Friday, April 27, 2012

Baby Sign Language

Fun fact. I wrote this post, almost in its entirety, during breakfast the other day. While I was refilling my coffee in the kitchen, my toddler got out of her chair, walked over to the laptop, and held down backspace while I was gone. Deleted the whole thing. So, here we go again.

I had a request to do a post about baby sign, and I think that is a great idea, because A. it's a great subject and B. I like to talk about it.
I feel like doing baby sign with Isabella was one of the best things we've ever done for her. She would probably argue that giving her ice cream is the best thing we've ever done, but we're all entitled to our opinion.

First, the good news. You do *not* have to know sign language to do baby sign language. Does your mind = blown? Now for the bad news. Oh wait. There is no bad news. Baby sign is easy, fun, and beneficial.
 I learned everything I know about baby sign from a little book that you can pick up for about $8 called Baby Sign Language Basics by Monta Z. Briant.
I super duper highly recommend this book, but honestly you don't really need anything to do baby sign, except hands and a baby. (preferably your own baby. Its weird and inconvenient to try to sign with a stranger's baby)

Ok. I'm going to break this topic into two posts, because a lot can be said about baby sign. There's the what, why, how, etc. For part 1 (HINT: that's the post you're currently reading) I'm going to cover what baby sign is, and why one might want to do it.

What is baby sign language? Well, I'll tell you what it isn't. It isn't teaching your baby a second language in the form of American Sign Language (ASL). That would probably require you actually knowing ASL. Baby sign is simply learning only signs that you and your baby might want to use to communicate with each other while your baby is pre-verbal. Your child will, in all likelihood, forget these signs once she becomes verbal. Ours did, and that's normal to drop the signs once they learn the spoken word for it. If you want your child to continue to learn ASL, you should probably look into learning ASL yourself and be sure to stick with it even after baby becomes verbal.

Why would you want to do baby sign? I'm so glad you asked.
I'll start with the obvious. Babies want stuff. Babies can't talk. This presents a problem for the baby. Of course, most parents are very good at knowing what their baby needs, but I can tell you from experience that it is really fun when baby can instantly communicate whether they want milk or a diaper change (or to be taken to potty), sleep or a ball, or a book, or whatever. It just cuts out some of the guesswork on your part, and frustration on baby's part. So to me, that is the most basic, simple reason one might want to do it.

Unfortunately, I no longer own the book I recommended. I lent it to someone and, well, you know how that goes. I would love to have it in front of me to quote the research on the developmental/intellectual benefits of baby sign for babies, but I can't. So I'm going to be vague about it. The gist of it was that the benefits of baby sign may be similar to that of any bilingual child, even though the baby doesn't actually learn ASL completely. Perhaps it sharpens their thinking skills and linguistic skills, basically. There also may be emotional benefits for a baby who feels a sense of accomplishment at successfully communicating to an adult, being listened to, understood, etc. blah blah, it's probably good for baby, but obviously not a necessity in raising a happy, intelligent child.

So that brings me to the BEST reason to do baby sign. It is really, really fun! There is so much more to it than what your baby needs. Because honestly..babies don't need much besides love, milk, cuddles, and clean bums. It's easy to think that babies don't think about much besides "I'm hungry" or "I crapped my pants" but of course that just isn't true. They simply are physically incapable of verbalizing their thoughts. Sure, they may not be contemplating the mysteries of life, but they still have something to say. They are people, after all
It is so rewarding as a parent when one day your baby is hanging out, being a cute, drooling baby, presumably not thinking about much besides how to get to the dog food bowl, then not long after they are signing things like "hear airplane outside" or "where daddy?" or "more eat" or "hat, glasses" when someone walks by. Or "moon" every single time you pass a streetlight at night. Or "grandad" every time a bald man walks by. You will be blown away at how incredibly observant very young, pre verbal babies are. They LOVE to show off what they know, too, and are always ready to sit in your lap with a book so that they can sign puppy, tree, hat, bird, etc when you come across one.

We had so much fun signing with Isabella, and we believe that it was really helpful in developing her awesome vocabulary. Now we sign with new little one, and it is just as rewarding!

I'm finally done with part 1, and I'll add a link to part 2 on HOW to sign with your baby once I get it written ;) Happy Friday everyone!


  1. LOve this, Heather. Informative, without sounding like a Super-Snob, (I capitalized that because I believe it a particular class of people; not you of course :)

  2. Thanks Blayne :) I had some of your thoughts on Mommy Wars in the back of my mind while I wrote it haha.

  3. You mean our babies aren't contemplating about how to take over the world? phew!! My ASL class I took last semester was really fun. I can tell you I didn't learn a whole bunch, because to learn ASL takes repetitiveness as you have to train your brain to recognize those signs. But baby sign sounds fun. I record Blues Clues for Raegan and the character on the show uses some signs while he talks, I never noticed it until someone pointed it out during my ASL class. Also during commercial breaks on Nick Jr. they play songs w/ videos of singing and sign. I've got the songs memorized lol.. but I think its cool to be able to recognize some of the words like aunt, uncle, mother, daughter, father, son, baby.... yada yada yada. ASL is interesting, and fun.. its just hard when you have no one to practice it with..or talk to using it.

    1. haha practice with Luke ;) babies learn it fast