January 17, 2011

Baby Love: Sign Language

Babies...so cute and sometimes so frustrating. As a new mom I was always worried about my baby's comfort. How do I know if he's hot or hungry or sick of sitting in a wet diaper? One of the smartest things we ever did was teach each of our kids signs. We used American Standard Sign Language and taught them words like "more", "hot", "all done", "dog", "milk", "hungry", "no" and lots of others. I loved being able to communicate with my babies before they could talk. Imagine your precious little baby crying in complete misery: they know exactly what they want, but they can't get you the obtuse parent to help them! How frustrating for both of you. Then along comes the little squeezing sign "milk" and the light bulb comes on. Life just got so much better for everyone. Course now there are all kinds of studies that have been done that so signing is great for getting their verbal skills in order. For me it was more about establishing another connection with my baby. Another way to see into their precocious little minds.

My oldest child used the signs for a very short time and then began talking. For my second born, she didn't talk in full sentences until she was about two, so the signs were a huge help. I started signing to each baby around 4 months old. They in return started using the signs themselves around 6 months, but I know they understood what I was signing around 5 months. I especially loved being able to sign "no" or "stop" without having to command them verbally in a room full of people. Some signs we made up (these are called family signs). For instance, the photo above shows Super Bear, then aged 10 months using our family sign for "yea!" My kids still remember most of the signs from babyhood and sometimes use them just for fun.

One resource that really helped us learned sign language was Signing Time with Alex and Leah DVDs. They were a fun way to learn signing for me and the kids because they include music and kids themselves. One interesting aspect of watching them was seeing how different kids make the signs slightly different, just like vocal speech. Each child puts their own stamp on the sign, but mommy and daddy will understand and that's the beauty of the whole concept.

There are also a ton of free resources on the web. If I wanted to know a more obscure sign, I went to Internet to look it up. In fact, Misty from Baby Sign Language.com agreed to share a few tips with my readers. This web site is a fabulous resource to see video clips of specific signs in action.

Baby Sign Language Do's And Dont's
Misty Weaver, Baby Sign Language.com

Sign Language For Babies is a really cool way of teaching your pre-verbal child to communicate with you. It is easy to learn and – once you’ve got the hang of it – a lot of fun. To make a start all you need is to learn a some basic signs and practice, practice, practice. Here are some important dos and don’ts for baby sign language beginners…

DO start off with signs you and baby can practice every day – signs like Mommy, Daddy and Milk are great for beginners. You will need to make signing a natural part of your interaction with your baby, so finding signs you can incorporate into all your usual activities works really well.

DON’T forget to learn the signs yourself first. It’s a good idea to practice a few times before signing to your baby. Go to a baby signing class or look up some online resources to help you.

DO practice often. Once you have learned a sign, you should make this sign every time you say the word or do the action with your baby. It is important to say the word clearly, with good eye contact, while pointing to the thing or person you are describing.

DON’T use too many signs. Limit yourself to four or five signs to begin with – you can add more when you and baby are more confident.

DO sign when your baby is alert and not tired, using something which is exciting to her, such as Milk or Mommy.

DON’T forget repetition. It’s important to make the sign and say the word every time you do an action or use an object. Babies learn through repetition and it can take about two months of exposure to a sign for babies over six months to learn the sign and be ready to use it themselves.

DO use baby sign language when you’re shopping, playing, feeding – anywhere you get the chance. Be creative. Make it fun.

DON’T be results-focused. Baby Sign Language is about having fun and learning about each other. The attention and bonding you share with your baby while you are signing is as important as signing itself.

DO be patient with yourself and with baby – if you forget to sign for a day it’s OK. Start again the next day. Give yourself and baby plenty of time. Signing is worth it.

DON’T expect too much too soon. Have fun and enjoy Baby Signing, making it a part of your day. Remember, it can take at least two months of exposure to, and repetition of, a sign for a baby to learn it properly.

DO encourage all your baby’s efforts! Don’t worry if your baby hasn’t got a sign quite ‘right’. Give plenty of praise, attention and eye-contact to show her you are impressed with her efforts. When you and baby are ready you can move on to another group of signs. Encourage all the way.

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