Baby Sign Language 2.0
UPDATE: Check out http://www.babysignlanguage.com for more info on Babies and Sign Language!
The "2.0" in the post title there refers to Baby #2 who is pushing 9 months now. Insert gratuitous baby footage here (It's all good, but the best bit is just after 1:23):
He's a clever little dude, I like to think. One of the things that we did with Baby #1 (now Toddler of Pure Evil©) was that we taught him Baby Sign Language. I LOVE talking to parents about the benefits of teaching their kids a foreign language and American Sign Language is a full fledged foreign language. It just happens to be one that babies can learn before they can speak.
Teaching the first boy Sign was a radical success for our little family, so we're starting it up with 2.0. We're teaching him American Sign Language.
How much earlier? Anywhere from 6 months old to one year, a baby can clearly make their intent known with Sign. Now, I'm not talking about trying to push a baby to be "gifted" or to get a baby to do anything that isn't relaxed and natural. I'm not promoting trying to teach 2 year olds to take college entrance exams.
What I am a huge fan of is taking the communication you've already got with your baby* and elevating the grunts and points that are primitive, invented signs, and replacing them with a formalized system of signs that have been used for years by deaf folks.
*(in the range between 6 months and whenever they start really talking...between 18 mos and 2 years or whatever)
With Baby Sign Language you start by introducing "Needs-Based" Signs like Food, Milk, Mommy and start using them all the time. Every time you say food out loud, you also sign food. Then you start introducing repetitive action signs. Those are signs for stuff that happen all the time like Sleep or seeing Grandpa.
What a Weird Country
A lot of folks I meet while (or from) overseas think this is insane. A German woman told me once "I know exactly what my baby wants." And that's cool. However, sometimes it's nice to hear directly from the child.
The idea is that the main reason babies cry is that their needs aren't being met. I'm hungry. I'm tired. I want that ball. We spend two years or more with these babies pointing and grunting at stuff trying to get their point across.
Also, "I'm hungry" is pretty vague. It's a joy to see a 14 month old sign "Want Grapes" then calm down when they get exactly what they want. It might sound weird, but it can't hurt to try! It's becoming more and more popular in the States and it's because it works and it enhances my relationship with my kids very early on.
How Much Sign Can They Learn?
It's a complete language and many successful Deaf folks would say "all of it." They'll learn as much as you can throw at them. However, I suggest picking 3-5 signs from about 6 months old until they've mastered them. Then, start adding a sign a week. Then a sign a day. Then, once you realize your child is
smarter quicker to absorb then you are, they're probably going to start speaking soon anyway.
Boy #1 ended up with something like 80 signs (lots of Animals) and then just started talking one day.
Won't It Slow Their Development?
In my experience, nope. If anything, it gives them a nice little bump ahead, but that's not the point of doing it. Our two year old is speaking nicely and has happily forgotten his signs as soon as he figured it that speaking was easier for him. Now, fast forward a bit, he's re-learning it and signing (and speaking) to his little brother.
Check out my (now series of) posts on Baby Sign Language:
I highly recommend the Baby Signing Time DVDs and CDs. Now, forgive me as I compile a few small summaries from those previous posts:
What do you need to do to start signing?
- Check your local community center. They often offer Baby Sign Language classes. We took classes before Z was born, and when he was 6 months old.
- If Baby Sign Language is unusual or unused in your country, either find some Deaf Folks and learn your country's specific Sign Language, or use ASL (American Sign Language). The trick is to be consistent and have an illustrated dictionary to refer to.
- Stick with it. Don't give up. We started when he was six months old and signed every day without a single clear response until he was a year old. We nearly quit a dozen times before that.
- Then one day he signed "light" as clear as day in his bedroom. We turned on the light and our sonlit up with a small as wide as his face. That's when we connected with him. I'm not talking about the standard Mom/Dad/Baby we-love-you connection. I'm talking about the baby's opinion matters kind of connection.
- Get picture books, lots of them, and learn the signs for the animals. I highly recommend the Priddy Books series of books for baby.
- Learn the signs for animals and common objects and use them every time you see one out in the world. We went for a walk on the Portland Waterfront today and our son was signing bird anddog and plane and sharing those discoveries with us. It's great when he sees something interesting and points at it, but it's something different when he signs about something we didn't see.
- Pay Attention and prepare for the unexpected.
Many of my friends and family have taught their kids sign. For many, including all the non-Americans, they were teased by family and friends - especially concerned mother's-in-law. But they stuck with it. My friend Daniel "Kzu" Cazzulino had a great experience with Baby Sign Language in Argentina:
Just like Scott felt, it's not just a matter of teaching her something to make her "smarter" early on. There's a new kind of connection that you can make with your baby. Aylen's face shines when she sees that we can listen to her needs and help her. She no longer cries when she's hungry or thirsty, or when she wants to take a bath. That's huge."
Craig Andera is also huge Baby Signing Fan. He had to have patience early on though:
Just like Scott, it was initially like signing to a wall. She didn't seem to care, and she certainly didn't sign back. But I knew from my brother that it was just a matter of time, and sure enough, at about eight months, Ellen was able to mime the sign back to us. It's pretty amazing to get any communication whatsoever (other than smiling and crying) from an eight-month-old.
It's moving slowly, but our 9 month old (after flat ignoring our signs and smiling for the last 3 months straight) now asks for More Food quite clearly. I look forward to the next year that I get to "talk" to him as I patiently wait for him to actually start talking.