Almost eleven years ago, I met my friend, Robin, and her son, Cee. Cee was three at the time, and one of the most gentle toddlers I had ever come across. He seemed to have an extraordinary amount of patience and never get overwhelmingly frustrated. I thought that perhaps he was just born with that demeanor (or was an angel sent from above!). But then one day, I saw Robin signing to him.
I have to say that I was taken by surprise. I knew a few words from an ASL class I had gone to, but I thought that American Sign Language was just for people who took the time to go to classes and learn it. I was completely unaware that you were able to sign to babies. Much less that they could actually sign back!
So I quickly asked Robin about signing with Cee, and she explained to me that signing with babies had the following benefits:
- Allows children to avoid frustration and tantrums by providing them an easy way to communicate their needs and wants
- Helps with speech development. (It seems that babies who sign speak earlier than babies who do not.)
- Potentially makes it easier for children to pick up other forms of communication, both written and verbal, later on.
- Gives children increased confidence and self-esteem
- Creates a bond between the child and parent because signing requires eye-to-eye contact
Once Robin explained all of these benefits to me, I realized that I could see all of these things in Cee. For example, if he needed water, he didn’t cry or get angry. He simply asked for water. Later on, when he went to preschool, he had a larger vocabulary than any of the other kids in his class. So I vowed to myself that my husband and I would teach sign language to our own children when we had them.
When our daughter J was born, we began doing sign language with her. The first word we taught her was “more” and then “all done.” But that was where we stopped. “More” quickly became a sign for everything. Sure, she would sign “more” if she wanted more peas, but she would also sign “more” if she needed help reaching something, or wanted to open a drawer, or desired your full, undivided attention. Having her sign “more” was helpful because she could communicate any time she needed help, and we were able to avoid many frustrations and tantrums that way. But it also seemed to us that teaching your baby sign language was a lot harder than Robin had let on.
Then we were contacted by DawnSignPress, and they asked if they could send us a few of their American Sign Language Babies books. We received the following books: First Things, Let’s Eat, Get Dressed, Outside, and My ABC Signs of Animal Friends.
Below you can watch a video of J signing. We filmed the video (originally for Facebook) a month after we received the books. In that short period of time, her ASL vocabulary exploded, and she was suddenly able to sign a lot more words and communicate with us even more clearly.
As you can hear from the video, we did nothing special. We just read the books to J and did the sign featured on each page. DawnSignPress couldn’t have made it any simpler. J’s demo speaks for itself.
But do you want to know what I think the best part of baby ASL is? No, it’s not the lack of frustration or the increased vocabulary (although those things are certainly awesome!). It’s how happy signing makes her. She loves the books and wants to read them over and over again. I swear, I think we’ve read some of the books ten times through in a single reading session. And throughout the day, she signs, and each time she does it, her face lights up with joy. She knows that she is speaking to us and that we are understanding.
One of the most priceless moments came a few weeks ago. If you’ve spent any time on the blog, then you know that we practice attachment parenting, so every night I lie next to her as she falls asleep. One night, as she lay there next to me, I suddenly heard her whispering my name, “Mama.” So I looked over at her, but she wasn’t calling for me. Instead, she was lying there, staring at the ceiling. She was practicing her sign language and saying each word as she did it. It was the first time I ever saw her rehearsing something, and it was beautiful.
And now I want to hear from you! Have you taught your children sign language? What words can they sign?
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