I have done baby sign language with all 3 of my children and so I thought I would share some of my experiences with you in the form of answering some questions that people often ask
1) What age to start?
I would say that it is better not to be too enthusiastic and risk to starting too early. Babies are not dexterous enough to start signing back to you much before 9months and some only really get going after a year. Titus is 16 months now and from about 13-14months he really started to use the signs. There is no problem in starting early it is all about you, and if you think that can sign for months before they first sign back then that is fine but if you might get demotivated if you have been signing from 3 months and have months to wait until they sign back, rather start later.
The only time that this is not the case is when you are in a family where a memember of the family uses sign language to communicate. Then it is good to use sign language with the baby from young and let baby see it being used by all the family as a communication that extends past the baby years.
2) Which type/language/version to use?
This is a personal choice, when I had Rachel I was keen to use South African Sign Language as I hoped that she would be able to learn the language and then use it one day if needed. I struggled to find stuff on line in South African sign language except expensive courses and books. So I just went with what I could find in books and on line. This happened to be mostly American Sign language. Although a lot of the signs are quite similar.
What I realized with Rachel was that babies drop the sign and start using the words as soon as they know the word. When Caleb came along Rachel who signed a lot as a baby could not remember any of her signs ( except I love you, which we still use) For a family that does not use sign language as part of the normal communication most children will not remember their signs and so it is not really a useful language for later it is just a tool for communication while they are small. This is obviously not true for a family using sign language for other reasons. Then it is important to use the same signs as the rest of the family are using.
3) Will sign language slow down or interrupt their speech development?
No, not at all, it actually stimulates the centers in the brain used for speech and communication and babies often start to speak early or totally on par with babies not using sign language.
4) Can babies make all the sign properly?
Well no not always, it is a bit like they might mispronounce words when they first start talking but you as a parent who are tuned into what they are saying can understand them. Titus’s signs are often not perfect but I know what he wants and this is the most important thing
5) Bilingual families
Titus is the first of my 3 that is being raised bilingual and so I did not know how sign language would fit into this but it has been great. The biggest reason that I think Titus signs so much is that both The Geek and I sign to him but when we say the word I use English and he used Afrikaans. It has been great in helping Titus see that the different words in the 2 languages have the same sign. I am expecting him to talk later as bilingual babies often do, so for him sign language really helps him communicate and be less frustrated.
6) Why use sign language?
I guess I should have started with this one but I need to take the kids to swimming and I don’t feel like remumbering the whole post ( how is that for honesty)
Why sign – becasue babies are dexterous and able to use their hands to communicate before they are able to speak and so it help give them a way to communicate during the toddler stage when they are finding their independence and are often frustrated that we don’t understand their gurgles. Being able to know when Titus is hungry and when he wants to go to the potty or has finished eating is great.
There are course available which I am sure you can find in your area if you want to go for a course.
I just used google and looked for signs. I also used a small book I found at Exclusive books which had some basic baby signs.
There are lots and lots of baby sign language websites, some that want you to buy the course but there is a lot for free too.
You can also make up your own signs as long as you all use the same signs.
Makaton is specific sign language for those who battle to communicate and is often used with children with learning or developmental difficulties. If you have one child using this or feel it might benefit a family member then this is a good version to use. It also uses more simple and easy to do signs that are perfect for babies.
Most of all enjoy communicating with your baby.