Baby Sign Language
UPDATE: Check out http://www.babysignlanguage.com for more info on Babies and Sign Language!
Z's fast approaching his first birthday (can you believe it?) and he's really started letting us know that he's in there. There's a real little person in there who's not just hanging out and pooping.
We've been teaching Z American Sign Language (ASL) since he was about 4 months old. I say "teaching" loosely, because we've just used it every time we talk to him, and figure he'll get the just sooner or later.
Mo and I have both taken ASL at the local community college from a non-verbal deaf instructor and we've taken Z to formal Baby Sign Language classes that use ASL (and as an aside, have a specific respect for the deaf community and don't 'invent' signs) as the source of signs.
We started getting discouraged around his 8 month birthday as it just didn't seem like he was signing back. It was pretty clear he "got" what we were saying, but he just didn't reciprocate.
Then, he started showing intense interest in turning on and off lights. So, we showed him the sign for light, which is a downward turned hand with straight, splayed fingers representing the light rays. Sounds complex, but it's pretty obvious when you see it. Anyway, he immediately started using this sign. He just got it. He started signing light frantically one day, and my wife couldn't figure out why; then she realized she was buying a bulb in the light section of Home Depot and was surrounded by chandeliers.
Ceiling fans were next and Z happily announced their arrival with the sign for fan. It seemed he was getting the concrete signs for things, but not the abstract concepts like "more."
Just after Z started walking, he started signing things like "more" when he wanted more food. At this point, it's getting really exciting.
I truly believe that Sign Language is encouraging Z to communicate earlier. I don't keep track of other kids' accomplishments at this age or that, so I have nothing to measure against (nor am I interested) but I feel like I haven't had to wait long to connect with Z. Just a month later, we "talk" about such thrilling escapades as "the Man in the Boat" and "the Banana in your Hair" as well as "the Giant Dog" as seen in the picture at the upper right.
He's also starting to attempt to speak the word while he signs it, like "lala" while signing "Light." The amount that he understands verbally, even at under a year old, is amazing to me. I don't know what I expected, nor again, what other kids do, but tonight I said "ok, let's go take a bath!" and he ran from he kitchen to the stairs, climbed the stairs by himself and ran into the bathroom and tried to turn on the water. That's crazy to me that babies can hold a thought that long. Hell, I can't hold a thought that long.
This tiny little man has something to say, but his tongue just isn't ready yet. His hands though, are starting to tell quite the tale, and I look forward to talking with him daily.
I had a chat with a German fellow while in Spain this last week who had a 15-month old, and I mentioned that we were teaching the baby sign language and that many Americans were trying this technique.
I explained that we felt that there was a window of time, from about 9 months old to whenever the baby starts talking, that was had great potential for not just communicating with your baby, but connecting and letting the baby know their needs matter. That many of us had the idea that babies cry when their needs aren't met and sign language was a good way for the baby to effectively express their intent.
He looked at me like I was from Mars. "My wife knows what the baby needs. There's no need for sign language." The 'that's stupid' was implied, if not expressed. I respect his opinion, but I beg to differ. It really is a joy, and others agree.
We use the Baby Signing Time videos, as well as Dr. Joseph Garcia's Baby Signers, but really any ASL dictionary will do. Z's got about 12 words now, but I suspect he's picking them up as fast as we can learn them ourselves.
If you've got an infant, I really encourage you to try Sign Language. We're a multi-lingual house already and hope Z will speak English and some Ndebele, and I plan to have him in a Spanish immersion program. If you treat ASL as just another language, it helps (me at least) the mental model. We just move our hands while we talk to him, and I'm very happy with the results.
Have you signed to your baby? When did you start? When did they sign back? Do any of you have older (4, 6, 8...) kids that still sign? Do any of you think this is all nonsense? Discuss.
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
We now have a little 1.5 months old girl, and I'm struggling with the question of sign language. On the one hand, it looks very appealing, especially since many parents report getting feedback and true communication at a much earlier stage when using sign language. On the other hand, it's yet another (third) language for her to learn, and we will have to teach her "big" sister the signs as well, making things more complicated. Also, opponents of sign language for babies claim that since they find a way to communicate with signs, they tend to take more time learning to talk, since they have an alternative for verbal communication that works.
What do you think, from your experience? Do you feel Z's knowledge of signs is helping him in improving his verbal capabilities, or does it make him less prone to try and express himself with words?
He is four and a half now, and sometimes we still see him touching his fingertips together when asking (verbally) for more of something.
Friends of ours have a daughter who is just turning two, and their pediatrician was surprised to hear she was speaking in some full sentences. Most two year olds are just putting together two word sentences.
Above all, I would say the biggest thing is simply communicating with your kids. We never went for "baby talk" and talked to both our boys in full sentences. I used to have conversations with our youngest well before he could talk (even as early as 1 month) where I'd say my part of the conversation and leave pauses where he would answer. My wife and I also never allowed the boys to scream or whine to get something. They had to ask, even if it was just baby talk. We eventually figured out what they meant.
I think that the conceptual leap that children make when they "get" that the sounds they hear relate to something, and then build on the labels to understand other parts of speech, is perhaps the most colossal one that any of us make in our lifetimes. Except for old farts like myself "getting" OO programming, perhaps (if indeed I have). I've seen some research that suggests we have evolved a degree of built-in preprogramming for language - when you see it come into action in real-time, you can believe it.
Watching your children acquire the fundamental building blocks of, well, pretty much everything, is one of the unexpected delights of parenthood. Watching them continue to infer rules (correctly or otherwise) as they progress continues to be a source of fascination for me.
Of course, they induce unexpected learning experiences in the parents, too: I learned that I could catch vomit in my bare hands at 3am, for example, something for which I was entirely unprepared...
We'll see :)
The problems we are having now is trying to get him to verbalize these responses instead of signing them, but our Neurologist said this is normal for boys.
As a multi-lingual myself (French & English), I can attest to the highs and lows of learning two languages. Your multilingual link is spot on; I've even read suggestions that simple exposure to foreign languages early on can help with learning new languages.
As to multi-lingual + Signing, I can only see benefits. Imagine that signing is actually your base language and that you can layer other languages over top. The brain is run on associations, this is how we learn. With signing as a base, I can associate multiple words with a single sign and effectively use that sign as a "bridge" or association.
From an OO perspective (this is a tech site), this is the equivalent of Signing as a base class with each language inheriting from Signing :) Usually, when learning new languages, we tie our new words to our existing words, but now, the we can tie (most) new words to signs, which in turn tie themselves to our existing set of words.
Personally, if possible, I wouldn't stop at baby signing. If a child can progress to a more complete ASL, then they will have an amazing tool "at their fingertips".
I also know what you mean about your 'bathtime story.' I can remember vividly when my daughter started putting a series of actions together. The first one I remember is "let's go put your shoes on" and she ran into her room, opened the drawer with her shoes, pulled out the ones she wanted, sat down and tried putting them on. She was about 9-11 months old at the time. I was flabbergasted...and brimming with pride. After all, she is my kid. ;-)
And this is so true [and hilarious!]: "Of course, they induce unexpected learning experiences in the parents, too: I learned that I could catch vomit in my bare hands at 3am, for example, something for which I was entirely unprepared..." - from Mike Woodhouse above
Geoffrey used to string words together (early sentences) with signs MUCH sooner than he did verbally. Both of the children still use signs periodically...
If we have any more children, I will definitely be using ASL for them as well.
I must admit I was skeptical, while my wife was committed. There was a time there that it felt like a pointless waste of time. But once Reigna started using signing to communicate it was wonderful (especially for me because while babies are out-of-this-world amazing, I truly get excited the older they get and the more I can communicate with them).
Without hesitation we will be signing with our three month old daughter.
Despite our daughter's stubbornness we will be signing with our next baby (due in April), and we're hoping the next one is a little more willing to share.
I also highly recommend the signing time videos/dvds. We were able to find them at our local library. My daughter loves them as well...though not enough to do any signing.
She's now in her second year of a dual-language immersion program (Spanish/English) and it's amazing how much she has learned. I ate lunch with her yesterday and she was able to translate everything the teacher was saying. She reads books to me in Spanish and then translates it into English so we can be sure she understands what she is reading. I remember enough from my 4 years of high-school Spanish to know if she is pronouncing things correctly, but she has already surpassed my ability to understand Spanish.
You totally don't need to have a background in the academic aspects of deaf culture to do this though, just pick up a video, select a subset of signs (less than 10) and use them CONSISTENTLY. It might take a month, or 5 months, but they WILL pick it up. At least, that's based on my *VAST* parenting experience (of nearly one year!)
For those who doubt it and say they know what their babies want from their cries, I say you don't know the half of it. Crying is binary, (OK maybe with different types of cries it's a nibble) but signing is a full byte or more.... my favorite story is when our son signed to us "no peas, more banana!" without crying, without pushing away bowls of food or grabbing. He was calm, he signed and we understood. And you bet we gave him LOTS of banana!
the Z-man definitely gets it from Mo's side of the family.
re: immersion classes, I say the earlier the better. We've had our daughter in a French class for about 4 months now. At first we didn't think she was picking anything up, but now she's calling things by their French name and their English name. Maybe we'll see if the Indian family next door wants to babysit her more often and she might pick up Hindi.
Both Gabby and Gia were taught about 10 words in sign. Tina's mom is a retired speech path with Mult. ESD. Tina and her mother drove most of the signing. It really helped in the transition from crying, to express needs, to talking. I think the girls liked "more" the most... We liked "please" and "more". Gabby's first grade teacher also exposed the class to sign also. They learned basic stuff and songs. I think Z's on his way to Harvard or Stanford anyway but I want to say that being bi-lingual will help him the most in aquiring languages. Gabby moved to speaking fast. However Gia was later than her sister and the signing helped her express her BASIC needs better. I'm sure she would have got her point across, but it seemed smoother to all involved. Jack
Comments are closed.
Fascinating outcome though.