Bridging Communication: Babies and Sign Language

This guest post is courtesy of my good pal, Louise Sattler, of Signing Families.  Louise is one of the original recipients of our Kidlutions Preferred Product Award for her Baby, Toddler, Preschool Sign DVD.  Louise's DVD has been picked up by Wal-Mart (YAY...what a feat!) and is also available at Amazon.

Below, Louise addresses some common questions about using sign language with your baby or toddler, as well as provides guidelines on introducing your child to it.  (Hint: We've seen some amazing results when using Louise's DVD/information in early childhood programs such as Head Start and Early Head Start!)  Here's Louise:

Bridging Communication

I remember standing in my friend’s kitchen with her toddler whom I agreed to babysit for a few hours one morning. “David”, age 16 months, was obviously hungry and wanted something to eat that was hidden behind a set of cabinet doors. I opened them and reached in and grabbed the box of Cheerios. He looked at me with disappointment and proceeded to point again and vocalize “EH, EH”. So, I attempted to locate the correct item and reached in and took out a bag of crackers. This made David despondent as he yelled, “ EH!! EH!!” and started to cry - loudly. I eventually figured out that David wanted the fruit snacks, but by the time this revelation occured he was no longer the happy toddler from five minutes ago and now was almost inconsolable. The irony of this was as a School Psychologist, I knew that David most likely did not have the spoken vocabulary that matched the names of all his favorite foods and I also knew had David been able to use sign language we would have had a better chance at getting him the right food – the first time!
Does Sign Language Improve Behavior?

Does sign language improve behavior?  I answer this question with a resounding –YES because many negative behaviors produced by young children are due to lack of speech skills and the frustration that occurs when there is a breakdown with communication. Sign language often acts as a language “bridge” until speech “catches up” and in turn promotes positive behaviors.

 How sign language develops before speech
Simply, the small motor skills necessary for sign language apparently develop sooner than oral - motor skills, therefore sign language production usually arrives first with an infant. Believe it or not, a baby understands much of what is being said, but cannot express themselves orally until around their first birthday! However, signing can occur well before speech, therefore being a successful mode for communication and also helping to promote speech itself! (No need to worry that your child won’t talk or will be delayed because they learned to sign. Research has proven the opposite is actually the result!)

How to Introduce Sign Language to Your Baby: 6 Tips
Here is how I recommend parents get started in teaching sign language to their baby, toddler or preschooler who are typically or atypically developing.

1. First be sure to introduce sign language to your child during natural circumstances. For example, food words should be used appropriately during mealtimes or when grocery shopping. Use other signs in conjunction with the activity as well, such as bathing.

2. First signed words should include the following: MORE, MOMMY, DADDY, FINISH (all done), SLEEP, EAT, DIAPER, BATH, MILK (NURSING). Next set of words can include WANT, READ, MUSIC, PLAY, CAREFUL and PAIN

3. For a child to pick up sign language they first need to be exposed to it on a consistent basis. MORE is often the very first sign parents demonstrate as it works for many situations. MORE- EAT , for example is a common first phrase.

4. An infant will first start signing about two months after consistent exposure or around eight months of age. Toddlers and preschoolers will pick up the signs within days of being exposed and be able to produce them much easier.

5. Expect your child to sign incorrectly. This is akin to baby babble when they first start to speak. It can be hilarious!

6. ENJOY the journey! Learning sign language is a process and should be fun! The benefits are numerous and this could open doors to a lifelong skill for all!

Louise Sattler is a Nationally Certified School Psychologist, Founder and Owner of SIGNING FAMILIES and Co-Founder of 411 VOICES.






Thanks, Louise! 

As always, at Kidlutions, we wish you Happy Parenting {and Teaching}!



SharaPCS said…
I love Louise! We met, years ago, through Facebook and the rest is history. I've given out her bookmarks and mini charts at school events and fundraisers. Soon, I'll be giving out her mini charts at the town egg hunt we host.

I have also given my kid's teachers the great folders with ASL on front/back. Love Louise - thanks for sharing about her!
My pleasure, Shara! Thanks for introdcing me to Louise! I adore her, too!

Wendy =)

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