Baby Sign Language is an effective way to communicate with your baby long before you can have a verbal exchange. A baby’s understanding of language and motor skills develop much sooner than their ability to speak.This in addition to their intuition to imitate, allows them to use hand gestures as an effective tool of communication. Point in case, a baby learns to wave “hi” and “bye” before they can say those words. Another benefit to teaching and practicing baby sign language is the opportunity it provides in creating a closer bond. Since, being able to share your baby’s world and your own “code” language brings you closer together.
In university, I took am ASL (American Sign Language) course with a deaf professor. For field experience, we attended a Deaf Convention at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. We met our prof’s husband and two young children. Her youngest, a toddler who was not deaf could communicate in more advanced ways than a non-signing child of the same age. Our teacher later explained to us that hearing babies of deaf parents are able to express themselves more efficiently due to having access to a larger vocabulary than their non-signing counterparts. As a result, signing babies tend to be more independent and less demanding because they can express their thoughts and needs more easily without any “guessing games”, which often lead to displays of frustration such as tantrums.
This experience helped shape my understanding of Baby Sign Language and the many benefits it has on early development. I came to to an early realization that my love for signing was something I’d like to share with my children someday. That day came and my son and I enrolled in our first of many Baby Sing & Sign classes when he was just six weeks new to the world. Earlier than six months really makes no difference on an infant’s ability to acquire signing. Although, I felt I could use the routine, exposure, and practice for what was about to come. At ten months old, my son’s ability to express his needs is remarkable and he rarely displays any frustration with his lack of verbal skills. He appears confident and content which is evident in his openness to new situations and strangers. I have to admit that you need lots of patience, however, teaching your baby to sign isn’t difficult. Currently, we’re working on “eat” (fingers to mouth) and a few other simple signs to express his basic needs. We hope to encourage him to incorporate signs into his wealth of babbles just to eliminate any misunderstanding between us and avoid any unnecessary tantrums.
Contrary to popular belief, babies who are equipped to sign develop the ability to speak sooner than their peers. Often people are concerned that teaching their baby to sign will slow down their normal speech development. Although, signing babies actually acquire language faster and go on to develop full speech sooner. Research suggests that it might even improve language and vocabulary. It’s about complimenting, not competing with language development.
Here’s how to foster communication:
Signing has to be used simultaneously with speech so there’s a connection between the gesture and the word. This method encourages your child to concentrate harder on what you are saying, as well as what you are doing. This inadvertently strengthens speech development because you are spending more time and effort actually communicating with them.
As with any new skill, it’s important to go at your baby’s pace and keep it fun as they are more likely to learn from something they enjoy doing. The best time to start is when your baby begins to develop a desire to communicate. This can be as early as eight months, you’ll notice your baby is more sociable and tries to get your attention through making various noises and facial expressions.
Start with a sign for something they are interested in such as “more”. Every time you use the word, show your baby the sign, too. Keep the sign consistent, use lots of repetition, and emphasize the word along with the sign, so your baby can clearly see and hear the link at the same time.
Baby signing is now very popular in Canada and you can find Baby Sign Language classes in most communities offered at a minimal or no cost. You could also find books or watch a video online for reinforcement. There’s no reason why you can’t make up your own signs either. Any gesture that obviously mimics the meaning of the word works well as long as you both know what message you’re trying to convey.
To get started keep these six basic principles in mind when teaching your baby to sign:
Playful: Make it interactive and give signs context. Try signing while bathing, diapering, feeding or reading to your baby. Children learn better when they’re engaged.
Pace: Your baby may begin to sign quickly or it may take up to several weeks depending on their level of readiness so keep it at their pace.
Praise: Acknowledge and encourage your child whenever they attempt to use gestures or signs to communicate.
Practice: Start with signs to describe needs, objects, activities, and routines in your child’s life and repeat them often with each occurrence.
Perseverance: Don’t get discouraged if your child uses signs incorrectly or doesn’t start using them right away.
Patience: The goal is improved communication and reduced frustration, so whether it take days or weeks, it will eventually happen in due time as long as you keep at it.
Get started with some basic signs and teaching aids, such as flash cards and wall charts to use with your baby at home.
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