Recently several people have asked me about our experience with using baby sign language. My answer is always that it's been awesome and so very helpful. We've avoided so many meltdowns simply by being able to communicate. Signing is proof that children truly do understand way more than we think they do. They may not be able to use words because their vocal cords aren't ready yet but their motor skills are well developed by age 1, and by using signs they can show us they understand so much more than you'd imagine.
At about 6 mos we started signing with our little pickle. I found that learning the signs myself from online animated dictionaries was much more helpful than reading a book on the subject. Books seemed to leave too much of the signs up for interperatation. Animations show you exactly how to make the sign correctly. The first signs we chose to teach were "more," "all done," and "milk." She caught on within a few months of being consistent with showing the sign and saying the word every time we used it. This was despite the fact that Katen was in daycare at the time and was not signed to during the day. (So working moms and dads, you can do this too!)
After mastering 2-3 signs we'd move on to learning a few more. At about the age of 12mos I noticed a huge (and I mean huge) breakthrough. When it used to take Katen a few mos to learn a sign, she'd now learn them in a few weeks and soon she was learning them in a few days. Now at 18mos if you show her a sign and use it a few times, she's got it and she'll use it. She now knows over 50 signs with "eat, drink, sleep, more, all done, and help" being the most helpful in my opinion.
Now that Katen is a year old, we let her watch Signing Time videos and they really increase her confidence and help reinforce the signs she already knows. She feels really good when they say a word and she immediately knows the sign. Generally we don't park her in front of the TV for those though. We watch it with her and discuss the signs, etc. We also pick up and use a lot of the songs that they use with their signs. I'll admit that some of them are really catchy!
If there's any advice I can give, it's to BE CONSISTENT and DON'T GIVE UP. It may take a while at first for the baby to repeat the sign (they understand them well before they use them) and you may have to watch very carefully for any effort to come close to making the sign from your baby. When they do, applaud their effort, repeat the sign, letting them know you understood, and make a big deal about it. Your child may also make their own version of the sign. That's fine! Still repeat it using the correct sign. They'll know you understand.
I really feel like we'd have a very frustrated toddler on our hands if we hadn't started signing at an early age. Pickle is very independent and really has a need to be understood. By signing together it feels like there's a deeper connection because I can understand a little more about what she's thinking or feeling. Most kids don't learn about feelings until they're older and able to verbalize. However we've been able to begin working on emotional intelligence well in advance of that. This ability, again, will help keep temper tantrums at bay. Obviously there are still temper tantrums but now they usually revolve around mommy saying that horrible word, "no." Oh the horror!
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