainly when you are self-employed and work alone much of the time, it can be difficult and lonely. I yearn for a ‘Board of Directors’ – other women like me with small businesses who face similar challenges. Maybe setting something like that up will be my next venture!”
There are many classes and activities for babies and young children, yet it was specifically Sing and Sign that Katherine chose to base her career around. She explains why:
“Sing and Sign is great because it works. We help families connect and communicate before baby can talk. Through music and singing, parents learn the signs while baby enjoys the songs, instruments and props.
“Classes are good fun and relaxed but with a strong emphasis on learning. Families can learn well over 100 signs. Some signs are relevant to baby’s routine (change nappy, eat, drink); some are signs for things that babies are interested in (milk, duck, train). My families tell me over and over again how much they enjoy our classes and how beneficial signing has been for them.
“We also bring families together in the community who have babies the same age. A good many friendships have been made at Sing and Sign which is a lovely thing too.”
Created with speech and language experts, Sing and Sign follows a written, progressing curriculum so that the classes are organised and structured. Each week’s class builds on what was learned and covered the previous week, along with lots of repeating to help babies and toddlers (and their parents and carers) to learn all the different signs fully.
“And it’s the music. I think singing can lift your spirits and help you engage with your baby. Sometimes it can be incredibly lonely sitting at home in the silence with a little one. Sing a song and I promise you and your baby will share a little smile. Singing can help baby get a move on too if you make up new words to match what you are trying to get done.
“Singing can diffuse negative energy too – as someone said in my class yesterday, it certainly beats shouting! And remember, baby LOVES the sound of your voice so even if you don’t think your voice is good, it is definitely good enough!”
In terms of plans for Sing and Sign – Bristol, Katherine reports that her first priority is to get her head round all the new parts of the business such as learning the policies that apply to her employees. Then she plans to launch Sing and Sign classes in new areas of Bristol, possibly in Brislington, Backwell and Nailsea.
Life doesn’t look like it’s going to get any less busy for Katherine in the near future. She has recently celebrated her 50th birthday and also successfully completed the Race for Life 10K raising money towards Cancer Research – also Sing and Sign’s Jessie Cat’s chosen charity.
However, Katherine is excited about taking on Sing and Sign – Bristol and is ready for the challenge.
In her words, “I am trying to take small steps for now and chip away at the work. My mantra is – it will all get done!”