When our son Sammy was a baby, we taught him baby sign language to help him communicate. We were baby signing long before it was popularized in the movie Meet The Fockers. We were very pleased with Sammy’s response and are now teaching Sophie how to sign.
By the time Sammy was just 7 months old, he knew the signs for “milk” (open and close one or both fists), “eat” (bring fingertips to mouth and tap lips), and “open” (holding out an open hand). Though he could say the word a few words already (Mama, Dada, and up), he quickly learned to say and sign many more words. His favorite signs were “more” (putting the fingertips of both hands together) and “all done” (bringing both hands together horizontally, then spreading them apart). Sometimes he still uses the “all done” sign over two years later!
We used a signing system loosely based on American Sign Language, as described in the book Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk, New Editionby Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. The same authors have come up with an entire program, and is detailed in the book Baby Signs: The Complete Starter Kit and on http://www.babysigns.com/. Another helpful website about baby sign language is signingbaby.com.
I recently discovered another book that I’m using to teach Sophie baby signs. It’s called Let’s Sign : Every Baby’s Guide to Communicating with Grownupsby Kelly Ault. This book has cute illustrations and shows step by step drawings of how to do the signs. It is organized into three chapters: Mealtime, Playtime, and Bedtime. Sammy enjoys looking through this book and helping teach his little sister how to communicate.
So far Sophie has mastered the sign for “milk.” She uses the sign when she wants to nurse, or whenever she sees a bottle. I’ve even seen her make the sign while she was sleeping! Right now we are working on “eat” (tapping the thumb and fingertips to the lips several times), “Mommy” (open right hand with thumb touching chin), and “Daddy” (open right hand with thumb tapping right temple several times). Daddy even made up a few silly signs for “Sammy” and “Sophie.”
Some people worry that encouraging signing will delay infants from learning to talk, but this is simply not true. There are many studies out there that show that babies who learn baby sign language start to talk sooner and have a better vocabulary than those who did not sign. Using baby signs decreases the baby’s frustration by allowing him (or her) to express to others exactly what he wants. This is especially important in baby’s first year of life when he wants to communicate, but does not yet have the ability to speak clearly. Though the infants will only use baby signs as their main form of communication for a few months, I strongly believe it’s worthwhile.