Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Children and Sign Language

This morning, my baby signed to me that he wanted a bath.  I hate telling him no when he signs.  Every time he uses sign language I try to give him what he wants, because I am so proud that he is communicating with me rather than crying or screaming.
Donovan signing bath

My baby is 16 months old now.  He has been signing for about 3 months.  His first sign was 'eat'.  He has added 'bath', 'all done', 'where?', 'more', and 'airplane' to his signing vocabulary.  
He can say some words: me, baby, mom, truck.  I'm sure the signs will fade away as he learns the verbal word for each of those as well. But even though the signs we use are very basic signs, they have opened up a whole new world of communication that wasn't possible at his early age without them.  

Did you know that infants develop the fine muscles in their hands (gross motor skills at about 6-7 months) before they develop those required for speech(at 18-24 months)? They are equipped to communicate with you before they can talk!

With my children, I didn't start signing until about 10 months or later, but you can start signing to them as early as six months.

Contrary to common belief, babies that sign do not learn to talk any later than non-signing babies. Studies even show that babies who sign, speak earlier than those that don't sign.  
If you use sign language along with verbal speech, the baby is connecting the sign to the spoken word.  None of my children were late talkers, in fact some were early.

I was not interested in a baby that could speak before others, however. I was interested in a baby that could tell me what he wanted/needed thereby reducing frustration on both our parts. 

SWYB_book.jpg When I started signing with my first-born six years ago, I followed Dr. Joseph Garcia's method and book Sign with your Baby.  As the sign2me website states, this book has "clearly-illustrated ASL signs. Filled with anecdotes, practical guidelines, and humor, SIGN with your BABY offers an effective way to teach parents and infants how to communicate through sign. Author Dr. Joseph Garcia helps you recognize when your child is receptive to learning, recommends which signs to teach first, and shares ideas for games that can be fun and useful when introducing new signs. With 145 clearly illustrated ASL signs, this book enables you to choose and teach the signs that will be most beneficial to you and your child. You'll be amazed when your baby signs!"

This book uses signs based on American Sign Language(ASL), and recommends only using ASL signs.  I'm of the opinion, though, that other methods and signs work just fine.
For example, I sign 'where?' to my son using the ASL sign after I hide an animal under one of eight doors on a puzzle.  He responds with the classic 'where' sign of both palms up, shoulders shrugged, and an inquisitive look on his face, then proceeds to look under each door until he finds the animal.  His sign is still valid, because we both understand the sign and he is consistent in using it. He can communicate.

When I sign with my babies, the older children start signing again as well. The kids translate Donovan's needs to me all the time, and sign to him themselves.  
Some pictures from 2006 when Aubrey was the baby communicating by sign:

Signing with your baby takes dedication.  You might sign for two months before your child will sign anything on his own.  But it is definitely worth it! When he/she signs his first sign you will be elated and amazed! Give it a try if you have a little one.  You'll decrease frustration and increase the bond between yourself and your baby.

Some great websites if you are interested: sign2me.com and signingbaby.com.


  1. Keilah, this is really great. I enjoy signing to them too, it is part of the extended family too! -Uncle Russ

  2. So true, Russell. My kids are lucky to have such an involved uncle!

  3. I used signing mostly with Ava(first) and also with nate(2) but now with troy it's hardly used. only when I remember!