Today when I was talking to a group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital, the topic of baby sign language came up–what did I think about it? Usually when I speak to a group, several moms are interested in teaching their babies to sign. Research has shown that teaching your baby to sign at an early age does not delay language development but rather enhances your child’s language aquisition. As a matter of fact, researchers at the University of California linked infant signs to a boost in IQ scores. They compared a group of 2nd graders who had learned sign language as babies with those who had not and discovered a 12 point gap in IQ scores between the two groups. As special educators, we have been successfully using sign language for a long time to bridge the gap between the time a child wants to express himself and the time he can actually say words. Since manual dexterity precedes oral motor capabilities, a child can express himself first through gestures, thereby reducing frustration. I always encourage parents and offer some tips.
- Make sure your spouse and other caregivers who spend the most time with your child are all on board and know the signs you are teaching your child. One of the purposes of teaching baby sign language is so in the interum, when your child isn’t using a lot of words, they can still communicate their wants and needs and be less frustrated while communicating. If the caregiver or grandparent doesn’t understand the sign for “more” or “drink” that a child is using, then sign language is not fulfilling its purpose.
- Every child has words that will be more meaningful for them to learn the sign for. One little boy might love airplanes and would be gratified to be able to sign “airplane” every time one went overhead. Another child might love balls and feel confident when she can sign “ball”and have one appear. Choose a small number of signs to teach at first that are meaningful to your child. You can start whenever you want, signing as you say the word, but understand that most children don’t have the motor coordination to imitate the signs until they are about 9 months.
If you are interested in teaching your baby to use sign language, you don’t need to purchase a lot of books and expensive programs. Helpful information is on the internet. www.signingtime.com is a good site with an interesting story. The mother was a professional musician when she discovered that her daughter was deaf. Out of her experience, she produced videos for hearing children to learn to use sign language. The videos include “My First Signs”, “Playtime Signs” and “Everyday Signs”. I have found that children enjoy watching these when they are older but they are also an excellent way for moms to learn signs too! www.signwithme.com is a helpful place to see the signs acted out on video. You can choose the signs that you want to begin to teach your baby and look them up there. www.signingbaby.com may also be a helpful resource. In addition , Baby Signs, How to Talk to Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk, by Linda Acredolo, PhD and Susan Goodwyn, PhD. gives methods and explains the benefits of teaching your baby to sign.