Baby sign language has actually been around for many, many years, however it has only gained popularity in North America within the last 10 years. Perhaps you and your little one have even taken a baby sign language class! As a Baby Signs® certified independent instructor (although I haven’t taught classes for about 2 years), I can attest to the many benefits that baby sign language has. I signed with my son quite a bit however I did not sign much with my daughter so I can tell you with much certainty that there are benefits to signing with your baby!
For those of you who are new to the world of baby sign language, this article is for you. Hopefully I can clarify any misconceptions that may have been shared with you by well meaning family members and friends.
Baby Sign Language Basics
You may be wondering, “what does signing with my baby have to do with language development and play?” It actually has quite a bit to do with language development and as your baby grows, play will lead to more growth in language, as well as many other valuable skills.
First I want to start by debunking some common myths that get circulated about baby sign language.
Baby Sign Language Myths
Signing With Your Baby Will Delay Speech
This is by far the most common phrase that I hear, and also the biggest myth. I am going to be very honest with you right now, I used to actually think this myth was true. This was before I did any research into baby sign language. During my Masters program (Speech-Language Pathology) we were not taught about signing with babies/toddlers that had “normal” hearing and development. The only information we received about sign language was for deaf populations or children who had severe speech delays. Therefore I was lead to believe that signing with a hearing baby would not be beneficial.
However, I now know that this is a myth. Another thing I was taught in school is that babies use gestures before they can communicate verbally and any parent can confirm that (I know I can)! If your little one wants to be picked up there is a good chance that he will whine while reaching his arms up toward you. This just shows that babies are trying to communicate and they are using gestures to do so. Signing is using gestures to communicate! Research* is now showing that babies who learned sign language before they could talk often speak earlier than those who were not exposed to sign language.
As long as you are always including the spoken word with the sign when you are teaching your baby, there is no reason why speech will be delayed because of signing. Babies’ expressive vocabularies will grow at a quicker rate when they are communicating with you at an earlier age! Babies will naturally start dropping signs and choose spoken words over signs as they become physically able to do so. Think of babies crawling, they do this until they are physically able to walk because walking is much faster. The same goes for speaking. You can get your message across much faster and easier by speaking. Babies don’t crawl forever, so they won’t sign forever.
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Baby Sign Language Is A Fad
I have heard this one many times, however for those that are interested in teaching their baby sign language, it is here to stay. Sign language has been used for over 100 years with babies who are either deaf themselves or have deaf parents. In the 1800’s William Dwight Whitney found that the language capabilities of deaf children using sign language were better than those of non-deaf children who weren’t exposed to sign language.
In the 1980’s Dr. J Garcia began teaching sign language to hearing babies and in the 1990’s, Dr.’s Acredolo and Goodwyn studied baby sign language in much more depth and found that there are many benefits to it. Since the early 2000’s baby sign language classes are being taught to hearing babies and their families around North America.
Signing With Babies Is Too Time Consuming And Difficult For Parents To Learn
When teaching sign language to babies who can hear, you do not need to teach more than a handful (or 2) of signs focusing on key vocabulary. You do not need to take ASL (American Sign Language) courses before you can teach your little one. You can either take a class with your baby, or you can purchase materials to learn some basic signs yourself and then teach your child. The point isn’t to have your baby fluent in sign language, it is to bridge the gap between being non verbal and verbal. Therefore, just teach the signs that will allow them to communicate with you on a basic level.
I always encourage parents to work on signs for words their child does not say or isn’t saying clearly. Pick signs for things that your child is interested in (food, animals and common toys are good ones to start with). An adult can learn 10-15 signs in less than a week. You then need to make a habit of using the sign every time you say the word. It really isn’t that hard. I know you can do it!
Benefits Of Signing With Your Baby
There are many benefits to signing with your baby. Here are just a few:
- Allows babies to communicate before they can speak.
- Strengthens the parent-child bond as parents are communicating with their babies in a reciprocal way at a much earlier age.
- Reduces frustration for your baby as she can communicate her needs without you having to guess what she wants.
- Builds self confidence and independence as your baby is able to communicate more effectively with you.
- Makes learning to speak easier as children already are able to communicate some basic vocabulary through signs. A baby who signs often develops his expressive vocabulary before a child who does not sign.
As you can tell, I am a strong supporter of baby sign language. I hope that this article has explained some of the baby sign language basics to you. If you choose not to sign with your baby, do not feel bad or inadequate. In order for your baby to sign with the intent of communicating, you need to commit to incorporating a few basic signs when you interact with your baby. If you know that you cannot or don’t want to do this, then your baby probably will not use signs to express herself.
If you would like more information on how to actually go about starting to sign with your baby, please read this article Teach Your Baby Sign Language: It’s Easier Than You Think!
Are you ready to begin your sign language journey with your baby? Get started with the Baby Signs Complete Starter Kit!
What do you think of baby sign language? Do you or will you sign with your baby? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
*research regarding the benefits of baby sign language can be found here http://babysignstoo.com/information/research.