Monday, August 23, 2010

REPOST (Back from the Dead) - Using Sign Language With Your Hearing Baby: The Basics

My internet connection was down for most of the day. That's my excuse for resurrecting this post from earlier this year...even though I was totally already planning on participating in Zombie Monday at Real Life With Kids. Who wants to think on a Monday?!

I knew I wanted to use American Sign Language (ASL) with my baby before I was even pregnant. I don't know where I first heard of using it with babies, but something about sign language has always appealed to me. It may have to do with all of the fantastic work that's done with primates (I was an anthropology major in undergrad) or the fact that my girlfriend and I would pretend we were deaf at clubs in college to get ugly guys to leave us alone (our interpreter would explain that we danced by feeling the bass). So when Nate came along, I jumped at the chance to find out more about signing.

My primary goal in using sign language with Nate is to enable him to be able to communicate with us before he's able to speak. Not only is it cool, but it's supposed to minimize frustration and promote bonding. That's enough for me, but I also discovered that there are a ton of other benefits. Hearing babies who sign tend to have much bigger vocabularies, higher IQs, develop both sides of their brain at a higher rate and do better at reading and spelling.

How do you sign with your baby? Well, basically, it's a way of incorporating signs into your conversations with your baby. You can use just a few signs (or hundreds) and if you are consistent your baby will eventually be able to communicate with you by signing back to you before they are able to speak. Make sure you always say the word while you are signing it, because you want your baby to connect the spoken word to the sign and the meaning. Here are some examples  - you can sign MILK (squeeze your first like you're milking a cow) as you're nursing or giving him a bottle and say "don't you like your milk?"; sign MORE (tap your finger tips together) after you've given her some food and ask her if she would like some more; when he looks up at that ceiling fan you can say "yes that's a FAN" while making the sign (point your finger up and move it in a circle). Here's a picture of Nate signing FAN:

There are tons of books, websites and classes devoted to teaching you how to sign with your baby. I started with Nate when he was four months, (but you can start much later and still get all the benefits) using Baby Signing 1-2-3: The Easy-to-Use Illustrated Guide for Every Stage and Every Age. I also went to the free classes at the library. 

Once your baby starts signing back, it is absolutely amazing. As I mentioned in an earlier post (here), Nate made his first sign MORE at 10 months. He can now tell me when he wants more of something, but he also uses it as a general "I want  that" statement. It is much more preferable to grunting and pointing (although there is plenty of that too). Shortly after, he started signing FAN, which was not surprising since he has been obsessed with the ceiling fans all of his life. He has now added WASHING MACHINE (click here for the sign) of all things to his regular repertoire and HAT (pat your head twice). Occasionally he'll sign other things when he sees me do it, but they haven't made it as regulars yet.

The drawbacks? Well contrary to popular belief, it won't take your baby longer to talk (as long as you always speak while signing). You may, however, have to explain 50 to 60 times a day that yes, the washing machine is over there, but no, Mommy is not doing any laundry today.

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