Monday, June 13, 2011

Baby Signs

I can't remember if I've ever talked her about our use of sign language with the boys. Well, I'm gonna today.

We started using signs with the kid when he was 7-8 months old. We started with milk, all done, and more. I realized one day he was really interested in our dog, Jonah, so I started using the sign for dog (well, a modified one because the real one was too hard for a baby to do) whenever Jonah was around. Dog ended up being his first sign, which he did when he was about 10 months old (the dog's name, incidentally, ended up being his first spoken word shortly thereafter). We added in more signs as we noticed him being interested in things, and he eventually ended up using more than 20 signs. Here are some of the ones he used: milk, tree (again we noticed him staring intently at them out the window - he picked it up only the 2nd time I did it!), more, eat, drink, ball, hungry, music, book, play, bird, hi/bye (what? Your kid does those, too? See, your baby can do sign language!), bath, sleep, blanket, please, thank you, all done, want, now, and occasionally where.

He used th signs for about 6 months, until he was clearly talking in sentences (which, for the kid, was at about 14-16 months of age - yeah, he talked early. And hasn't stopped since then...). Some he used more often than others, with more, thank you, please, book, dog, and eat being most frequent. He actually also started using some of them together, forming early sentences, such as "more milk please", or "want book now please". Those are pretty big sentences for a 12 or 14 month old, if I do say so myself. He would also use them in conjunction with actual words - (sign) where (say) Poppa?

So, why did we do this? Well, there's an interesting, albeit small, body of research that suggests that there are many benefits of using sign language with infants/young, non-verbal children (which was certainly our experience). It says that children who are taught sign language actually talk SOONER than children who aren't. Additionally, they're less frustrated and have fewer tantrums. The research even suggests that it may increase children's IQs. (Here is a link to a synopsis of some of that research.)

Children are primed from birth to communicate with us but their mouths, tongues, and talking anatomy aren't ready until they're quite a bit older. However, they do have control over their hands much sooner than they do that talking anatomy. We see this in them learning to wave and point - that's communicating. You see it in the intense way they look at you and make specific noises - you just know they're trying to tell you something specific. So, why not harness that desire and skill they already have to really get an idea of what's going on in those little heads of theirs?!

So here's how you (or at least we) go about teaching babies signs - you use them. That's it. You decide what word/signs you're going to use and use them consistently with the spoken words. You chose which words will be most helpful, which is often the basic things they would need to tell you, like being hungry, or in need of a clean diaper, etc..., and things they would want (play, read, outside, etc...). We also throw in signs of the things we've noticed the boys being interested in. As I mentioned, with the kid we noticed him being interested in and subsequently taught him dog, tree, and bird.

With baby E it was music.  He first used milk, which we started using with him when he was 5-6 months old. But, as seems to happen with baby E, he did "milk" for 1-2 days and then quit doing it altogether. Now, the last couple of days, he's done music. I'd only done that sign with him a couple of times, focusing more on all done, diaper, and more, in addition to milk. So imagine my surprise when I was singing to him and he he did this little hand flutter thing at me. I got all excited and we did it about 10-15 more times. And, oh my did the lights go on for him! When he realized I got what he was trying to communicate, it was pure joy - from both of us!

I love the super intense look he gets on his face, when he locks eyes with me and does the sign for music. It's like he really wants me to know that he's doing it on purpose, and he wants to assure that I get what he's communicating. He grins all big and gummy when I say the word and repeat the sign back to him. It's amazing, to be conversing for real with my 8 month old.  And that, my friends, is what it's all about. That is why we chose to do sign language with our babies.

Today's lesson - baby humans are simply amazing creatures, capable of so much. And so obviously capable of communicating with us on a level we don't often encourage. Let them!!!


The Great Askini said...

We did sign language with C too. Have you ever used the Baby Signing Time videos? C just loves them--it was the only thing she would watch for a long time--and we have all learned from them. It really helped her become more verbal! And you can find the videos usually pretty cheap on or eBay.

Emms said...

We've been trying... I hope I'm doing it right as bug hasn't picked up on it much.... I think its awesome.

Becky said...

Askiki- we haven't used the videos, though I've heard good things about them. We don't really let the boys watch TV at all. Well, the kid watches a little now, but that's only been in the last year or so.

Emms - I think as long as you're doing the signs while you say the words, you're doing it right! It often takes several months of doing it consistently because they have to figure out the connection between doing the sign and them getting something out of it. Usually they do one and then it even takes a while for them to learn another. But then, watch out, they pick them up with amazing speed, because that connection has been made in their amazing little brains. She'll get it :)