Baby Sign Language - Update at 14 months
UPDATE: Check out http://www.babysignlanguage.com for more info on Babies and Sign Language!
Teaching our son Sign Language has been a dramatic success for us. He's 14 months old now and the last six weeks have been an explosion of communication. Two months ago he was just barely starting to use the sign for "more." Today, he knows at least 30 signs (says Mo, at least 40, says I) and is learning at least one new one a day.
Just yesterday Mo mentioned that he'd be pointing to a book and making a sign she didn't recognize. I said, show me...he'd been signing "pig" all day, a sign I'd taught him the week before, because he wanted a book about Pigs read to him.
As a new parent, I can't tell you how thrilling it is to connect with a baby, your baby, on a conceptual level...sounds silly to say, but Baby Sign Language can be about more than just "milk." We were reading "Goodnight Moon" just this evening, and my son signed "moon all done" when we got to the page where the moon was gone from the sky. That moment really sealed the deal for me. Sticking with Sign Language was the right thing for us to do.
It's not that much work to learn the signs. As you learn a few dozen, you'll see a pattern, and other signs will get easier to learn. We carry a picture dictionary around with us in the baby bag.
Sometimes folks see us sign to him in public and say "oh, is he deaf?" with a kind of worried face. We reply that we're teaching him Sign Language so we can see what's on his mind a year or two early.
There's lots of opinions about teaching kids sign language. Here's my reasoning.
- I'm gaining at least a year of time communicating with my son. Not using sign language would mean that our communication would be limited to pointing and the occasional made up gesture.
- Many families in America use some sign language like Milk and More and basically leave it at that. I say you're missing out on something amazing. Take it to the next level.
- Imagine taking your 1 year old to the zoo and having them sign "monkey sleeping" when you get the Gorilla House and the monkey's not around. Things like this happen ever day for us, and they are utterly magical.
- Some folks believe that "Mommy knows what baby needs." I'm sure that's true, but Mommy also appreciates when baby says "apple" using sign, rather than simply throwing his banana at Mommy. Why not give him the tools to express himself?
- Many temper tantrums are caused by frustration at not being understood. Sign language has given us a way to find out what he wants and what he needs. We give him 100% of what he needs, and probably 10% of what he wants. We haven't seen any temper tantrums at all caused by our son not being understood. (I checked that statement out with the wife ahead of time and she agreed.) He is eager to make himself understood and it's clear that he has fun signing.
- ASL-based Signing qualifies as a foreign language in most colleges and more and more high schools. If you stick with signing, not only will you have an additional language between you, but you'll have given your child a language firmly based in kinesthetic learning.
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 son lit 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 and dog 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.
There's a great Dictionary of Baby Signs (ASL) here that uses Windows Media Player. I also highly recommend the Baby Signing Time Series of DVDs, particularly Volumes 1 and 2. They are the only videos that let the baby watch.
I don't know when he'll start talking. It doesn't really matter. I'm not really sure where he is "developmentally" or what a 14 month old is supposed to be doing at this point. I figure kids all even out by the time they're 18 years old anyway. But, while we look forward to him talking, be it at two years or four years old, I've already got a way to communicate with him. I can ask him what's on his mind and he'll tell me.