Baby Sign Language Basics

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

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Baby Sign Language Basics
By Monta Z. Briant


I'll be honest, baby sign language wasn't really on my radar for a long time. Then I didn't think it was necessary when I had my first (mostly because he was a preemie, and there were a million other things on my mind). However my pediatrician recommended giving it a shot with my second. She said he would probably love it, and it would allow my older son a chance to teach him something. So I headed to the library to look for a simple book. Let me just say there are a ton, and I didn't know where to start...

After asking a librarian for a suggestion I landed on Baby Sign Language Basics. It was a great choice.

We got started right away. Yep just jumped right into the deep end, so to speak. Mostly because at least sixty percent of this book is a picture guide to many baby signs.

Anyway, back to the book. This book was a great introduction book for us. Briant does a great job of getting to the point of each chapter, because really the objective is to start signing with your baby and communicating, which doesn't happen if you are reading and reading and reading (to yourself that is). Briant explains why she decided to teach her babies American Sign Language, and then reassures the reader that you don't have to become fluent in this language to teach your baby. Briant makes the point that as parents teaching our babies sign language we only need to know enough to communicate on the baby's level. So start with just 6 - 10 signs (her suggestion) that you can use daily with the routine you have already established. Then add as you feel comfortable.

The biggest point is to make sure you use sign language as often and regularly as possible. Which makes sense right? The words you speak the most are the most likely to be in your child's vocabulary first. With that in mind I started signing before I finished reading the book! I started with mommy, daddy, eat, more and drink.
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We soon added milk, dog, cat, ball, play and dance. I choose these because they are the things my little guy seems most interested, which Briant refers to as motivating signs. She suggests that these signs are the ones that will grab your child's attention and get him (or her) signing quickly.
If your baby is hungry or wet, all he has to do is cry - you'll run through the 
short list of possible causes and figure out which one it is fairly quickly. No let's say,
 for example that you take your baby for a walk around the neighborhood, and at one
 point you visit with a neighbor's cat. The cat is very friendly, and your baby really
 enjoys seeing and touching it. Later (perhaps even a couple of days late), your
 baby decides that he'd like to see the cat again or maybe just hear more about 
cats in general. How can he bring up this topic of conversation?... Using Motivating 
Signs will teach your baby the power of signing and get him interested in 
all the signs you're showing him. - 43
That made sense to me, so I added in play, ball and dance as quick as I could. 

This book was a nice starter because the chapters were super quick reads, which let's face it, is a must when you have a baby to take care of! Plus her writing style was very conversational, and for me, that was great. 

After about three week of signing as regularly as I could (which was usually just a meal times) I started to feel a little discouraged. My nine month old would look and me and watch my signs, but that was it. Then one day the phone rang during lunch, and while I was on the phone he signed "more"! I was thrilled, he got it!  I started to realize that I was just not giving him a chance to sign his response - which is actually something Briant addresses (Over anticipating Baby's needs). 

I realize teaching your baby to sign is not on everyone's to-do list. But I'm enjoying it. We have started having times each day where we get out toys or some picture books and just practice the signs, mostly for me to learn more. But both of my boys really enjoy this play time, so that's good! 
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Some other books we are using to add to our vocabulary of signs include: The Parents' Guide to Baby Signs,  The Everything Baby Sign Language Book, Baby Sign Language, and Signing for Kids.

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