Eight or nine years ago, in college, I researched the benefits of teaching babies how to use sign language (sometimes referred to as symbolic gesturing). The research was overwhelming; not only does it help babies communicate before verbal language develops, but it also AIDS in verbal language development. From what I’ve seen, the practice has only grown in popularity and research continues to support teaching babies how to sign.
A great resource about baby signs can be found at the website Baby Sign Language. You can find several tools to help you get started. Some of the benefits of baby signs listed on their website include:
- Less frustration due to inability to communicate simple needs
- Parent/child are more in tune/have a closer bond
- Helps babies develop language and reasoning skills
- Earlier reading/larger vocabulary
We just began using signs with my almost-7-month-old about a week ago. Rather than use a website, we referenced some books that have pictures of the gestures. One of the books, Baby Signs: A Baby-Sized Introduction to Speaking with Sign Language, by Joy Allen, can be found on Amazon, here. We started by looking through the book, practicing, the signs, and picking out a few that we thought we would use fairly often. We decided to start with signs for “drink,” “eat,” “mom,” and “dad.” We are trying to be consistent with those four, but I’ve also been signing “more,” “help,” and “bath” when appropriate. It takes a lot of patience just to get our daughter to sit still and look at us long enough to sign to her, but we are trying to demonstrate those 4 signs as often as we can.
Just like with hearing the words we say, she will begin making an association between the sign for “eat” and being fed. Eventually, she’ll put it together and understand that the sign for “eat” means she gets to eat! Then she’ll be able to sign it to us when she wants to eat, and this will likely occur before she is developmentally able to verbally say “eat.”
Reminder: that this is supposed to be fun and enjoyable, so don’t get caught up in stressing about making your baby learn the sign as soon as possible. It’ll take some time, so make it fun. 🙂