Have you ever tried baby signing as a way of communicating with your little one? A recent program that studied the ‘secret life’ of babies had us intrigued with the story of twins born to a profoundly deaf couple who used sign language to communicate with their little ones. It was fascinating to see that the babies were able to respond and understand much more than was generally believed to be possible at their age- all thanks to signing. And experts agree that using baby sign language to interact with your little one can be an excellent way to build listening, language and communication skills. This can lead to less frussetration for many too. So, fancy giving it a go? Here are a few basics before you get started.
What is baby signing?
Put simply, baby signing is a form of pre-verbal communication that allows you to ‘speak’ to your baby using a variation of hand movements. More than that, it is a wonderful way to form new bonds with your baby, to introduce them to new sensory experiences, and to build their language and communication skills, thus aiding in confidence building and easing frussetration at being unable to articulate wants and needs verbally. It can be such a fabulous learning experience for both parent and child.
How does baby signing work?
Babies cannot speak using words, but they have plenty to say! You will have already noticed that your little one has different cries for different wants and needs, and you will know to respond differently to the various pitches in these cries. By helping your baby to find new ways to communicate, you are opening up new worlds for exploration. Using hand gestures alongside words, baby signing will help to develop gross and fine motor skills and will actually aid verbal communication too.
Parents use a variety of signs when they talk to their baby, and very soon these signs are recognised. Key signs such as ‘milk’ ‘yes’ and ‘no’ can be understood and eventually copied so that communication is two-way a lot more quickly. Baby signing is intended to enhance, not replace, verbal communication so it’s important to always say the word that you are signing too. There is no evidence that suggest a baby who signs has delayed speech as a result- in fact lots of babies who are able to sign with parents and carers often go on to talk a lot earlier than those who don’t. Remember that we use gestures all the time while we’re talking, so baby signing is really just a more concious effort of ensuring we are clear in what we’re saying in order to extend communication as much as possible.
Find a local class, or look online for guidance. It really does help to have others to help you master the gestures, and to answer any questions you may have. Lots of classes will teach you little songs, the origins of various signs, and lots about the ways in which babies communicate. This can also be a wonderful way to meet other like minded parents too.
If you can’t get to a class, and you’re unable to find a book or website to help you, don’t despair! Lots of signs can be adapted for your own personal use and often signers will develop new gestures that they use with their baby to represent a certain word, name or phrase. Any gesture that mimics the word is good and as long as you are consistent (don’t change the gesture at will!) and accompany it with the verbal word, that’s fine. If you do want to learn a formal sign language though, classes really are your best bet.
Keep it up
Once you start baby signing, keep going with it as long as you like. I have seen parents with children over the age of 4 that are still singing to each other periodically, and this is wonderful. Used alongside verbal communication, signing opens up a whole new world of language and also helps children to understand more about hearing and speech difficulties too.
If your child does have a hearing difficulty, it’s a good idea to learn a formal sign language and encourage the whole family to learn it too. Communication is essential in any family and more so when there are hearing issues.
Do you practise baby signing with your little one? We’d love to hear from you!