This week, after waiting out a terrible hail storm in our van, the kids and I were tired, hungry and weary of being cooped up. We made an impromptu stop at a diner style restaurant and ordered whole wheat grilled cheese. Our dinner together was very calm, relaxed and enjoyable. But I started getting funny glaces as I signed: Jonathan, would you like “more” “crackers?” Say “thank you” “Mama.” I wondered if the people in the surrounding booths were thinking that one or both of my kids were hearing impaired, or if they were just amazed, as I am, that my 13 month kiddos can communicate via sign language.
My fascination with baby sign language began when my sister-in-law taught my niece to sign. It was amazing! The only problem was, the rest of us had NO IDEA what she was saying! So without Tonya to interpret, we were clueless about what Natalie was talking about!
Signing seemed like a good idea, a possible way to cut down on tantrums and communication frustrations. Plus it was something I thought I could teach the kids for fun, without getting caught up in the whole “baby genius” thing. I am leery of anything that puts unrealistic expectations on babies, but signing seemed like more fun than work. I borrowed my niece’s signing video’s http://mybabycantalk.com/ and started trying to watch them with the kids around the age of 9 months. Their attention span was about 30 seconds, so I ended up watching the video by myself. I learned several signs, and practiced them with the kids often. We tried the video again at 10 months with slightly more success. Faith was entranced for about 5 minutes, and Jonathan could have cared less. At 10 1/2 months, Faith signed “more” for the first time. Jonathan didn’t start signing until after their first birthday. At the time, I thought he was never going to sign, that it just wasn’t his thing. And then, one day, he signed “more” like he had always been doing it. “Dog” and “eat” quickly followed suit.
At 13 months of age, we are all on the signing bandwagon. The kids grandparents think it is cool, as do the aunts and uncles. My normally stoic husband cheers when the kids use a new sign. The kids themselves are so proud when they clearly communicate something to us by sign.
The other day, I did have a moment where I regretted teaching the kids sign language… I was quickly trying to get dinner ready, and Jonathan and Faith were standing at the gate, upset. Faith pounded on the gate, and when I turned to look at her, she frantically signed “EAT! EAT! EAT!” I said “Sweetheart, I know you are hungry. Mom is fixing dinner as fast as I can! “EAT! EAT! EAT!” More banging. I don’t think I have ever cooked with that much pressure before!
The key to our signing fun, has been for me and my husband to learn the signs and use them in normal conversation. We don’t have lesson time, but when the neighbor’s dog barks, we all four turn to eachother and sign “Dog.” The words that I have found easy to integrate into normal conversation are: Eat, More, Milk, Drink, All Done, Mama, Daddy, Dog, Cat, Car, Up, Down, Please, Thank You, No, Share, Baby, Sleep, Crackers and Hat.
Another helpful tool has been the flashcard pack Sign Language for Babies by Parents Magazine which you can buy here: http://www.borders.com/online/store/TitleDetail?sku=1401900410
I keep this pack on my coffee table and practice my words while watching Jon and Kate Plus 8! The flashcards are also great for our babysitters to refrence, so they know what the kids are saying.
The last point I would like to make, is about baby signing vs. American Sign Language. The signs we teach our kids are a combo, but if you have a choice, I would go for a tool/book/product that is based on ASL. What we teach ourselves and our kids may come in handy someday! I know the little bit of spanish I learned in 2nd grade has stuck with me, but the three years I took in high school are long gone!
Edited to add: at 24 months of age, my kids have learned 75 signs plus a few letters in the alphabet. However, the amount of signing they do has been reduced drastically due to their ability to chatter incessantly!
What are your thoughts on baby signing?