It’s funny how once you learn about something new, you start to hear about it and notice it everywhere! This is how baby sign language has been for me. I’m sure people have been talking about baby sign language for a while, but I only caught on just recently because I have a young baby and have looked into teaching him sign language.
My sister introduced me to baby sign when her daughter was about 6 months old. She taught her daughter just the basic signs, those that she could use to communicate needs. They used just a few signs like those for “milk,” “more,” “poo-poo,” and “all done.”
Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical at first about a baby’s ability to pick up on signs and actually use them to communicate. I was amazed when I saw my niece using signs to communicate at 6 months old! I’ve always known that babies are really smart (look how much they learn in just a few short years!), but I just figured that communication, verbal or otherwise, required a maturity level not reached until a certain age. I was wrong.
Infant sign language is brilliant because a baby does know what he or she wants and can express it using signs until his or her cognitive skills are mature enough to facilitate the formation of verbal language.
I have a 5 1/2 month old son now and I’m starting to teach him the sign for milk. Every time I nurse him I say, “milk,” and show him the sign. We’ll see how long it takes for him to be able to do it on his own. In another few weeks I’m going to start giving him some solids so I’ll also be able to teach him the signs for more food/hunger related words.
My husband and I were having a discussion the other day about how much sign language to teach our son. I’ve heard that teaching babies too many signs for things other than basic necessities can delay verbal communication. I’ve been concerned about that because it makes sense that our son would use the sign rather than bother learning how to say the word because signing is easier and he learned how to do that first.
My husband did a little research to find out and he discovered that sign doesn’t delay speech development. In fact, in many cases signing actually helps verbal development, especially in children who have some developmental delays. “Research indicates that children who have been taught Baby Sign have increased and early spoken vocabularies and improved cognitive and communication skills throughout childhood (En.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_Sign_Language).”
This bit of information put my mind at ease. After all, communication is communication and giving an infant the tools to convey what he or she wants will mean much less frustration for all involved. Teaching Baby Sign gives babies early practice in communication, which will help them later with verbal communication.