Baby sign language has been steadily making a buzz in parenting communities as a useful parenting tool. As a signing parent, allow me to address some of the more frequently asked questions on baby signing to give you an idea how it can also work for you.
What is baby sign language?
Baby sign language is the use of hand gestures between a parent and baby to communicate. It was developed from the American Sign Language (ASL) after researchers noted that deaf parents could communicate well with their hearing children and vice versa. It takes advantage of the fact that babies are very tactile and relieves the pressure from them to be verbal before they can communicate.
Why is it a growing trend?
Testimonies from parents have made baby signing a legitimate infant communication program. More and more families realize that it makes inteactions between parent and baby more rewarding even before the child is verbally able to express himself. It helps reduce frustration and results in shorter reaction time. It also empowers a child to interact, be understood and learn about his environment. All these benefits have sold parents to the concept and different groups have started making it both an advocacy and a business.
How is it different from ASL?
It is not much different really because it is derived largely from the ASL, with a focus on ‘words’ relevant to the child’s experience (signs on feeding, feelings and everyday routines). Parents can even come up with their own signs. However, using established signs like the ASL (or in our case, the Filipino Sign Language, FSL) will foster communication not only within the family but with a bigger community as well.
Won’t it delay my child’s speech development?
That is a usual concern by parents and fortunately, the answer is NO. In fact, studies have consistently proven that sign language accelerates the development of verbal language skills in babies. It also stimulates brain development by using both the left and right hemispheres of the brain in learning the language, thus boosting memory retention, meaningful learning and possibly boosting IQ by up to 12 points. The only time signing can impede a child’s verbal development is if his parents stop verbalizing around him. Your child will talk when he’s good and ready, whether he signed as a baby or not.
Isn’t it hard to learn?
Learning the basic signs is easy for adults. It’s using them in conversations and helping your child make the connection for each word that will require effort and commitment. Repetition is key and patience is requisite since babies will learn certain words faster than others according to what they feel is significant. A lot will also depend on the child’s dexterity at the time a particular sign is being taught.
What resources are there and can I afford them?
First of all, you dictate just how far you want to take signing. Learning baby sign language is as easy as Googling for sites and videos. Parents can just watch an online demonstration, learn it, and pass on the learning to their child. There are also signing books that you can buy and signing videos you can watch along with your child which usually incorporates signs into songs.
Other highly recommended resources include:
Lifeprint.com – a website with instructions, pictures or videos on how to sign commonly used words
Signingtime.com – Baby Signing Time videos are engaging, musical and teach signing along with other values like keeping clean, making friends and eating right
babylingo.multiply.com – our very own Jaymie Pizarro teaches Baby Signing Workshops in FSL
College of St. Benilde – their School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies holds FSL classes for P2,400 (12 sessions), call 526-7441 to 47 loc. 131, 210, 164 & 239 for details
Kindermusik.com.ph – Kindermusik offers a ‘Sign and Sing’ program for babies 6 months to 3 years old
What are other benefits of Baby Sign Language?
Special needs children benefit greatly from sign language since their speech development is usually challenged by physical or psychological barriers. Signing allows babies to be more specific in their communication (how many toddlers do you know can say vegetable or grapes clearly?) and increases creative thinking and early literacy skills in hearing babies. The feeling of accomplishment being understood brings also encourages babies to initiate conversations and express interest and feelings. Babies also keep signing even in times of distress, exhaustion and sleepiness. Moreover, communication through signing is always possible in noisy crowds or during solemn ceremonies.
When do we start teaching sign language?
Six months is a good age to start because baby is more interactive and sociable. His pace, however, will be dictated largely by the amount of conversation you have with him (more dialogue means more words you can sign), his interests, and the degree to which his caregivers sign with him. Parents with older, already verbal kids can also still take baby signing up and make their kids effectively bilingual.
Communication is communication. The sooner it is established and nurtured, the more likelihood of a rewarding relationship and wonderful conversations between parent and child. So why not try out a few words and see where signing takes you.
I originally wrote this for Working Mom but they needed something more geared towards Toddler Signing. The second article I wrote is published in the October issue of said mag.