Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Baby Talk

I joke that our daughter needs an intervention. Really, the child is obsessed with Baby Signing Time.

Haven’t heard of these DVDs of the oh-so-grating musical score? I hadn’t either, until a few mothers whose blogs I read started raving about them. I know some parents in real life who taught their babies sign language, and I’d read a few articles that talked about its benefits for babies, but I didn’t take really take the plunge with Baby Signing Time until Baby Girl was about 10 months old.

Now, we have a baby who will point at the TV and sign “please,” and if we don’t put it on, she points to the remote as if to say, “Listen, all you need to do turn it on. I’ll take it from here.” Sometimes, I swear she hardly blinks she is so intent on watching. It’s hilarious, but also? It’s a bit much, and from what I’ve read on other blogs, the obsession is fairly universal among the baby set.

To backtrack a bit, we did teach her a couple of the most basic signs at about 6 months—“more,” “all done,” and “cup,” and she caught on pretty quickly. Her sitter knows a ton of signs, and has been great about reinforcing them. But then she started saying a word or two, and then a few more, and our rudimentary signing slipped to the wayside because we were so caught up in hearing her words. And we got a bit lazy about it.

At around 8 months, it really hit me how much of the world she was absorbing, how much babies in general absorb, and just how much was going on in that little mind of hers—she recognized colors, could find hidden toys when asked, etc. Though she was saying a handful of words, I really wanted to find the right way to tap into what else she understood.

“We just need to ask her the right questions,” I said to my pediatrician, marveling at how amazing the experience of watching a little human emerge really is. Perhaps signing was one way for us to do that?

I hesitated at first, not because I wasn’t sure about signing but because I wasn’t wild about the thought of her watching a DVD (yes, we’ve read the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidelines on infants and television, and we don’t disagree.) But the DVDs are short, and one of us sits and watches and signs along with her, so it’s an interactive thing. (And this explains why I currently have “One shoe, two shoes,” on repeat in my head right now.)

Between what we’ve learned from signing along with her and all the signs her sitter knows and uses, in the past month or so she has really become versatile with her signing. We didn’t realize how much of it translated until she moved past signing things on request. Last week, we said our dogs’ names in passing and she signed “dog.” She will now sign “please” and then indicate what she’s asking for, instead of needing us to ask her to say please after she’s pointed at something. It’s so neat to see her use signs in the appropriate context.

Someone asked me if I was worried signing would stunt her vocabulary development, which is a reasonable question. I’m not, since she says a lot, and since she hears the terms for so many things over and over when she learns the signs for them. In fact, from what I’ve read, signing can enhance vocabulary.

But from a purely day to day perspective, it makes communicating so much easier. She has a way to express the things she can’t yet say, and it’s a blast having meaningful interaction with her where we know she knows what we’re asking. It wasn’t something I set out to do when she was born, but I am happy we stumbled into it. If nothing else, it’s made me really stop and appreciate just how cool it is to witness a baby growing up and learning about his or her world.

Have any of you out there tried signing with your kids? Do you have any insights for those who may have heard about teaching babies to sign but aren’t sure it’s for them?

(And yes, I know this is a chronic illness blog. Stay tuned for some posts of that persuasion soon!)


britta said...

I think signing is great, whether needed or not. I took a fun signing class in 2nd grade...a whopping 15 years ago, and to this day, I still remember all my ABC's, plus a multitude of other words/signs!!! And I love watching that show when babysitting! In fact, I sign to many of the babies I babysit, hoping they catch on too.

Andrea said...

I cared for a child who used baby signs and loved the way it made communicating so much easier for him - I always understood what he was asking for, and as he got more adept with signing, he even began telling little stories through signs, like using the sign for monkey and the sign for eating to tell me had seen a monkey eating at the zoo. Awesome!

Laurie said...

Britta, that is awesome that you still remember so many of the signs you learned. My guess is the children you babysit are picking up more of them than you might even realize. Just today I said the words, "wash her hands" to her Dad, and she heard me and made the sign.

Andrea, those light bulb moments when they go beyond the basic recognition of terms and signs and apply them in a more sophisticated way are the best!

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Andi said...

We signed with our kids when they were little, and discovered that when the kids can express themselves and tell adults their needs and desires, the temper tantrums of the "terrible twos" just don't appear. Neither of our kids went through a "terrible" phase at all.

Later, when it became evident that our son had a severe speech delay, signing formed a bridge between the sounds he was capable of making and the words he so desperately wanted to express. Rather than becoming moody and tantrum-prone when he couldn't communicate, he would simply add the sign to the spoken words to ensure we 'got' it. Signing didn't cause his speech delay, but it sure made it easier to deal with it.

I also find that when I'm flaring badly and just can't find the words I need, sometimes the signs are there when the words aren't.

All this to say, we love Signing Time, and we love Rachel Coleman's energy and dedication to helping children -- did you know she has a charitable foundation building accessible parks and bringing ASL classes to third world countries? She is definitely a woman I admire. So much so that I wrote a blog post about her work here.

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