Speak to Baby Using Sign Language
What could be better than a young child not having developed language skills, yet being able to communicate with his or her parents? Today, many children can do just that because their parents are teaching them sign language. Teaching sign language to babies not only has lasting benefits, but has now caught on across the country and has become the innovative way that parents are working to help their children get ahead.
“I have used sign language with my son who is now 2. It has been extremely helpful in reducing our frustration, by taking the guesswork out of what he is trying to tell me. There is nothing more heartbreaking than not being able to meet your child’s needs,” said Jeni Kusherman, a Charlotte mom and infant sign language instructor.
“Although signing with babies has been around for over 20 years, in the past couple of years interest has steadily grown,” explains Jenny Hodges, a certified district manager for Baby Signs®, a national company that offers workshops and classes on teaching babies sign language. Teaching sign language to babies gives parents and children the ability to communicate before their language skills have been developed.
Most programs that are offered for teaching sign language use everyday terms that are useful and relate to a baby’s life. Hodges explains that the most common first terms that are usually taught include milk, more, eat and words that are related to meals, bedtime and bathing. Other common first words for younger babies include cat, dog, baby, more, Mommy and Daddy. Once the baby is a bit older, other words are introduced like phone, play, colors, rain and car. There is no set number of words you need to teach your child — you could pick and choose a few common words or work to expand their signing vocabulary.
Most of the words taught in baby sign language programs have been adapted from the American Sign Language system. Other families choose to make up their own signs for individual items they routinely use around the house. The practice of signing gives babies the opportunity to label objects, express their needs and to explain how they are feeling. Children also get the chance to be a part of choosing the direction and focus of what they want to do and what they want to talk about.
Benefits of Signing
Young children often throw temper tantrums as a result of feeling frustrated because they are not able to verbally express themselves. Learning sign language as a baby is believed to help cut down on some of those tantrums that toddlers experience because they have a way to communicate. As if just being able to cut down on those toddler temper tantrums wasn’t motivation enough to send parents running to find the closest baby signing program, there are many more benefits beyond that. Research has shown that teaching children sign language stimulates intellectual development.
“There is a significant percentage of the children who speak earlier when their parents sign with them,” explains Nancy Cadjan, president of Sign Babies. “And even those who speak at a normal rate have an easier time learning language and an increased vocabulary when they do begin speaking.”
When babies have this ability to communicate to have their needs met it is also believed to increase their self-esteem and confidence level and many believe that it strengthens the bond between the parent and child. Learning sign language as a baby also provides a foundation for early literacy.
“Every baby is different and will sign when he or she is ready,” explains Hodges. Usually within a couple of months you should see results from your teaching efforts. Keep in mind that the older the baby the faster they catch on to the signs. The recommended age to start teaching your baby sign language is usually around 8 months, although some people do get started around 6 months. Even if your baby is a year old or more, it’s not too late to start teaching them sign language.
Kusherman advises starting slowly. “Start with one sign, and make that sign be one that your child would use many times throughout the day. For example, with Benjamin, I started with ‘juice’ since he asked for juice several times each day. Once he had one sign down, I introduced another,” she said. “I introduced ‘more’ as the next word. It is a word that is very versatile and can be used in many situations. It is very important that you don’t overwhelm your child right off the bat. This will only discourage him/her.”
There are a variety of ways that parents can get started teaching sign language: books, videos and Web sites. The best Web sites offer a plethora of information on how to get started and links to online signing dictionaries that show you how to sign. “You can take a class from a certified infant sign language instructor or you can learn to do this on your own,” says Cadjan. She feels that “taking from an instructor is better because it gives you a chance to see how the signs are made.”
• There are a number of other local organizations offering infant sign classes. Log on for more information or to find a class locally:
Baby Signs, www.babysigns.com
Born 2 Sign, www.signwithme.com
Hand Speak, www.handspeak.com
Sign Babies, www.signbabies.com
Signing Baby, www.signingbaby.com
Signing Smart, www.wideeyedlearning.com
Jacqueline Bodnar is a freelance writer in Las Vegas and is editor of WAHM-Magazine.com