Homeschooling advocate, mompreneur and contributor Teachermama Tina Santiago-Rodriguez lists 10 tips for parents who want to communicate with their babies even before they start speaking – through the wonderful way of sign language!
The concept of baby sign language has been around since 17th century linguist William Dwight Whitney noticed the remarkable communication abilities of children with deaf parents. However, it was not until circa 1987 that the study of baby sign language began, when mom and professor Linda Acredolo started noticing her one-year-old daughter making up her own baby signs. Together with Professor Susan Goodwyn, Linda’s research partner at the University of California, they began studying the phenomenon; the result of which was over 20 years of research and the first edition of the book Baby Signs in 1996. Most of the tips I will be sharing with you come from the 2002 revised edition of this book, and also from our family’s own experience with using sign language to communicate with our 2 children.
1. Know when to start. Acredolo and Goodwyn say that there is no specific age at which we can say all babies are ready to learn baby signs. Each child has his or her own timetable based on his or her experiences, interests, and rate of development. However, based on their research, it is safe to say that most babies start becoming interested in baby signs between nine and twelve months. What is most important though is that parents watch for when their babies develop an interest in communicating, as this is a good sign that they are both willing and able to begin benefiting from baby signs.
Some indicators that baby is interested in communicating are: • Baby begins pointing to things. • Baby brings toys and other objects to you, holding them out for you to see as if requesting you to label them. • Baby begins to focus his or her attention on looking at pictures in books and other printed materials.
When our eldest was about a month old, I read a book on child care that had a short section about baby sign language. That’s when I first got interested in teaching my kids to sign. When he was about six months old, the age when he began eating solids, we started modelling simple signs like “eat” (place fingertips to lips), “more” (tap fingertips together) and “drink” (place thumb to lips) to him. To our delight, he began signing back at eight months old. We eventually started teaching him more simple signs and he quickly learned to model and use each one.
For our second child, she started modelling back signs at ten months old. This does not mean that her older brother is more “advanced” than her. It simply emphasizes the fact that each baby is special and develops at his or her own pace. Remember, the rate at which our children develop should not be compared to other children’s; child development is not a competition or a race. When it comes to baby sign language, this is also the case. Focus on your child’s readiness to communicate, have fun, and the rest will follow.
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