Long before your baby starts talking, he’s learning communication skills. Babies communicate the moment they are born. They cry, turn their head towards your voice and sounds, and make silly sounds with their mouths and voice. Teaching your baby sign language can open the paths of communication and help lower frustrations between parents and baby.
Why should I teach my baby sign language?
Remarkable research proves that babies who were taught simple sign language skills spoke longer sentences at age two. Three-year-olds were talking more like four-year-olds, putting them at almost a full year ahead of schedule on language skills. At 8-years-old, children were scoring 12 points higher on IQ tests than peers who were not taught sign language.1 Besides all the scientific facts on the benefits of teaching your baby to sign, more results showed that frustrated feelings between parent and child were lessened, the baby was taught to be more observant, and the baby’s emotional development and self-confidence was heightened, just to name a few.
When do I start teaching my baby to sign?
Your baby is ready to learn sign language when he is old enough to look at you. Yes, that means starting on their first day of life. The more you sign to your baby, the faster he will pick it up when he is physically able to start signing. When your baby can hold a rattle, drop something and turn to look for it, and wave “bye-bye”, your child is ready to start signing.2
How do I teach my baby sign language?
Start with simple signs that would make sense to your baby. When it’s time for a bottle, sign “milk” by squeezing your hand a few times, like you’re milking a cow. Say the word “milk”, show your baby the sign, and give him the bottle. Repeat. When your baby can sit in a high chair and eat solid food, give him a taste, sign “more” (pictured) by tapping all your fingertips (including thumbs) together a few times. Say “more?” and give him more. Repeat. Every time your dog walks by, sign “dog” by tapping your thigh and then snapping your fingers and say “dog”. Repeat. When the kitty walks by, sign “cat” by pinching the corner of your mouth and slide your fingers across your cheek as if to stroke the cat’s whiskers and say “cat”. Repeat. Repeat, and repeat some more.
It’s very important to be consistent with your child when teaching him to sign. Sign often, every day and keep the signs in context. Meaning, don’t teach him “milk” when he’s playing with a train. Teach him “car” when he’s playing with a car.
It’s important to be patient with your child. Your child may not be able to make a sign exactly the way it’s supposed to look like, but if he makes a sign remotely close, praise him. Sign language is just like babies’ speech, they learn to create certain sounds at certain ages. Babies can’t physically make all letter sounds with their mouth and tongue, such as “s”, until they’re older. It’s the same with sign language. They are still developing motor skills to move their hands and fingers the way they want them to but proper movement will come all in good time. So be patient with your child.
There are many wonderful books on teaching your child sign language. Visit your library and skim through the pages to be sure the illustrations are clear and easy to understand. Some of my favorites are: My First 100 Words (Sign Language) by Michiyo Nelson, The Everything Baby Sign Language Book with DVD by Teresa R. Simpson and My First Book of Sign Language by Joan Holub.
If you’re more of a visual learner, check out Signing Time Videos, Two Little Hands Productions. The web site will be listed under sources. These videos are amazing and my girls loved them!
You can also take sign language classes by contacting your local library or interpreting agency. If they don’t offer classes themselves, they will be able to refer you to an organization who does. Taking a class is a perfect opportunity to practice signs yourself and ask questions.
The most common misconception
I have had many people ask me if teaching their baby would delay their speech. The answer is no. All children develop at different rates. Your baby is exposed to all kinds of communication such as the TV, radio, other people talking and surrounding sounds. The most important thing is to communicate with your baby. A child learns to speak by watching our mouths move and hearing sounds, and they will learn to communicate by modeling. Show your baby how to communicate, be consistent and most of all, patient. You will be amazed at the results of better communication!
When my first daughter was born (she is now 7), I was very much involved in the Deaf community by working as a sign language interpreter. I signed to her constantly. She picked up sign language very quickly and at times, I would take her hand and help her make a more difficult sign. Sometimes, it helped her to “feel” the sign so she knew how to move her fingers to get the sign right. Even if she didn’t make the sign properly, if she was remotely close, I praised her. When my daughter wanted milk, she was hungry, tired or would be looking for a specific toy, she knew how to tell me and I didn’t get frustrated with trying to guess at what she wanted. When she got older, I was able to communicate to her without having to yell at her from across a room full of loud children. She knew we were leaving in five minutes, and she knew if she “kept it up”, she would get into trouble, without having to say that in front of strangers. Once my daughter learned to say a word that she knew the sign for, she stopped signing that word. The next thing I knew, she was talking up a storm. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t know sign language anymore. She is a very effective communicator and she is above her level at reading in school. When she wants to learn sign language again, she’ll pick it up very quickly.
Raising your child to be bi-lingual is one of the best things you can do to help your child excel in life. Don’t just stop at sign language. Teach your child more than one language. There are numerous resources to explain all the benefits of learning more than one language. It’s not just good for your child, but it’s good for you, too!
For Signing Time Videos: http://www.signingtime.com/