Baby Signing

Dean, around the age that he started signing his first word, ‘milk’
I was about 8 or 9 years old when my Grandma and Grandpa were fostering a pair of siblings who had deaf and mute parents. It was my first introduction to sign language. I really enjoyed watching how people would communicate with signs. How a whole conversation could be based off facial expressions and hand signals and not a single word had to be spoken. It entranced me.

My grandma taught me the signs for the alphabet. When I was in my early teens, I taught myself more signs. While I am not fluent, I know enough that I could have a casual conversation, slowly.

I’ve used baby signing with a few of the kids I have nannied in the past. Just a couple words here and there. But when I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to focus on teaching them key signs to make day-to-day life easier.

Teaching baby signs is simple! There’s no need for classes, which is nice for the social aspect for moms but not needed to help you teach baby. You pick one sign to focus on at a time. Once your baby has mastered that sign for a couple weeks, you can introduce another. Some moms prefer to teach multiple signs at a time, but it can be overwhelming to little ones sometimes. Once you pick a sign to teach, you can get to work. Every time you say the word, you sign it to baby. Emphasize the word and make sure baby is watching you while you sign. You can even hold their hands and help them to move it to sign the word. Don’t get caught up in the details (a closed fist vs an open palm) when they sign back to you. They may not get it exactly, but it’s the general idea that you are focusing on.

For example : More
With him sitting in his high chair, I’d put a bowl of Cheerios beside me. I will give him one, let him eat it and then look at his tray for another. Every time I say “more” I would sign the word a few times. “Want MORE Cheerios, Dean? Do you want MORE?” Give him another. Let him eat it and wait for him to look at me. “Do you want MORE?” Another. Eventually he would get the hang of what I was doing. He began clapping his hands, open palmed, together. Is it the real sign for more? No. BUT! He was trying to copy it, and it’s to a point that I can understand what he is saying. Lots of cheers, kisses and of course, MORE Cheerios!

When Dean was four months old, I started teaching him to sign “milk”. And at six months, he started signing for milk! However, we didn’t realize he was signing for milk – we thought he was waving. It took about two weeks of “Aww, he’s waving! Hi Dean! Hi sweetie!” to realize he was actually saying “Guys? I’m really hungry. Hello? Feed me? Please? Dammit woman, FEEEEED MEEEE!” But then I clued in. And it made it so much easier to know when he wanted to eat, instead of waiting for his wailing, which was usually the first and only sign that he was hungry.

In the months following, we worked on various words; more, no, yes, eat, water, change, play, please, thank you, all done, walk and a few others. It helped immensely with limiting frustration due to lack of communication. He picked up quickly on all the signs, most only taking a week or two, even at a young age.

Many parents worry that signing will impair babies speech and delay their development. I don’t believe this is the case. It’s teaching them how to communicate. It’s a form of language, just as much as English, German and Italian. It also encourages them to work on their fine motor skills – which is a very important skill!

He has been understanding verbal commands and statements since he was very little, maybe 10 months or so. We could ask him to get us a block and he would crawl over and bring us one. Dean began saying words around 11 months (banana, meh (dog), mama and dada) but his language really exploded when he was 16 months. He went from a handful of words to over 75 words within a couple of weeks. Average vocabulary for a 19-24 month old is 50 words, so Dean is definitely not delayed.

I think that baby signing has huge benefits. Baby can not only tell you when they need a diaper change or are hungry, but can even tell you that they are pointing out a dog down the road and not showing you the truck. It’s the little things that make life easier.

It’s great at an older age, too. The other day, while out at the Quay, we were eating dinner. Dean had a fair amount and said, while signing, that he was all done so I let him go off to the play area near our table. A little while into playing, Dean looked over. Without having to call loudly, over the voices of the other moms and kids in the play area, I signed to ask him if he wanted “more” to “eat” and he came running over for some more food.

He began to sign less, now that he is more verbal. But sometimes, when he is so overwhelmed with excitement, he can’t vocalize it fast enough and he will sign “more” while going to run and play again. It’s cute!

I am really glad that I taught him singing so that we could communicate with each other at a younger age than without signing!

Dean signing “light off” at 16 months old

Did you do baby signing with your little one? Do they still use it at an older age?


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