Sunday, February 1, 2015

Baby/Toddler Sign Language

Before Big Brother was even able to speak, I knew that he loved hats and that his favorite color was green. He told me so! :)

Once both my boys were about 3 months old, I began teaching them to communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). It has been so fascinating to work with them and to have them able communicate their needs and wants to me at a very early age. Even now at 9 months, Little Brother signs MILK, WATER, MORE, EAT, MOMMY, DADDY, and CHANGE. He also understands many other signs and words that he does not yet sign back.

There is alot of information out there already on this subject. You can find many books, websites, classes, and DVDs designed to help you teach your baby to sign. I just want to share our experiences and tell you what has worked best for us.

*First of all, I do recommend using actual ASL signs with your baby. This way they are learning a real language that other people they may encounter are more likely to understand than something you have just made up for your baby. You also have many resources available to you for learning ASL so you can teach your child.

*Also extremely important is to always say the word as you sign. The goal is to help your baby develop communication skills and help them make themselves understood. They need to understand that the signs stand for spoken words. Gradually your child may drop many of their signs as their speech becomes more developed.

*As I said, I began signing with my boys beginning at around 3 months of age. There is really no right or wrong time to begin though. Neither of them signed back to me til anywhere from 5-7 months. Some babies may not sign back to you until much later. Do not be discouraged if your baby does not sign back to you right away. Babies often understand many words and signs long before they are able to say or sign them.

*To start out, choose a few signs for words you know you will use often with your baby. Some good ones to start with are MILK, EAT, WATER, or CHANGE (for diaper change) since these words are regular parts of your baby's day.

*Start to consistently show your baby the sign each time you say the word throughout the day. Remember to always talk to your baby about everything you are doing with them! For example, when you nurse or give the baby his/her bottle say, "Time to get some MILK." and model the sign for MILK as you speak. Sign MILK as the baby nurses or takes his/her bottle, too. The more you incorporate signing into their daily activities, the sooner your baby will begin to understand and communicate with you.

*As your baby begins signing back to you, they may not perform the sign perfectly at first. This is OK and totally normal. Their speech is often hard to understand at first, too. For example, Little Brother often signs MORE when he wants more of a snack or to repeat a fun activity. The correct way to sign MORE is to tap your fingers of both hands together with the hands in the " a" sign shape, but Little Brother currently signs more by gently clapping his hands together a couple times. Don't worry if your baby does this! They are attempting to communicate with you and that is what is so amazing. Just respond to their sign and continue to model the sign and the spoken word for them correctly.

*Look for teachable moments when your baby is really engaged to teach and practice new signs and words. Little Brother has a stuffed monkey toy that Big Brother gave him that he loves. If I see him playing with the monkey, I might sit down in the floor in front of him where he can see me and say, "Are you playing with your MONKEY?" and model the sign as I say MONKEY. If he's interested I might gently take his hands and help him sign MONKEY. Or I might even take the monkey's hands and have the monkey sign MONKEY! Make it fun and incorporate signing in with your playtime and other routine interractions with your child!

*Don't let anyone tell you that teaching your baby to sign will cause them to have problems talking. Nothing could be further from the truth! Remember we always talk as we sign, so the child is picking up the spoken language as well. Big Brother knew and used anywhere from 60-80 ASL signs before age 2...and he has an amazing spoken vocabulary now. He is ALWAYS using it, too! :) So don't buy into this myth.

*Even if your child is already talking some, there are still benefits to teaching them some signs! Toddlers and preschoolers love the kinesthetic aspect of learning signs for their colors, numbers, animal names, ABCs, etc!

We teach our baby's to wave bye-bye and blow kisses when they are small, so why not teach them to use their hands to tell us they are hungry, or thirsty, or they just saw a bug, etc? Your baby has plenty to tell you, and you may be pleasantly surprised!!

Have you signed with any of your children as baby's? How did it go? What methods did you use to teach the signs? Do you feel it was beneficial? Why or why not?

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