Communicate with your baby before he can speak with the help of sign language. MH discovers how you can teach your baby to sign.
WORDS CINDY LIM
Baby signing is the use of simple hand gestures to communicate with pre-verbal babies. It is a way to bridge the gap between when babies want to express themselves and when they actually have enough words to do so.
How does Baby Signing Work?
When adults talk, we often gesticulate to emphasise our points. Babies love to mimic and their understanding of language and motor skills develop faster than their ability to speak. When we wave bye-bye, point to something we want or raise our arms to ask the baby if he wants to be carried, they understand and will try to use the same gesture.
They naturally use their hands and bodies to communicate because, apart from crying, that is the only other way they know how to.
Thus, it is not surprising that babies can pick up signing easily. By expanding their vocabulary through the number of signs, babies can learn to express their thoughts and needs more easily.
Benefits of Baby Signing
Reduction in frustration and meltdowns, as seen from Josephine and Ashley, is just one of the benefits of baby signing. According to Melanie Horner, an independent certified instructor with Baby Signs Singapore, baby signing boosts self-esteem, and emotional development as well as speeds up language development. There is also better bonding between parent and child.
“Babies who use sign language give their parents an insight into their world from a very young age. We teach babies signs that are based on themes so they can express their needs, thoughts and feelings before they start speaking,” shares Horner.
Signing is about enhancing, and not replacing language. Signing should be used along with normal speech so that baby can make the link between the gesture and the word.
Parents do not need to worry that signing will hurt their baby’s language or cognitive development, assures Horner. Baby signing methodology, such as the Sign, Say and Play course taught by Baby Signs Singapore instructors, is based on in-depth, academic research conducted over a period of more than 20 years.
“The research has proven that baby signing actually enhances language development, rather than having a negative effect on speech. Using signs is one of the best things you can do to support your child’s communication skills,” says Horner.
When and How to Get Started
Go at your baby’s pace as every child is different. Typically, babies start to babble more frequently and gesticulate more when they are about eight to nine months of age. This is a good time to introduce signing to your child.
“From six months, your baby’s motor skills will start developing, and on average, babies start signing back around 10-15 months,” shares Crista Sprengers-Voorneveld, also an independent certified instructor with Baby Signs Singapore.
“Baby signing aids comprehension in young babies and is designed to bridge the gap for when your baby wants to communicate but can’t say the word. Speaking is a lot more efficient and children quickly switch from baby signing once they can talk. However, signing can also be extremely useful well into your child’s third year. Two years olds might be able to ‘talk’, but can be difficult to understand. Baby signing is very useful when your little one is crying, or screaming!” explains Sprengers-Voorneveld.
Start with a sign that is easy and keep it fun. “Before starting, make sure you have eye contact with your baby. Ensure that you always use the sign and the word together. Make signing part of your daily activities, and have fun while doing it! Most importantly, repeat, repeat and repeat. Repetition is the key to learning!” advises Sprengers-Voorneveld.
Most gestures are simple and can be learnt easily. Information can be found easily online, or parents can sign up for special baby signing courses to learn and also meet other like-minded parents.
There are several baby signing methodologies – some are based on American Sign Language, the British Sign Language, and some are specially created programmes like Baby Signs which use simple signs designed for babies. Any of these programmes will do the trick and parents can also make up their own signs and gestures (but avoid using indiscriminate movements or rude gestures) – whichever works best for your child.
Teaching your baby to sign is not hard but as with learning any new skill, it takes time. Set realistic expectations and stay patient. Do not get discouraged if your child uses signs incorrectly or does not use them right away. Try to make it interesting and fun as babies are more likely to learn faster and better when they enjoy doing it. It is important to talk to your child as you sign as spoken communication is an important part of your child’s speech development. Signing is about enhancing, not replacing language.