What is Baby Signing?
'Baby Signing' is the use of sign language by babies and toddlers. Babies naturally sign e.g. waving goodbye, they pull their hands down their faces or rub their eyes when tired, they smile - these gestures are the first movements a baby uses to communicate. By using signs, we teach them more ways to use hands and facial expressions to communicate their needs and express their joy or excitement about their new discovery or something they want to share. So instead of your baby crying or getting frustrated, you the parent or carer, can give them the way to be understood before they speak.
"Signing also speeds up the process of learning to talk, stimulates intellectual development, enhances self-esteem, and strengthens the bond between parent and infant."
DR LINDA ACREDOLO &
DR SUSAN GOODWYN
('Baby Signs' Vermillion, 2000)
Baby Signing and Speech
Often when parents hear about baby signing they wonder if it delays speech. In fact, the opposite is the case. Hundreds of thousands of babies all over the world have been signing. Years of research have clearly documented that signing babies actually have enhanced understanding of language and it even accelerates their ability to speak. It is also proven to assist long-term learning and increase their IQs considerably.
To support baby's language development it is important to do the sign and say the word at the same time. This way they hear the sound, can see the sign and when they can sign back they will also feel the sign. Allowing the baby to experience language with it's senses. Giving baby a multi-sensory experience.
1. Start with basic signs
2. Sign in baby's range of sight
3. ALWAYS say the word as you sign
4. Sign in context
5. REPETITION is the key to success
6. Lots of patience
7. Have fun!
Signing After Speech
Research has shown that most hearing babies who sign tend to stop using the sign for a word when they are able to speak it. Even after your baby can speak, however, signs can still be useful.
Signing as children get older can be enhancing to the family environment. Signing “I love you” can be a special family sign. Signs for correcting behaviour can keep a calm home. Also signing helps children to keep language visual and tactile which further assists learning letters, numbers, spelling and reading.
Research has shown that 70% of meaning is portrayed by body language, tone 20 % and the actual words only 10%. Keeping signing alive aids the 70% understanding.
From some of our families...
"Excellent course - I recommend The Best Start Club to every new parent I know."
Josephine's mum, St Albans
" Isaac was just 4 months when we started signing, I really feel it has helped his concentration. This is the best class we have attended. "
Isaac's mum, Hertford
Frequently Asked Questions
At what age should I introduce signs to my baby?
Now, it's never too early or it's never too late. Babies are capable of understanding signs from just a few weeks. My daughter, with whom I started signing to from birth, recognised her first sign at 4 weeks of age. This sign was "nappy change". At first we doubted her recognition as most parents do, but her understanding of the sign was consistent time after time. Understanding the sign meant that when we did the sign she knew when we were going to change her nappy and thereby began to know what to expect. By the time she was 9 weeks old she recognised the signs for "milk", "nappy change", "up" and "mum". She was very settled and being her mum was much easier as I knew if I signed something she recognised and she smiled or got excited then that was what she wanted.
I have taught many families to sign with babies of just a few weeks, many find that their babies understand a few signs within a few weeks, others notice their babies recognise signs by 3, 4 or 5 months of age, a smaller number after that. Like with everything to do with babies each child is different, each has its own timings for various stages of development. Parents, also vary in their commitment to signing. Some instantly dedicated others struggle to remember to do the sign.
I recommend families start signing when you, the parents, are ready. Remember though, it is also never too late to begin signing, there are different benefits at all ages.
My toddler is 15 months is this still a good time to start signing?
At this age children learn signs very quickly, frequently signing back after just a few days. They are already learning to talk, and signing reinforces the spoken language development. It's a great age to start.
When should I expect my baby to sign back to me?
Does baby smile? Yes? They are signing. Baby can do this very early. Signing back more complex ideas is normally seen between 8 and 12 months. However, I often see in my classes babies as young as 4 1/2 months signing one or two key ideas such as "milk" or "nappy change". It's not unusual for a baby of 5 or 6 months to have a few signs but mostly we expect their first signs about 8 to 12 months.
Many babies happily recognise and respond to your signs a long time before they sign back, they are getting the benefit.
How many signs should I introduce to my baby?
It's best to start with just a few, try basic needs first, what I call "survival" signs. The things that are most important for your baby to survive day to day e.g. "milk", "nappy change", "food" (if old enough), "sleep", "mum", "dad". Each part of their lives needs a "label" to help give reference and understanding to their lives.
Having said all this, I also recommend when introducing signs that you don't restrict the number of signs for your baby. From the moment baby is born we don't restrict our spoken language so why should we restrict our sign language. However, as sign language is a new concept for most families in order to give confidence and success to the parents or caregivers I recommend introducing the number of signs that you can be consistent with. Consistency with a few is better than lots of signs signed occasionally.
Should I use made up signs or the local sign language?
For the purpose of teaching a class The Best Start Club uses British Sign Language (BSL). This gives a consistency for everyone all learning the same signs. Using signs borrowed from BSL (which most Baby Signing programmes in the UK do) also gives the families and early basic introduction to a real language. Sign language is a very rich, expressive language that often is more specific and theatrical than spoken language. This also gives families a basic tool to communicate if only in a simple manner, with the Deaf community and thereby lessening the gap that currently exists.
Made up signs are often necessary when out and about when one doesn't know the sign for something, or, if there is no official sign for something. Made up signs are also useful for names or name signs. A name sign being a unique sign specific to one person.
Even within the Sign with your Baby programme, Dr Joseph Garcia recommends signs from both ASL and BSL, on the grounds that a child's fine motor skills may not be sufficiently developed to form a particular sign. Thus, he suggests in his book using ASL or BSL sign whichever is simpler. Later when the child is older and more capable one can switch to the local language but remember the focus is on language and speech development and best start for the child.
What if my baby signs back different to what I sign?
When you sign with your baby always be consistent with your sign. Your baby may sign back different than what you show it. It does this for many reasons. This variation of sign is called "approximation" where the baby does what it is able to do. Sometimes a baby will gradually learn to "correct" the sign, other times it keeps its own version. Babies babble. They cannot always form the word they hear. Ma ma ma, not mummy but you know what they mean. Why should signing be any different in it's early stages?
Do I always have to sign and say the word at the same time?
My recommendation is ALWAYS SIGN AND SAY THE WORD. Baby signing is about assisting language and speech development and communication. We want our babies to talk and to talk well. So we must sign and say the word at the same time. Many families find that they naturally slow their speech as they sign, helping baby to hear the word more clearly.
However, if you want to check if your baby actually understands the sign rather than the word association or object association then it is no harm to occasionally try a sign without the word.
There are also many times as your baby grows and develops into a young child that a silent sign is more appropriate eg when you are correcting behaviour in public and you don't want to embarrass your child, or for potty training or if your child is a distance away looking at you and you want to communicate something like "I love you". These can then extend signing into something private and special.
Is it wise to sign in a bilingual home?
Yes. It seems that the child can associate the sign with the word in both languages one from each parent. The evidence from the children in my classes in this circumstance is it helps. Some parents wonder if adding a "third" language would just be too much. The opposite is in fact the case. Imagine Dad signs "food" then he says "food", then mum does the same and says "mange" (eat in French). Baby hears 2 different sounds or words but the sign or gesture is always the same. This sign is,in fact, the bridge between the 2 languages.
With Baby Signing we are not teaching a whole new language, we are introducing "key words" to assist it's grasp of spoken language. Some families wish to extend their use of signs - this goes beyond Baby Signing.
I am the only person who signs to baby. Is this ok?
Don't worry. This is not unusual. For many families, Dad is not around during the day so mum signs most. The fact that one carer is signing gives baby the benefit. It is important though that the other family members can recognise baby's sign when it makes them, lest baby feels its attempt to communicate is being ignored.
In my classes, I not only have families where Dad is not at home all day but also where mum has returned to work. The principle signing carer is often the grandma or a nanny, but mum and dad sign with baby at bedtime and when then can. Everyone wins.
My baby signed for a few months and suddenly has stopped signing. What do I do?
Many babies experience this. They are very keen to sign early on then have a period of a few weeks and sometimes even a month or 2 and just don't sign. During baby's first year or so it is going through rapid changes and enormous developmental leaps. Sometimes baby puts lots of it's energy into language then other times crawling or walking takes over for a while. Maybe baby is going through a "clingy period". This time will pass. Keep your signing consistent as always and you may just be surprised when baby signs again there will be a flood of new signs.
Good luck with signing and remember have fun and enjoy,
"Xander was 4 1/2 months old when he signed "nappy change" after I had just changed his nappy. I didn't think he needed changing so soon, but sure enough, on checking he had filled his nappy again so he did want his nappy changing again.
I will never forget the first time he signed and how pleased he looked when I understood. He now also signs "food", "milk" and "more". The classes are excellent. "
Xander's mum, Welwyn Garden City
"Natalie signed "more" after her first piece of chocolate cake! She also signs "change" when I put her down to change her nappy. We love coming to signing classes, see you next term. "
Natalie's mum, St Albans
"Charlotte and I really enjoyed the classes. We learned new songs and refreshed my memory of some old favourites. When Charlotte is grumpy or fidgety I know I can grasp her attention by signing 'Incy Wincy' or 'Twinkle, Twinkle' it is a great tool for a mother to have. Iris is a fantastic, positive, enthusiastic teacher. Thank you."
Charlotte's mum, St Albans
"My son signs for milk which eliminates his frustration as I know what he wants - especially when he wants it at a different time to usual. It has been a brilliant course."
Welwyn Garden City mum.
"Thank you for the great classes, Emily loves them and sings the songs all the time at home! She loves all the animals and instruments you use."
Emily's mum, Welwyn Garden City attends Kindermusik Family Time Class with Signing
"Thank you for another brilliant term"
Ellis'mum, Welwyn Garden City