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Teaching babies and toddlers to use gestures for specific words before they are physically able to speak makes a whole lot of sense on many levels.
Will baby sign language delay my child’s speech development?
Studies have shown that children who use this kind of early “sign language” show no delay in speech development. In fact, they speak sooner because they are more confident and motivated to communicate.
Parents sometimes frown on the idea of teaching their child to sign because at first glance, it may seem intimidating and come across as if one is introducing a whole new language, like Mandarin or French, to a baby who is not yet even able to use his first language. Questions like: “Who’s got time for that?” and “For what reason?” spring to mind.
In reality, using gestures to communicate meaning is a natural step in learning language and something every child does anyway on his way to mastering the intricacies of speech.
Teaching “baby sign language” isn’t the same as teaching a second language and it shouldn’t be confused with learning the sign language used by the hearing impaired. It simply involves systematically teaching your child to use a wider variety of gestures over and above simply giving a high five, pointing to objects and waving goodbye or hello.
When can I start teaching my baby to sign?
You can start as early as 6 months and there is no need to become an expert yourself before attempting to teach your baby. It should be viewed as a learning experience for both of you.
How do I start?
Decide on a few signs that are most relevant in your everyday life. Then simply repeat the exact same gesture along with the word that it represents whenever you use that specific word in a situation. You can, for example, show the sign for water along with saying the word “water” out loud every single time you talk about it or give your child some water.
The key to success is repetition.
It makes sense to use the tried and tested signs from a formal program, but don’t fret about the nitty gritties. You can agree privately on the actual gestures that will serve as “signs” in your household and which particular words you want to use a sign for. Start with a few words that you use often like: more, milk, sleep, bath, open, food, water, dog, etc. You can always add more signs later.
Your baby is going to use them for a few months – until he is able to use real words instead – and that will be the end of it. Relax and have fun. Nobody’s going to rate your performance on this!
Will MY baby be able to learn baby sign language?
All babies eventually learn to talk and, by the same token, all babies can learn to use gestures to communicate as a forerunner to using words.
Bear in mind that a baby typically has to hear any normal word at least 30 times in a meaningful context to grasp its meaning. The same goes for learning the meaning of a sign.
Many parents give up too soon, thinking that they’re doing something wrong when their baby does not respond after a few demonstrations.
Gestures = less frustration = fewer tantrums!
The benefits far outweigh the extra effort that you’re putting in. You are basically giving wings to your child’s thoughts, providing a way for him to communicate his needs and shaping his attitude to the world in a fundamental way. How amazing is that?
What’s more, if your child is frustrated because he feels misunderstood, the relief of being heard and validated as a person with something to say may be just what he needs to erase that frustration from his life and remove the motivation behind many a tantrum and tiff.
Note: If you are interested in purchasing a baby sign language programme with flash cards and pre-selected signs, simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.