The mid 1990s revealed that, contrary to popular belief, communicating in sign language does not deter or delay your child from speaking, but actually encourages earlier communication. It enables a child to become an active communicator at a much earlier age rather than a passive observer. Research conducted at the University of California has linked infant signing to a boost in IQ scores.
All babies use their hands naturally in an attempt to communicate. Signs like waving goodbye, clapping hands, and shaking their heads in delight are some of the common ones. However, the number of signs that a child displays naturally is very limited.
Babies begin to speak at different ages. You can begin signing with your baby at any time. You will notice your child taking an avid interest in your hand movements. However, it is important to remember that the motor skills of a child, which are necessary for him/her to sign back, only mature around 10 months of age. Always begin with a few words and actions that represent objects that your baby is interested in, as this will enable him/her to focus. Maintain a strong connection between the sign and the word so that once your child learns to speak, she/he will have already learned that words and signs are interchangeable.
The key to success is repetition. The more you repeat the word and the sign, the sooner your baby will realize the connection between the two. This will encourage your child to sign back to you. You could try using the signs before, during, and after a given activity.
Signs help your child to identify one word out of a seemingly endless stream. The process clearly marks the words that you are teaching and helps your baby separate that one word from all the others. Not only this, you are also giving her/him valuable examples of the syntax of a language, by offering and marking the same symbol as it occurs in many distinct positions in many different sentences, representing one unvarying action or object.
Including signs in your daily routine helps your child pick them up sooner. You could pick a few of your baby’s favorite animals, and then place pictures and toys of the animals in places that you frequent each day. These signs can be reinforced while singing nursery rhymes or songs.
To get your baby’s attention, you can use both nonverbal and verbal signs. You can ask your baby to look at you or you can tap, touch, or rub him/her. To do this, you can also move an object of interest such as a toy towards them. They may grasp the sign even if you do not have their attention, but having it will ensure that they learn quickly.
It is important that your child have a visual object to associate with the sign and the word. For this, you can use a real object, a representative toy, or a picture. Try and include all visual forms of the object that the word represents.
When you have spent a considerable amount of time carrying on both sides of a conversation with your baby, it is important to give them enough time to respond. Begin by asking questions and waiting for at least 20 seconds. Use this time to look at your child attentively and expectantly before answering with the word and the sign. Doing this will give your child the clue that you are inviting him/her into the conversation.
Feeling a sign is just as important as seeing it. Hence, use your hands to make the movement on your child’s body. Placing him/her on your lap while doing so will certainly help make it easier for you to make the sign correctly.
Guide your baby’s hand, but only after ensuring that he/she enjoys your help. It is advisable to stop if your child shows displeasure. Encourage him/her to sign by asking them to show you their hands, and gently tapping the hands while at it. You could play some games wherein you place the toy further away from your child and ask them to make the sign. Help your baby by making the sign if she/he has not been able to make it or gets frustrated.
Babies are not able to reproduce signs perfectly in a short time. In this case, you should continue to use the same one, as changing it to match your child’s actions will only make him/her confused about the correct one. It is important to remember that your baby is perceptive and knows when you are using a single hand to make a sign that generally requires two. Thus, the best time to do this activity with your child is when you have free time.
Select books that have your baby’s favorite objects and offer her/him the sign whenever you say the word for the object. Look at your baby and notice her/his eyes to see what she/he is attracted to. After you have done that, comment on the image and offer the sign for the image. Give her/him enough time to respond.
Reward your child whenever she/he asks for something. In case you are unable to do that, make sure that you reward her/him in some other way, making it clear that you understand what he/she is asking for. Even when the child makes an attempt to sign, reward her/him for it.
A Few Tips
- Share your child’s knowledge about signs with caregivers and family members.
- Create a few signs of your own.
- Start with simple words and signs.
- Have patience.
- Follow the lead your child gives you.
- Praise your child.
It is important to remember that your child will learn more quickly if he/she enjoys the process and is consistently rewarded. Motivation arises from the fun generated when signing together. How many signs your baby makes and how he/she makes them is not the question, the important thing is that your baby should enjoy the process.