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Monday, September 21, 2009

Baby Sign Language

Even though all our kids have fine hearing, we have done some sign language with all of them. H was the first-born, so she knew A LOT of signs, like 150! Besides the basic ones, she knew all sorts of animals and toys and action words. That's what happens when you only have one child and you have more time on your hands, right?

With the other girls, they just learned the basic baby signs to help with communication and cut down on frustration before they could talk. When we discovered that M had a speech delay (which isn't caused by learning sign language), we taught her more signs than G had known so that she could communicate with us. She was able to put several signs together in sentences before she could verbalize those words, which really helped us to understand her and cut down on her frustration. She could tattle AND pray in sign language before she could talk!

F is now almost 16 months and she knows more than 10 signs, including please, up, all done, thank you, dog, kitty, milk, water, book, cheese, and food/eat. Her newest signs are H and M's names. :-) Some of the signs are slight variations of ASL (American Sign Language) to make them easier for baby hands since they have less fine motor control than adults do.

We start teaching the first sign when they start eating table food, which is usually around 4-6 months. At this young age they aren't able to imitate us yet, but they are seeing the sign and hearing the word repeatedly, and associating it with an object or action. We also start helping the baby do the sign so they can know what it feels like. After we say and do the sign a few times, something always follows (like food!). This acts as reinforcement to the baby that this action will bring about a result.

We always start with "please", because it is easy (basically tapping the chest with an open hand, fingers together), and because it starts teaching them manners. We used to teach "more", but please means basically the same thing (I want more please), and it is more polite. Gotta start with those manners early!

After please, we teach "all done", which is basically putting both hands facing up in the air and then turning them downward, or babies often do it by waving both hands in the air. This way the child can tell us when they would like to be finished eating, get down from somewhere, or be finished with an activity. Again, do it with your hands while saying the words, then do it with baby's hands while saying the words. Then follow through (like by getting them down).

Another easy one is "milk", which is one fist opening and closing while moving up and down in the air like you are milking a cow. Again, babies frequently just shake a closed fist in the air, but as long as you know what they are doing, you will know what they want. That's much better than screaming, isn't it? :-)

"Thank you" is another one to help with manners. You move your open palm (fingers together) from your chin downward. Babies often do it from their mouth, making it look like they are blowing a kiss.

"Cheese" is just a fun one. It's the only specific food sign F knows, and she loves cheese! You basically rotate your hands together with flat palms, like you are rubbing a flat piece of cheese between them. Don't ask me the origin of that sign--I don't know! But it is an easy one for older babies or young toddlers to do. F has been doing that one for many months. :-)

"Book" is easy, just like you are opening and closing a book with your hands. This way she can ask for us to read her a book, which she loves to do. "Doggy" is patting your leg like you are calling the dog, and "Kitty" is like you are stroking the whiskers on your face.

I can tell you more if you are interested, or you can check out some baby sign books or videos from your library (there are a lot of them!). You can also do a search for "baby signs" online. I found this site with pictures of several words you could start with. This site and this site have even more words and animate them as well. Here is an online ASL dictionary, also with animation, of over 5,000 words in alphabetical order. Don't feel like you need to buy anything in order to teach your child some basic baby signs. There are plenty of resources that are available for free, and I could even post a video showing how to do more signs if you are interested. If that would be helpful to you, please leave a comment and I'll get out the camera! :-)


kmsa1234 said...

its so funny about this because not consciously, but when i started having children that frustration of not knowing what they want lead me to teaching them signs. like with all done that is what i taught all of my children, i didnt even know that was the sign for it. the high school i went to had a special program that mainstreamed hear impaired students in our high school. so i always had asl around me and i guess i pick some up. it is really great not having to deal with the frustration of not knowing what your children need or want. thanks for the site i think i am going to start teaching them more. even though most of my children can talk it cant hurt. it can really help in life!

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