If you are a parent of a baby or toddler (or currently pregnant) you probably have heard of “baby sign.” But what exactly is it and why would you want to use sign language with your child? How? Where and when should you start? This is one of many posts I am writing this month on the topic of sign language and why I think it’s awesome for babies and children of all ages to learn it!
The Many Benefits of Sign Language
1. Sign language provides the ability to communicate earlier than speech
You probably already know that babies and toddlers are able to understand far more than they can express. Receptive language skills, what they can understand, develop earlier than expressive language skills, or what they can say. In fact, the motor skills and auditory perceptual skills needed to articulate speech are simply not developed enough to produce words until around 10-12 months of age (give or take) and then they continue to develop for years.
2. Earlier communication can decrease tantrum behavior
Many early tantrums in toddlers are often a result of their inability to communicate their wants and needs effectively (hence the term “the terrible twos which I find start at more like 15 months…). By giving your child the gift of sign language as an early communication tool, you may see a decrease in tantrum behavior as he will be able to communicate to you more effectively than with speech and gesture alone.
3. Teaching sign language to your child may increase your child’s vocabulary and language skills
When you are teaching your child sign language, you will find yourself saying the name of the sign out loud many, many times as you show your child the sign. You will find yourself talking a lot about the items you are teaching. For example, when you see a dog walk by you may stop, get down at your child’s level, and say (as you are signing dog) “Johnny! Do you see the DOG? It’s a D-O-G (as you continue to sign) See the DOG? Look, DOG (as you sign again)” You will find yourself talking about things more and repeating things more than if you were not teaching your child sign. This repetition, both auditory and visually, may help to expand your child’s receptive and expressive vocabulary and language skills.
In addition to the increased verbal repetition that sign often provides, it also provides language opportunities in a tactile, kinesthetic, and visual modality. Presenting vocabulary and language in a modality other than simply verbal increases the child’s ability of learning.
4. Teaching sign language to your child may increase your child’s reading and spelling skills and even IQ
There is research to support that hearing children who are taught sign language from an early age have better reading and spelling skills and yes, even higher IQ scores down the road.
5. Teaching sign language to your child may increase your child’s visual attention skills and joint attention skills
Using and understanding sign language requires a child to utalize his visual and joint attention skills, both of which are very important skills in both learning and social interactions.
6. Teaching sign language can be a wonderful bonding experience
Yes, teaching your infant or toddler sign language can really be a fantastic bonding experience. When you teach you child sign, you must get down at their level and look at them. You must interact with your child, label, talk, describe, make eye contact and demonstrate the sign. You also will often show your child how to make the sign hand-over-hand. All of these interactions can help increase the bond you have with your child.
7. Teaching sign language can help promote your child’s fine motor skills Teaching your child sign language allows for more fine motor practice as your child signs back to you!
8. Teaching your child sign language will provide him the opportunity to communicate with those who are deaf
There are hundreds of thousands of deaf people in the US who use American Sign Language as their primarily language. How fantastic would it be if your child was playing at the park and met a deaf child and he could communicate to him? How do you think that would effect the deaf child and his parents?
9. Teaching sign language to your child is F U N!
Seriously. It is so much fun teaching sign language to your child! So…even if you don’t care about numbers 1-8…if you want to add a fun activity to your child’s daily routine, teach her sign language!
So…when do you start signing to your child? Which signs should you use? How do you teach the signs? I’ll be covering all of these questions over the next couple weeks so make sure to check back in!