Ready, Set, Sign!
Sign language has been an amazing communication tool for our family. Upon discovery that my daughter has Down syndrome, we were fairly certain that verbal communication was going to be delayed. As a result, we started teaching her sign language at a very young age. Darah is able to tell us when she is hungry, thirsty, hurt, sleepy, and when she wants a bath. She can also participate in “small talk” as well, by naming things she sees or wants like dogs, rain, stars, shoes, airplanes, and yogurt. Darah (at 3 1/2 years old) has over 200 signs now that she uses! Sign language has been such a gift for her and I am so happy that we introduced it to her! When Connor was born, signing was already part of our lives. Connor (now 15 months) learned signs pretty much by osmosis. I am surprised at the number of signs he’s learned just by observing Darah. The other day, Darah was in time-out and he decided to sit in time-out with her. When I allowed Darah to come out of time-out, he stood up and surprised me by signing “sorry.” I then drilled him some of Darah’s signs, and he knew “please,” “thank-you,” “dog,” and several other signs that I never once showed him. He also consistently uses “more,” “all done,” “eat,” “milk,” “bath,” and several other signs.
Babies as young as 10 months old can communicate with sign language. An ideal time to start introducing signs is when your baby is six months old. However, if your baby is older, it’s never too late! Here are some things that you should know when starting to teach your baby sign language.
Sign language will not impede your child’s speech development!
So many people think, “if I teach my baby to communicate with sign language, he is going to take longer to speak.” Actually, teaching your baby to sign will more than likely speed up his verbal communication. Before any child is ready to say their first words, there are some foundational skills that must be learned and some oral motor development that must take place. By teaching your baby to sign, you are teaching him the foundational skills required to communicate. By the time your baby is cognitively and physically ready to start saying words, he will be well ahead of his peers because of the communication foundation he’s already learned. These foundational skills include, but are not limited to:
learning the concept of cause and effect
understanding the concept of turn taking
understanding that two or more words can be linked together, thus creating sentences (as in signing “more milk,” “big ball,” etc…)
Here’s a great article about the benefits of signing with your baby.
Reinforce with your spoken words!
When you sign with your baby, make sure you are saying and signing the word very clearly. Your baby is fascinated by your face; make it interesting by exaggerating your mouth movements. Be sure to talk to your baby all day long about anything and everything. By telling your baby about the train that’s passing by and talking about the yogurt and milk in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, you are reinforcing their receptive language skills.
Start off slowly
Begin by teaching your child 1-3 signs. “Milk,” “more,” “eat,” and “all done” are great signs to begin with because they are things that surround your baby’s daily life. Teach your baby signs that you have ample opportunities to use throughout the day.
Use your signs in context
It’s so much fun to show off our baby’s newest tricks, and sign language is a great way to capture those “oohs” and “ahhs!” However, make sure that when you are modeling or asking for a sign, it is in context. Asking your baby to sign “apple,” when he is neither hungry nor are there any apples around can potentially confuse your baby. The goal of teaching your baby sign language is to teach them a way to communicate their wants and needs, so make sure you keep it in context!
Don’t give up!
It is going to take you modeling a sign many many times before you see your child imitate. Keep going. Help your baby by doing hand-over-hand signing. This is where you take your baby’s hands in yours and do the sign together. Your baby will catch on! Just remember to be patient. Once they learn a few signs, it’ll get easier and easier to teach new ones. The first few take the longest to learn. Just make sure you’re consistent, enthusiastic, and give your child lots of praise for any attempts made. Your baby will have their “ah-ha” moment and will become a signing junkie!
May I recommend?
These are excellent dvd’s which incorporate wonderful beginning signs with fun, catchy music. Both of my children love the Signing Times series and the Baby series is top-notch! Their website also has a lot of great information for parents who want to teach their babies to sign.
What has your experience been with sign language and your children?