When Oliver was a newborn, I was so excited at all the great baby classes available that I may have gone a little overboard when I signed him up for three classes a week from the age of eight weeks old! One class I fancied but never actually got around to was baby signing, but because I still loved the idea, I decided to try and tackle that one on my own. It was honestly one of the best decisions I’ve made! So I thought today I would share a little information about baby signing and our experience of it with you!
The benefits of baby signing
The fine motor skills which we need to make gestures develop far earlier than our ability to speak; from around six to eight months, most babies can clap, wave and point and understand what it means to do so. Introducing signing, alongside the corresponding words, simply adds to these gestures, allowing babies to understand what you’re saying and communicate back to you far earlier than they otherwise would. It’s even possible for babies to use 30-60 simple signs before they even reach the age of one!
This ability to communicate can reduce frustration and improve confidence and self esteem of babies and parents alike. There isn’t a huge amount of research, but ‘what little there is, however, confirms that signing boosts the infant’s vocabulary and mental development, reduces tantrums and improves parent-child relationships.’ Babies who sign are more likely to speak earlier than babies who haven’t learned sign language. (Collingwood)
Our experience of signing
I decided to start with just one sign to begin this – ‘milk’. After a few months of regularly clenching my fist at Oliver every time he was due a feed (that’s how you sign ‘milk’, honest!), it became clear that he understood what I meant as he’d get all excited knowing it was time for a feed! It was a very long time before he signed it back to me although to be fair, I think I became bored with the lack of results and became a little inconsistent. When he was a lot older, I decided to make a more determined try of it and this time it took hardly took any time at all for him to get it! I was so excited when he first signed ‘milk’ back to me just after turning a year old that I immediately bought a load of flashcards to help me learn more signs to use with him! We haven’t looked back since; I think I worked out I must know about 70 or 80 now and he confidently signs 20 now at 15 months old and says around 12 words – still no sign of mama or dada though!
Tips for getting started
Go to a class.. or not! If you would prefer to learn from a class then I would say go for it!
I have learned baby signing entirely through YouTube and flash cards and I’m pretty impressed at how big my signing vocabulary is but I still think going to some classes would have been a fun way for both of us to learn. Do whatever suits you best.
Feel free to pick and choose. Although we predominantly use Makaton, we use signs from a variety of sign languages including British Sign Language and American Sign Language and baby signs taught at Tiny Talk and Baby Sensory classes which can differ slightly. The reason we’ve not stuck to any one language is that some of the signs can be a little similar and so I felt it could be confusing for him; for example, the signs for mummy and daddy both involve tapping a number of fingers from one hand onto the palm or the back of your other hand so instead I chose to use a sign used by Tiny Talk which uses a tap on the head instead of the hand for mummy. It really doesn’t matter as long as you and your baby understand each other.
Be consistent. Consistency is key to your baby recognising the sign and using it themselves, especially while they’re still very small. If we’d have stuck with signing more consistently from an early age I think Oliver would have picked it all up a lot sooner.
Get others involved. I think it really helps to reinforce what your baby has learned when those around them can recognise when they are making a sign and can react accordingly. Luckily Oliver’s nursery use a bit of signing so they understood straight away when he began to use ‘milk’ regularly; I’ll also tell them if he’s learned anything particularly useful so they know to look out for it. My husband was a little skeptical about baby signing until he saw how well Oliver was picking it up and now he gets involved and signs whatever words he knows how to at home!
I hope this has been interesting. I’d love to hear more about your experience of baby signing – or if you’re now inspired to give it a go! Please leave a comment or get in touch!
8 Brilliant Benefits of Baby Signing. Coldridge. (Mother and Baby)
Teaching Your Baby Sign Language Can Benefit Both of You. Collingwood. (Psych Central)