Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Signing with your Baby

KD had at least 60 signs by the time he was 18 months old.  He's three now and only remembers a few signs but the year I had signing with him was amazing.  It was very helpful and I truly believe built a stronger connection between us.  KC is 16 months now and is more verbal than his bro and was signing earlier too!
KC signing for the truck on his socks.  
A while ago a friend asked about signing with her son and it made me think about everything I have learned through the process.  If there is anything I've learned about being a mom, it's every little one is different and so is their environment.  I have two sons who have the same parents, home, etc but they have had completely different experiences growing up so far.  This post is meant to give some guidance to those interested in signing with their baby. Hopefully, you can give it a try or at least understand or appreciate other families who use it.
General Information-
  • Your baby is aware of people, things, and words as early as seven months old.  (You say, 'Haai!' and they wave; you say 'where's daddy?' and they look around; they see their favorite food and get excited.)
  • The motor skills needed to talk don't develop till between 12 and 18 months.
  • It's never too late to start signing.  I am enjoying teaching KD to sign AGAIN with KC.  It's sweet that they can communicate too. 
  • It must be frustrating to be a baby and know what you want but not be able to say it
  • It is frustrating as a parent to have a baby who goes from pointing and grunting to flailing and crying and you still don't know what they want.
Even if you don't sign with your baby, most moms know to go through this crying baby 'triage', not in any particular order: 
    1. Check for discomfort- poopy diaper, hot/cold feet, something hurting/itching them
    2. When is the last time they ate (2 or 3 hours may be too long) or slept (90 minutes may be too long- shorter in the morning- going for a nap right after eating breakfast)
    3. Just wants snuggles
Benefits of signing with your baby:
Disclaimer: There is also research that says that there are no significant differences between signing babies and babies who don't sign.  If you're signing with your child for those extra 12 IQ points, please don't read the Tiger Mom book.  We don't want you getting any ideas:)

When to start-
Babies can technically sign as soon as they can wave or clap. Most sources say that babies can start signing around 8 months.  My boys had only about 4 signs until they were 1 year old, then their vocabulary blew up!

What you can do-
Up to six months- have verbal and gestural conversations with your baby.  When they make sounds or movements, copy to see their reaction.  Try to do get a reaction out of your baby too.  Stick your tongue out, cover your mouth or eyes, blow raspberries, clap.  If you see them trying or getting excited, give them more feedback.  They love 'baby talk' and sing song tones in your voice.  They are also discovering their own body and how it works and you can help by tickling toes and nibbling on fingers.
Narrate your day and activities.  Walking around your neighborhood, the grocery store, or while you are hanging out at the house-talk through your day. 

Six to ten months- Watch a baby signing video with your baby.  My favorite is the Baby Einstein First Signs.  This is mainly for you so you can learn the signs of daily life- mommy, daddy, food/eat, drink, milk, more, please, etc.  
  • Since your baby is eating solids now, you can start using signs every time they eat.  
  • Sing songs with gestures- Twinkle, twinkle; Itsy, bitsy Spider; Patty cake 
  • The clapping motion is similar to 'more', 'ball', 'shoes', and 'washing hands'.  If they can clap, focus on those signs. Waving can resemble 'light', 'stars', 'trees', 'milk', 'drink', 'all done' and you can introduce these once they start waving! Show them the item, the sign, then gently help them make the gesture, rewarding them with the item and a lot of praise and smiles.  
  • Show animals with their signs/noises. 
  • It's ok to become disinterested or frustrated.  Just take a break until you see another opportunity to try.  Like I said earlier, both of my boys didn't really take off till they were about one.
Eleven months and beyond- Let your baby take the lead.  If you see your baby looking at something or showing special interest in something, learn the sign and introduce it.  Once they master a word or sign add a word. 'Ball, please'. 'More Drink'. 'Dog Sleep'.

Tips and Tools-
  • If your baby is getting upset over something obvious, calmly show them the sign, help them do it, and then give them what they want.  This works best if they actually calm down and watch you help them do the sign before getting what they want.
  • Learn the American Sign Language (ASL) sign but be flexible.   Your baby may not have the fine motor skills to do the sign properly or s/he may start to make up their own.  Go with it.  You can also make up your own that you think make sense. 
  • Baby Einstein My First Signs- simple and much less annoying than some of the others.
  • Baby Signs (book)- A lot of what I've said here comes from this book. There is also a nice glossary of words, including modified ASL signs for babies.
  • Online ASL Video Dictionary
  • Flash Cards- Not to drill your baby but to let them play with.  Just like when they see something they know in a book, they will like going through the cards and learning the sign to something familiar (Think of the scene of Helen Keller running around touching things and waiting to feel the sign!). Our favorites were by Fiona Watt.  Baby Flashcards.  We have the Animals (purchased at the Houston Zoo), the Babies, and Toys Flashcards
  • Make a picture book- use an inexpensive 4x6 photo album and fill it with friends, family, daily activities, and their favorite items.  My MIL made a wonderful book like this with birds, trees, balls, cars, all of our family, etc.  You can take pictures or cut them out of magazines.
Happy Signing!

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