August 20, 2008

Sign Language for Babies – Why on Earth?

Sign Language for Babies

Sign Language for Babies

When I had my second child 8 years ago, I learned about sign language for babies. Having been a tutor for hearing-impaired kids in my youth, I was very interested. It didn’t take much to convince me that sign language would be useful and valuable for babies. By the time my baby was a few months old, I was signing with her. Let me share with you why I found baby sign language so beneficial that I did it again with my third child.

Seven years ago, people thought baby sign language was strange and, honestly, I was self-conscious sometimes. Nobody else did it back then. Still when another baby came along 6 years later, I was back signing with the baby again.

Why do I like signing with my babies? Consider the two scenarios below:

[ad#ad-2] Let’s say you’re out for a walk with your toddler. You start talking about the clouds but then your toddler signs “bird”. You hadn’t even noticed a bird, but there’s your toddler signing “bird”. You scan your surroundings and, sure enough, there hanging on your neighbor’s fence is a wooden bird! So you walk closer to the wooden bird and talk about it some more.

In contrast, what if your baby were not able to sign? You would have gone on and on about the clouds when your child was really more interested about the bird. Perhaps he will grunt or make some other sounds and gestures to try to get you to notice the bird. But you can’t understand his grunts and gestures. You remain oblivious of the wooden bird that your child is interested in. In frustration, your child starts whining. You get annoyed and bring him inside the house.

From this scenario, we can identify the following benefits of sign language for babies:

Sign Language for Babies Enables Babies to Communicate with their Parents

When my first-born was a toddler, we could barely understand what she was saying. She would get frustrated, and we would get frustrated and tears and tantrums soon followed. The thought that a pre-verbal child would be able to let me know how she feels or what she’s thinking of using sign language is very attractive.

So with my second child, we began with signs that express her needs, such as “eat” and “breastfeed”, and signs for objects we encounter every day, such as “cat”. With just a handful of signs, I could respond to my child’s hunger or desire to breastfeed, and engage in a conversation with her about whatever caught her attention. Baby signing allowed me to know what was going on inside my daughter’s head.

Sign Language for Babies Reduces Frustration, Tantrums and Melt-downs

As a result of improved parent-child communication, sign language for babies reduces frustration for both the pre-verbal child and the parents. Thus, the potential for tantrums and melt-downs is also reduced.

Sign Language for Babies is Fun

It’s fun to learn sign language with your child. You can either make up your own signs or follow a pre-determined set of signs, such as American Sign Language. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that the signs are simple for the baby to execute and you both understand what the signs mean.

What’s even more fun is when the baby makes up his own sign! My youngest child invented his own sign for “breastfeed”, which consisted of holding his fists to his chest and flapping his elbows up and down. At first it meant “monkey” but soon made the connection.

Moreover, babies who sign are so cute. Have you seen a baby signing? They look adorable. They are thrilled to be communicating and have mastery over their environment because of their expanded language skills.

Sign Language for Babies Helps Make Babies More Intelligent

A baby who signs is able to interact with adults more. Through sign language for babies, we can get an insight as to what our baby is thinking of. Baby signing allows you and your child to engage in a dialogue about something that was interesting to your child. Without sign language, you remain ignorant of what is occupying your child’s thoughts. Improved interaction helps build the child’s brain, vocabulary and intelligence.

It is no wonder that Linda Acredolo, PhD, and Susan Goodwyn, PhD, two of the pioneers of sign language for babies, found that babies who sign had higher intelligence scores, could understand more words, had larger vocabularies, and played more sophisticated games (such as pretend play) than their non-signing peers.

Ready to give sign language for babies a try?

Recommended Resources:

Teach Your Baby Sign Language – a short article on how to get started signing with your baby

Sign Language for Babies and Beyond – a downloadable Ebook

Baby Signs Complete Starter Kit: Everything You Need to Get Started Signing with Your Baby – from the researchers who began the baby signing movement

Photo by John Lustig

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Alexis Rodrigo

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