Why learn to sign with your baby?
Using sign language with children is not a new or radical concept – deaf families have been doing it with their little ones from the day that they are born – but the research and concept of baby signing as we know it today is a much more recent phenomenon.
Thirty years ago, Dr Joseph Garcia, the world’s leading expert on baby signing, started to look at the communication between deaf families and their hearing babies. He was amazed to discover that babies as young as 6 months could be shown how to communicate with others simply by using gestures. He also discovered that these babies were calmer and more content.
Taking his research one step further, he asked hearing families to use sign language with their hearing babies. When using sign language consistently, these babies also started using gestures to communicate with their carers from 6 months old. He also found that these children tended to learn to speak earlier – and had wider vocabularies – than their non-signing peers.
It’s a common misconception that sign language is just for deaf people or those with special needs – when in fact it can be put into practice with every little one, hearing or otherwise. Signing with little ones of all ages and stages provides incredible insight into their world, long before they have a chance to babble their first words.
Benefits of baby signing
Baby signing’s greatest benefit is that it allows babies to express themselves clearly. By using simple signs in conjunction with speech, babies gradually learn to make a connection between sign, word, and action – the process is much the same as the way they learn to speak. The difference, of course, is that babies’ ability to make simple gestures develops many months before their vocal mechanism has developed enough to speak and a year or more before they can tackle more complex words. So by introducing just a few simple signs to your baby– milk, eat, more and nappy change for example – babies can learn to enlighten their parents of their wants and needs, reducing the guesswork required by parents and making for a calmer, more contented and confident child.
It’s not just about reducing crying, however. More importantly, when this tool is so simple to use, parents can have the ability to enjoy much more of their baby’s thoughts that they would miss if they waited until speech. Every day brings new discoveries for a baby – new sights, new sounds, new experiences. A baby who can communicate through signs allows the adults around them to share in their excitement!
The benefits of signing do not end when speech begins. As babies become toddlers, there is even more need for signing as frustration really manifests itself at this difficult transition age; signing is particularly beneficial from 12 months onwards and it’s been suggested that up to 90% of toddler tantrums are linked to their need to eat, drink, sleep or gain attention (have cuddles) – very easy signs to implement and use at this critical age – restoring calm for everyone and enhancing bonding. Research also suggests that signing fuels intellectual development: signing infants are likely to become confident communicators for life.
Top tips on how to get started with Baby Signing
- Is your baby clapping and waving? Then your baby is definitely ready to begin!
- Pick a few signs, relevant to your family, that you are happy to do consistently. Its easier to remember and concentrate on 6 or 10 rather than dozens of signs
- Always SAY the word as you sign it
- Make sure you always have eye contact with your baby!
- Repetition, Repetition, repetition. The more you sign, the more likely it is that your baby will copy you.
- Is your baby staring at you, laughing at you, getting excited when you sign to them? If so, you can be sure they are taking it all in….
- Have fun! Babies love to laugh and signing is a great way to engage them.
Ali Farbrother, Little Signers Club
Ali teaches Little Signers Club baby signing classes at Christ The King Church in Bradley Stoke on Tuesday afternoons from 1.00 – 1.45 during term time only.
For further information or to book a place on the 6 week beginners course please contact Ali at email@example.com or telephone 07803 000669.