When I first heard about teaching sign language to babies, I thought, “is this possible?” My friend Nancy told me about a super-mom she knew who did this with her baby and introduced the idea to me. I felt that I should at least research about it and see if it would work for me.
The approach seemed so reasonable. One would start signing with her baby around 6 months of age and then in a couple months she would pick it up. I started at about 5.5 months and at 8 months she still wasn’t really signing back to me. I began to wonder, maybe Vivi just isn’t cut out for signing. But in the end, I persevered.
Vivienne is in her 11 month now. When she was about 10.5 months, all the many months of fruitlessly signing random things to her seemed to click, and all of a sudden she was signing back to me, especially when she wanted something. I guess that’s kind of like a type of positive reinforcement.
So her first sign was milk. She always got formula as soon as she got up in the morning and so she knew “milk” was coming. When she discovered that the sign language was associated with milk, she ecstatically pumped her little fists with the milk sign most mornings when it was time for milk! It was fascinating to watch.
Soon after, I decided to teach her how to sign “please.” I thought, how far-fetched is this; a baby can’t possibly understand the meaning behind “please.” However, other experts beg to differ, I read. Apparently, the more you use and exercise the use of words, the easier it is to grasp the moral reason behind those words later. I thought “please” would be a difficult word to teach, but to my delight, she learned this within a day as soon as she discovered that with signing the word “please,” she could get many things. One caution, however; just because they sign “please” doesn’t mean you have to give them everything. This comment is mainly directed towards my husband! Setting boundaries at this age is of utmost importance.
Now recently she’s signing the word “more.” Although she’s not doing this 100% correctly, she has her own modified version (one finger poking the palm of the other) that is very similar. I think when she gets older, she’ll understand how to use the correct form.
Although I’ve read in books and articles of how a baby’s language develops early in regards to understanding things without verbal communication, I am still fascinated by how fast she learns and how observant she is of her surroundings. I love signing with her, because at least, I have some clue about what she wants and am able to address it before she turns on the fit of tears.
I hope you all give this a try! The only verbal things she says so far are mama and baba, and that’s pretty normal at her age. Signing gives a whole new perspective on how to communicate with your baby.