I can still remember when I was babysitting for a new, first time mom. As her precious baby napped upstairs and I watched TV in the living room, I picked up and skimmed through the Baby Sign Language book on her coffee table. Showing my age, knowledge, and maturity here, my thought was a mental scoff followed by, “These moms today are crazy! Trying to get babies to do all these crazy things so early!”. Oh, Erica.
Several years and a baby of my own later, I now fully understand why that mom was interested in baby sign language. The benefits are many – for both you and for baby. I’ll dive into those in a minute.
When Tayler was about 5 months old we started consistently using two signs that I thought would make communication easier for us – “milk” and “more”. I knew 5 months old was a tad early, but I also knew it would take us awhile to get used to using the signs consistently. To help us try and remember, I printed some of the basics off of the internet and taped them up in the kitchen. Every time it was time to eat, we would sign and say “milk” several times. Every time she ate solids we would sign and say “more” before putting more on her tray.
Two months went by, and then Tayler began to smile and get excited when we would do the signs – she knew what they meant and things were starting to click! Fast forward to 8.5 months, and Tayler began to use “milk” on her own without our prompting and “more” followed right behind! Our consistency was paying off and we were giving Tayler the tools to communicate her wants and needs long before she could tell us.
I’m far from a baby sign language expert, and I can only speak from my experiences and what I’ve learned along the way, but here are a few of the benefits if you’re considering implementing baby sign language with your own children:
- It eliminates some of the guesswork that comes along with raising small children. Trying to figure out what your child needs can be frustrating at times. All you want to do is give them what they need, but its not always easy to figure out when their only communication tool is crying. Giving them the tools to communicate things like “sleep”, “more”, “drink”, “hurt”, and “help” give you the language to stay on the same page.
- It reduces fussiness. You’re not the only one that can get frustrated when trying to figure out what your child needs. You can imagine how challenging it would be to need something and have no way to say it. When you’re able to meet your child’s needs it keeps them happier and more content. 8 months old to 2 years old is a significant time frame – spend it communicating!
- Its a great bonding time. Practicing signs together gives you and your child a language to communicate within and learning it together can be very rewarding for you both. It’s fun, allows you a sneak peak into each other’s minds, and strengthens your relationship in the process.
- Its developmentally beneficial. Before your child can verbalize language, sign language allows them to flex their communication muscles. It builds vocabulary, self-esteem, and can act as a stepping stone to full speech. The associations they make through signing serve as a mental jungle gym!
(And despite the myths that learning sign language delays verbal speech – research strongly proves that’s not the case!).
If you decide to try it, a few general tips:
- Start as early as 4-6 months – make sure they can hold their gaze at you for a few seconds
- Start with just a few signs you know will be most beneficial
- Consistency consistency consistency. Say it and sign it every time.
- Include any other caregivers if possible.
- Add a few more at a time once they start to mimic the initial signs
- Be patient – it’ll take a few months and you usually won’t start to see them signing back till at least 8 months
- Have fun with it!
Now that she’s really getting it I bought a Baby Sign Language kit to use that comes with pre-made flashcards. While I do use it and like it, I was finding that a lot of the pictures on the flash cards didn’t look like the ones she sees or uses. For example, “drink” was in a glass. She doesn’t drink out of glasses, she drinks water out of her sippy cup. There was a picture of a tiny dog, which looks nothing like the big goldens we have here. The picture for “bed” was a toddler bed, not her crib. So I decided to make some of my own.
I killed two birds with one stone and downloaded an app called “Animal Zoo Flashcards and Games”. It not only has pictures of animals so we can practice the sounds they make (you can customize them and record your own sounds if you want!), but they have a stack of flash cards for “My Photos” which I use for some of our sign language flash cards. I took pictures of the next signs I want to practice, and made my own stack!
I’m sure I have a lot to learn as we continue our sign language journey, so I’d love to hear your experiences!