What is Baby Sign Language?
Baby sign language is one example of an unaided communication system which permits infants and toddlers a means of communication using gestures. It allows for young children to adequately have their needs and wants met before they are able to verbally communicate. It also gives parents and caregivers another fun way to bond with the child.
Why is baby sign language beneficial?
By providing a child with a different means for communicating, children at an early age present with reduced frustration by having their needs and wants met more consistently. It also gives children another means of bonding with their parents and caregivers, as they are able to engage more functionally with each other. Additionally, some research has shown that children who are introduced to early signs have been shown to verbally communicate more quickly, and at a younger age, than peers who are not exposed to signs. Though the jury is still out, other research has suggested that children who use baby signs have higher IQ’s as well!
Some helpful tips for using Baby Sign Language:
- When should we start? Children between the ages of 6-9 months will benefit most from early introduction to baby signs. Parents should note that it can take a couple of weeks or a few months for their baby to begin using the signs. As the child’s fine motor skills continue to develop, the accuracy of the signs will continue to increase, so parents need not worry if the early signs are just approximations and are not completely accurate. Therefore, be realistic with the timeline and know that most children will not begin using signs immediately after they are introduced.
- How do they learn? Parents and caregivers should remember to pair the signs with spoken words in order to reinforce verbal communication. Children learn through demonstration and practice, though they should continue to be exposed to verbal communication to help their language develop. Additionally, it is important to make sure the child is looking at their conversational partner when they are engaged. Parents and caregivers can provide a visual model for the child and even give the child tactile support to help them use the gestures with their own hands.
- Make it meaningful! Early signs should be meaningful to the child and can contain names of family members, pets, and requests. Signs such as “Mom/Dad, milk, more, all done, and dog” are good choices for first signs. Secondary vocabulary could contain favorite foods and toys as well as simple action words.
- Keep it simple! Make sure not to introduce too many signs too quickly. Stick to 3-5 signs in the beginning and be consistent! Use the signs throughout the day in a variety of settings in order for the child to generalize them in different environments. Once those signs have been mastered, parents can continue to add new signs and tailor the vocabulary to be more functional and meaningful to the child.
- Be persistent! In order to succeed, parents have to remember to be patient! It can seem like a slow process in the beginning, so consistency is key. Parents and caregivers should remember to keep this teaching process fun and interesting, and give the child ample opportunities to practice, offering hand-over-hand support when needed. Encourage the child to use the signs, particularly with motivating objects, people, or items and frequently reward their success.