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Have you heard of Baby Sign Language before and thought “That’s not for me”? The first time that I heard of it, I had that same thought. I thought “Shouldn’t I focus on speaking? No one in my family uses sign language.”
However, the second time that I heard of it, and really the first time that I made any effort to learn about it, I realized that it was in fact for me, and I am so glad I gave it a second thought. I hope after reading this post, you’ll recognize the many benefits and many reasons for using Baby Sign Language with your little one(s), whether anyone else in your family uses it or not.
First of all, let me tell you a little bit about our Baby Sign Language journey. Before we were married, and before we were having serious “Let’s get pregnant” conversations, I came across a post by Lindsay at Maman Loup’s Den about why she wished she’d used baby sign language. I read the article she linked to about the benefits of signing for bilingual babies and I was convinced. We already knew we wanted to raise our children bilingual, and because of that, Baby Sign Language just made sense. I brought it up with Bookworm the Trail Dad on our next hike, and convinced him that we needed to learn and use Baby Sign Language. Fast-forward two years and we have ourselves a 4-month old baby and a Baby Sign Language Kit.
According to BabySignLanguage.com, 6- 8 months old is a good time to start. Knowing that we were speaking to Huckleberry in two languages I wanted to start young, so we started casually signing to him at 4 months. By “casually signing”, I mean that we picked the 3 words we thought were the most important (“milk“, “mom” and “dad“) and signed those to him almost every time we said them. We were lazy about it and not too committed, it’s hard when you can’t even begin to expect results yet. After reading the Baby Sign Language Comprehensive Teach Guide, we chose two more signs so that we had 5 starter signs (“dog” and “eat“). But we were still only casually signing with him.
The younger you start signing, the earlier your baby will start signing back. But when you start very young, you need to be more patient. With a newborn, for example, it may take six months before that child signs back, while a six-month-old may only take two months to sign back. Starting later, for example, when a child is 18 months’ old, is fine too. Children who start later will typically catch on much faster because their cognitive and motor skills are so much more advanced. Many older children will catch on within a week.
Around the age of 9 months, Huckleberry started clapping his hands and a big lightbulb lit up in my head that said “He is deliberately doing a controlled action with his hands…HE COULD SIGN!” From then on, we got really into signing with him. I would sign “milk” before, during and after nursing him. We would sign “mom” and “dad” every time one of us talked about ourselves or the other, when one of us entered or exited a room, when we picked him up or did something with him. We signed “dog” and said “dog” or “Kirby the dog” with the sign whenever we talked about Kirby or another dog, whenever we saw a dog. We signed “eat” when we talked about eating, while we were eating. You get the picture. In the same way that we narrate everything we are doing to our little ones, we simply added signs where and when we could, aggressively, haha. Within a month he was actively signing “dog” to Kirby and every other dog we saw (it has now spread to all animals and we’re working on that). And it’s been a quick-learning journey from there.
Now, at almost 16 months, he knows 27 signs and can sign 20 of them to us. Twenty-seven signs sounds like a lot! We have had friends and others make comments about how much work it would be for them to learn sign language in order to teach their children. Well, I can tell you that before starting Baby Sign Language with Huckleberry, I knew how to finger-spell my name because I’d been curious about it as a teen, and I knew “thank you“. Every other sign I have learned seconds before starting to use them with him. I use our Baby Sign Language Official Reference Dictionary all of the time, we check the videos at BabySignLanguage.com often, and we referred to our Baby Sign Language Wall Chart daily (until we gifted it to our daycare because they were so inspired by Huckleberry that they are now teaching all of the kids some basic signs).
I am really only learning and using the signs that apply to us and our everyday life. For instance, I see little need to learn or teach the words for “brother” or “sister” yet, and teaching and learning the signs for colours isn’t on my to-do list at the moment, but “outside” and “hiking” have been mastered. And it is important to note that when I sign and say the words, I’m doing so in French, and when Trail Dad signs and says them, he’s speaking in English. So Huckleberry is learning one sign that he can use to communicate the same thing to either of us, or to his Francophone daycare providers or Anglophone grandparents.
Here is an approximate timeline of Huckleberry’s signs…
- 9 months: Huckleberry was clapping.
- 10 months: He was signing “dog“.
- 11 months: He was consistently signing “milk“, “mom“, “dad“, and “eat“.
- 12 months: He was consistently signing “water“, “more“, “all done“, and “outside“.
- 13 months: He was consistently signing “book“, “diaper“, “brush teeth“, “bath“, and “thank you“.
- 14 months: He was consistently signing “please“, “again“, “hiking“, “slippers“, “key“, and “mail/letter“.
- 15 months: He is learning the signs for “stairs“, “elevator“, and “laundry“.
The anticipated delay in speech when raising a child bilingual was the main factor for us in deciding to use Baby Sign Language with Huckleberry, but there are at least a dozen reasons why Baby Sign Language is for everyone, including you. In case you are already convinced and don’t feel the need to read any more, check out the QuickStart Guide and start signing today!
12 Reasons Why Baby Sign Language is for You
1) It enables communication.
When I asked Trail Dad what he would tell someone in order to convince them to use Baby Sign Language, his first response was “It allows you and your baby to communicate!”. Baby Sign Language gives babies and young children the tools they need to communicate specific things like needs, wants, interests, fears, location of pain, and more well before their ability to speak has developed and in situations when the words just aren’t there. You can finally have an answer to the question “What are you thinking?”.
2) It reduces frustration.
Baby Sign Language and the level of communication that it offers reduces frustration for parents and babies alike. Baby Sign Language means less crying, less frustration, fewer tantrums; I say sign me up! One of the major causes of tantrums is a lack of communication, Baby wants something, you try and try again to guess what it is that they want, and you fail and tantrum ensues. With Baby Sign Language, your little one can communicate his or her precise needs and wants and you don’t have to go through the guesswork.
3) It bridges the gap for children with a speech delay.
We anticipated a delay in speech when we chose to raise Huckleberry bilingual, but there are many other reasons for speech delays and you can’t always anticipate them. Teaching your baby to sign gives them the tools they need to communicate while they wait for their spoken language to develop, whether on time or not.
According to current research, “When a child uses sign language, they are able to develop their language system even before they are able to speak. This actually gives them a head start on communicating until their mouth and speech system can catch up. This means that typical children as young as 9 months can begin communicating and learning language, a whole three months before children who must rely on their ability to speak to communicate (typically begins at 12 months). As for children with speech and language delays, using sign language will allow them to begin communicating before they are able to speak as well. For some children, this is the push they need to begin speaking. This is often true for children with autism. Once these children learn the power of communication (through the use of signs), they often are more motivated to communicate through speech since they now realize what will happen when they communicate.” (From Speech and Language Kids).
4) It is easy to learn.
There is a huge misconception about teaching and using Baby Sign Language and that is that parents must know it all before they can use it with their children. This is NOT the case at all. You can absolutely learn one sign at a time while you are teaching it, and you only need to learn and use the signs that are relevant and applicable to your life. Baby Sign Language is supposed to make your life easier, not more complicated. Check out the QuickStart Guide and you’ll quickly realize how easy it is.
5) It is easy to teach.
Once you know a sign, you simply need to use it in context as often as you can. Choosing signs that are attached to concrete objects are the best ones to start with, like “mom“, “dad“, “milk“, “dog” and “eat“. Whereas concepts like “please” and “thank you” can be a little trickier. The first sign I really pushed was “milk” because I don’t like being clawed at or whined at, and to teach “milk” I just signed it to Huckleberry before, during and after nursing. It wasn’t long before he started signing it while nursing and not long after that that he consistently signed to ask for “milk“. Check out the QuickStart Guide and you’ll quickly realize how easy it is.
6) It is easy to understand.
I don’t know about you but “baby talk” stresses me out. My niece will say things to me and I’m just like “Uh huh, that’s nice” and I can’t even begin to try to figure out what she is saying because I don’t know where to start. Most parents can understand their own children’s “baby talk” but struggle when it comes to that of others. Baby Sign Language on the other hand is more universal, and although some babies will use their own versions of some signs (Huckleberry’s “more” looks a lot like “again“, and he uses the same sign for both), any adult who knows the sign will know what that child is trying to say. This makes it so much easier for your little one to communicate wants and needs with grandparents and other caregivers and for those adults to understand.
7) It builds self-esteem.
The joy on Huckleberry’s face when we respond in the exact way he wants us to is unmatched. The confidence, the independence, the little personality that shines through, it’s all more accessible with communication. Baby Sign Language offers your little one the chance to actively participate and contribute because he can express himself and be understood. He can become more and more independent and feel pride when he clearly expresses his wants, needs, fears, interests and more. Parents also report feeling better about themselves and more confident about parenting when they use Baby Sign Language (from BabySignLanguage.net). I know that we feel better about our abilities as parents when we can meet his needs before we hit tantrum territory.
8) It enriches relationships.
Do you remember that period of time before your baby smiled? Do you remember how difficult it was to give and give and give and get so little in return? And then the smiles started and you could get instant gratification, a reaction that told you what you were doing was good, enjoyed, welcomed. After the smiles and the laughs, the next big thing you’re waiting for is speech. You want your child to be able to tell you what they need, want, like, don’t like. But that waiting game can seem like forever, unless you tap into Baby Sign Language to speed it up. In using Baby Sign Language, you’ll feel a closer richer bond thanks to the two-way communication it offers. It builds trust and compassion as you better able to meet your little one’s needs. Babies who sign have fewer moments of distress than those that don’t. Parents and children that sign report feeling closer and more tuned in to each other, and other caregivers can feel the same way as they can communicate more clearly earlier on. You can also get to know your baby sooner. I can’t describe the feeling that overcame me the first time Huckleberry signed “hiking“! I mean, I knew he liked being outside and hiking, but for him to ask, to want to go for a hike, that was amazing!
9) It shows you how smart your baby really is.
Do you know how much your baby actually knows? They are absorbing everything all of the time, watching, listening, taking it all in. But until they talk, they don’t really have a way to tell you what they know. Yes, they can show you here and there with little tasks, or point and squeal, but parents really underestimate their child’s intelligence when there isn’t reason to believe otherwise. Baby Sign Language] is a window into your little one’s mind, a tool they can use to express so much and to show you how smart they are. The connections Huckleberry makes and can show us are astonishing. Connections like pointing to an animal that isn’t a dog and signing “dog“, but looking at us and looking concerned. He knows it’s not a dog but can sign “dog” and is essentially asking us for the appropriate sign. He will also point to a man and sign “dad” or ask if something is edible by signing “eat“. All of this before he can even talk.
10) It makes your baby smarter.
There have been so many studies of children, up to 8 and 10 years old, that indicate an increased intelligence among those who signed as babies. The average IQ of signing children is in 75th percentile versus the 53rd for non-signing children. Baby Sign Language boosts early literacy skills because of the visual and kinesthetic emphasis on vocabulary and auditory input. In other words, Baby Sign Language helps because kids learn better by hearing AND doing. Research also shows that signing children have a larger speaking vocabulary and ability to form longer sentences, they develop reading skills earlier and have a larger reading vocabulary, and they get better grades in school.
11) It builds language skills.
According to current research, signing babies tend to talk earlier and build vocabulary faster than non-signing babies. In fact, children who have signed have 50 more spoken words in their vocabulary by age 2, and this doesn’t include signed words. By the age of 3 years, children who sign are speaking at the level of the average non-signing 4-year old. Baby Sign Language is a jump start for verbal development. While some people believe that signing can delay speech, it can actually do the opposite and more. I actually had a slight panic at Huckleberry’s 15-month appointment when asked if he was saying at least 5 words, because he doesn’t talk yet, and then I realized he “says” 20 words!
12) It is the first step towards multilingualism.
Baby Sign Language isn’t a made up language of symbolic gestures, it is based on American Sign Language (ASL), which is the “spoken” language of 70 million deaf people, plus their families, friends and caregivers, and people that are hard-of-hearing, as well. My mom, who has never before seen any reason to learn sign language, recently found herself working as a lifeguard in a school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. She had to quickly learn to sign in order to communicate with children and colleagues in a pool setting. Because of the immersive situation she is in (and because she borrowed our dictionary), she has picked so much up and is teaching us more, and also now has deaf friends that she can communicate with. For the same reason that we are teaching Huckleberry French, there is reason to learn sign language beyond the development of speech. And multilingualism has its own list of incredible benefits that might merit another post.
Convinced? I hope so! In that case, head to BabySignLanguage.com and check out all of the incredible FREE resources they have available. They have a dictionary (with videos for many signs), printable flashcards, a QuickStart Guide, and so much more. And if you want the whole kit, you can head to their online store and find one that works for you. I highly recommend the Standard Signing Kit as we use our books all the time, and the wall chart has been so useful. We haven’t gotten into the flashcards as much yet, but now that he’s in a sweet spot of learning so many signs so quickly, we may just start using that soon. There are also DVDs available, if that’s your thing.
What is your experience with Baby Sign Language?