Teach your baby to communicate with you before they can talk!
by Huma Nasir of Baby Signing, who deliver workshops to parents and help them understand the concept in detail, its advantages to both parent and baby, and how and when to start signing.
As a parent or a childcare professional, there will have been many times when you’ve experienced frustration at guessing what your baby is trying to express without the benefit of spoken language. But now you have an opportunity to change this by teaching your baby how to communicate with you by using simple sign language!
What is Baby Sign Language?
I first heard about the concept of baby sign language when it was featured on the “Tonight” programme with Trevor McDonald a couple of years ago. The feature was specific to the SIGN with your BABY (SWYB) programme, which has been developed specifically for pre-verbal hearing babies. It is a known fact that babies are able to control their hand muscles much earlier than their speech muscles are able to develop. The SWYB programme, developed by Joseph Garcia, uses this fact to teach parents on how to introduce simple signs to their babies, and provide them with the skills necessary for communicating their thoughts, needs and observations, enabling them to bridge the communication gap before they are able to speak.
American researchers Linda Acredelo and Susan Goodwyn (authors of ‘Baby Signs’) and Joseph Garcia (founder of the SIGN with your BABY (SWYB) programme) were key pioneers in developing the concept of using sign language for pre-verbal hearing babies. The key difference between the two basic programmes is that Acredelo and Goodwyn promote the use of home-made signs, whereas Joseph Garcia advocates the use of the national sign language – in this case British Sign Language for the UK. The benefits of using British Sign Language is that it will provide consistency across all baby signers, it is already an established standard and has been designed for ease of learning.
Will signing hinder speech development of my baby?
This is the first question that I asked and is the first question that many parents ask when they hear about the concept of signing. In fact, the opposite is true!
During teaching of a sign, parents are encouraged to reinforce the sign with the spoken word and any actions. This allows the baby to be continually exposed to the sound of the word in relation to its meaning and sign. One of the key modes of learning for babies is repetition for which signing serves as a powerful educational tool. Research conducted at the University of California by Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn showed that babies encouraged to sign scored higher for receptive language development (how much they understand) and expressive language development (how much they can say), and engaged in more sophisticated play.
My daughter Hana was born in August 2001 and I was very excited when she reached 8 months of age and I began following the SIGN with your BABY programme. I followed the programme and used the first 3 recommended signs, “milk”, “eat”, and “more”. We used the signs throughout the day and after a month we noticed that Hana could understand what we were referring to when we signed and said each word. You could see the anticipation on her face of what to expect, for example when we told her it was time to “eat” and showed her the “eat” sign, she would get excited and seemed to know that were were going to present her with food. At around 11 months old, Hana had been eating a biscuit and when it finished she looked to me and signed “more”. I was jumping for joy and just to be sure it was not a figment of my imagination, I asked her if she wanted “more” (using both the sign and the word). She repeated the sign for “more”…. Within a couple of weeks, Hana had signed “milk” and “eat”. I remember the excitement on her face when she knew we had understood what she was asking for and we always praised her for signing to us.
We continued to introduce new signs to Hana. She is now 20 months old has a signing vocabulary of approximately 50 signs. She has also begun to talk and is able to say around 100 words. Her ability to say so many words at 20 months confirms one of the benefits pointed out by Joseph Garcia, “babies who use sign language tend to speak sooner and when they do, they have more to say”.
Signing with Hana has allowed us to understand so much of what goes on in her mind before she has been able to speak. We cannot imagine what our relationship with Hana would have been like had we not used baby signing. Our relatives and close friends have also wanted to get involved by learning some of the signs so that they can communicate with Hana. As much as having fun, it has been so exhilarating to be able to understand Hana’s needs, thoughts and observations. The baby guessing game of “what do you mean or want” has not been played very often and we all know how frustrating that can be.
Benefits of teaching Baby Sign Language
Research conducted with regards to using sign language with hearing babies has outlined many benefits:
- builds on a baby’s natural tendency to use gestures
- reduces frustration in babies as they are able to communicate their needs
- stimulates intellectual development as babies are having to connect objects or actions with words and signs
- strengthens the parent/infant bond through the process of increased communication
- builds self-esteem and confidence as babies become aware that they are being understood
- helps with language development as words are being reinforced with the teaching of the signs
- increases interest in books from an early age
I wanted to share the invaluable benefits of the SIGN with your BABY programme and my own personal experience of signing with other parents. For this reason I set-up SIGNING INFANTS to deliver workshops to parents and help them understand the concept in detail, its advantages to both parent and baby, and how and when to start signing.
For further details of my workshops or to find out more about baby signing, please take a look at my website www.signinginfants.com. You can also email me firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07950 560 703.