What is baby signing?
Baby signing is a form of communication between you and your child before they learn to talk.
It has become increasingly popular over the past decade and with baby-sign classes all over the world, online tutorials, and our favourite TV show here in the UK ‘Something special,’ it’s never been easier to teach your little one to sign.
Why sign with your baby?
Before your baby can properly vocalise their wants and needs, they must master very complex actions of the muscles in their face, these being:
•Placement of tongue
•Formation of lips
•Shaping of nasal passage
•Controlling of vocal chords
Learning to sign is a bridge to communication, a step towards communicating, before they have the physical ability to speak.
What are the benefits?
If used together with speech (*always say the sign, don’t just sign it,) baby-sign has enormous benefits for you and your family.
Less stress: The first benefit of using Baby Sign Language is that it gives your baby or toddler the ability to express their important needs and thoughts. Less stress for both of you! This can ease tantrums – often caused by communication problems.
Boosts brain development: The reason that sign language helps babies to communicate is that babies have control over their hands long before they develop the fine motor skills required for speech. Signing enables them to express what they are not yet able to say and boosts cognitive development. Using their hands and eyes and brain they are focusing on you, learning new signs and finding ways to express themselves long before speech has started. In fact recent research has shown that babies an toddlers who use sign actually had a higher than average literacy level!
Supports language development: Many parents worry that using baby-sign or Makaton will hinder speech, but it does the opposite! It actually encourages language development and helps to develop a wider vocabulary.
Beautiful bonding: With less stress and more communication the bond strengthens. communication is key to understanding eachother. We have all experienced the feeling of helplessness, trying to help an inconsolable baby, guessing and worrying what it is they want? Well, Baby sign helps your little one communicate what they want or need so there is less frustration, and less upset and more understanding.
Supports emotional development: Communication is crucial to a child’s emotional development, and baby sign supports communication in a way that is accessible to even the youngest of babies! Using sign is giving your little one high quality interaction. By frequently signing you are giving eye-contact and encouraging your baby to do the same.
When should I start signing with my baby?
It’s never too early or too late to begin signing with your child. The optimum age to begin signing with your child is as early as 6 or 7 months. Some babies may attempt to sign back to you as early as 10 months,(Betsy was only 7 months!)
Be sure to praise all attempts at signing, building self-esteem as you learn together. Practice signing throughout your daily routine or whenever the opportunity presents itself. By using baby sign throughout the day you’ll eventually:
*Know what your baby is thinking about, how they are feeling or what they are wanting.
*Give your baby a means to express themselves, months (if not a full year) ahead of words being spoken.
*Be able to ‘tune in’ to your baby, giving them your time and attention.
*Allow your baby to feel very happy, knowing that you’ve understood them!
*Minimise tantrums that come from not understanding each other.
*Introduce language to your baby, which then gives them the confidence to speak.
*Give them a great foundation in speech and language in the pre-school years.
How do I sign?
There are lots of classes where you can join in signing with your baby, or you can simply sign at home using signing cards, books or online tutorials. Here are a few basic signs to get you started – the photo above right is the sign for ‘cake!’ A very important sign in our house!
You don’t have to use british sign language, you can make up your own! We have a very special sign that my husband taught the little ones that we still use today- even though my two are now 4 and 5 years old! In our house – Index finger to index finger for us means ‘I love you!’ they have signed this to us since they were babies, which was incredible the first time they did it! Can you imagine that feeing when your baby tells you they love you before they even have speech?
Sign language is simply about communicating with your little ones, and giving them the skills to communicate back.
Here’s my little girl using baby sign – she was able to sign as early as 7 months old. Here she is signing the word ‘milk’ which we used for ‘drink’ too.