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What is baby signing?
As early as six months, your baby knows what he wants - and he'd tell you too if only he could talk - but he’s going to have to wait another six months or so before his control over his vocal chords have developed enough to speak and a year or more before he can tackle more complex words. And a year’s an awfully long time when you’re a baby. No wonder he gets so frustrated – it’s enough to make you want to scream…
That’s where sign language comes in. In Britain we use a variant called British Sign Language (BSL). It’s simple to learn a few signs to start with and then build up your repertoire as your baby progresses.
Why should I do it?
There are four main reasons:
1) Sign Language helps to take a lot of the guesswork out of being a parent. That means a lot more smiles and a lot less tears for both of you.
2) Your baby has a world of thoughts and observations about the things he sees around him. Imagine how exciting it must be as each day brings new discoveries – new sights, new sounds, new experiences. Sign language enables you to share that excitement with him before he can talk.
3) Research shows that learning these new communications skills at an early age will help your baby’s longer-term mental development. Babies that have used sign language typically start to talk earlier and then continue to learn more quickly than their non-signing playmates.
4) It’s fun!
Frequently Asked Questions
Was baby signing developed for deaf children?
No. Baby signing was developed for hearing babies and hearing parents. However, it is also useful with deaf and hearing-impaired children as it is based on established sign language. In the UK, British Sign Language (BSL) has now become widely accepted as the norm, with many nurseries and carers learning the signs so that they can communicate with their charges. N.B. you should be aware that there are other languages in use so you should always check that the class or the book concerned is BSL before you buy.
But surely mothers know what their babies want, don’t they?
Mothers will usually have a pretty good idea what their babies want when they cry. But wouldn’t it be so much better to know what they want before they become so frustrated that they start crying? If they could sign, they’d tell you, you know.
So baby signing reduces crying, then?
Yes, but that’s really only part of the story. Signing allows babies to share their thoughts with you, to tell you what they’ve seen or, perhaps, just to tell you which toy they want to play with next. These are just brief moments in your child’s development but you’ll miss so much if you wait till they can talk to tell you about it.
Is there an ideal time to begin signing?
Your baby will be capable of learning signs from the age of six months. It will not be detrimental to start earlier but there will be a correspondingly longer period to wait before your baby starts to sign. This is due to the need for your baby to develop memory and co-ordination to recognize, remember and make the signs. However, it is never too late to start signing.
But if they’re signing, won’t that delay talking?
No. Just the opposite, in fact. All the research shows that learning to communicate earlier gives babies a real head start in life – especially talking. They’ll start to talk earlier and develop their vocabulary faster than non-signing babies. And the longest running research study available has shown that, even at the age of eight, they’ll still be significantly ahead of their classmates in terms of IQ and achievements. For speech delayed children, signing is often used to provide the additional support they need to breakthrough into speech.
What happens in the weekly classes? Do I bring my baby?
Yes, definitely - the classes are great fun and your baby will love them. As well as explaining the theory behind it all, you’ll learn how you can bring the signs into your day-to-day life, read stories and sing some songs. The groups are informal, fun and you’ll get to meet other people who are also signing with their babies. There are a number of teaching organisations, such as Babysigners (www.babysigners.co.uk), that you can contact for details.
History and Research
It may come as some surprise to all those people who think of signing with babies as being very new to find out that it's actually based upon more than 20 years of research by internationally respected academics. Having said this, it's fair to say that it is most certainly an idea whose time has come. The practical experience of the last two decades have now provided us with proven learning programmes, hints and tips to make signing easy and immensely rewarding for parents and babies alike.
The academic approach – 20 years of US government funded research
In 1982, Dr Linda Acredolo and Dr Susan Goodwyn of California University launched an ongoing research programme that has lasted 20 years and generated a wealth of published research, much of it funded by the US National Institute of Health. Their findings have laid the foundations for a revolution in the way that mothers communicate with their babies. There have been unexpected benefits too. As well as having a happier, less frustrated baby and a closer bond between parent and child, there are longer-term advantages.
They found that babies that sign learn to talk earlier than non-signing babies. And, when they did talk, they developed larger vocabularies and were more self-confident. This head start in life didn't stop there either - babies that used sign language still had significantly higher IQ's in follow-up research at the age of eight.
The practical approach – the best selling author and baby-signing guru But even before Acredolo and Goodwyn started their research in the early 80's, others were recognising the potential. Most notably, Dr Joseph Garcia noticed how babies could use signs to communicate as early as the 1970's.
Joseph's more recent focus has been upon creating a truly practical signing system for babies. Now generally regarded as the world's leading authority on baby signing, he was able to draw upon his background as a sign language interpreter with the deaf community and upon his doctoral studies in education as well his own first hand baby signing experiences to write the world's leading baby signing program - Sign With Your Baby.
Following on from the best selling Sign With Your Baby, Joseph has just written a brand new BSL based book especially for the UK. Joseph Garcia's complete Guide to Baby Signing extends those original principles by providing hands-on guidance on how to use baby signing in a wide range of day-to-day situations as well as including games, rhymes, songs and practical advice. With a DVD dictionary showing you how to form the signs, Joseph Garcia’s Complete Guide to Baby Signing was published in July 2005 and is available in all major bookstores or at www.babysigners.co.uk. As the definitive guide to baby signing from the world’s greatest expert, it’s a must for anyone wanting to learn how to baby sign.