babies and sign language

Pickles has an official first word.  Papa.  Oh, she’s been making word-like noises for ages, and she obviously understands most of what we say, but “papa” is the first word we’ve really been able to hear her using in context.  Of course she also sometimes calls me papa, but, hey, why not?

Thing is, she could be communicating with us already.  She could be telling us all sorts of things.  That she’s hungry or wants water or more or is tired or that her teeth hurt.  Not because we expect her to be some kind of genius who speaks before her first birthday, but because we’ve been teaching her sign language since she was three months old.

The nice thing about teaching your baby sign language is that babies are capable of communicating with signs long before they are capable, developmentally speaking, of using spoken language.  Fascinating, huh?  Babies are mentally ready for communication much earlier than their bodies.  Which of course leads to a lot of frustration.  There’s nothing worse than not being able to communicate something important to the people around you.  I was intrigued by sign on its own merit, but I also fell in love with the idea of it as a tool for avoiding parental frustration.

Around eight months Pickles used her first sign, “milk,” and she still uses it every day.  Oddly, she uses it to mean thirst of all kinds (she has seen “water” and “drink” and “juice” over and over, but has never used them) and sometimes, food.  Besides “dog,” which I have just gotten her using in the last month, she uses none of the other signs that we’ve both learned watching Baby Signing Time, a set of videos that are wonderful for teaching babies and which have horrible, horrible songs that remain stuck in my head for days and make me want to tear out my hair.  Ah well, it is a price I have been willing to pay.  (At least, as far as my recommendation of these videos goes, Pickles appears to be an anomaly on that front.)  Particuarly because it buys me a half hour behind a book.

I have theories.  The most plausible is that Pickles has enough on her plate, language-wise.  I speak English.  The Beard and everyone else speak German.  And then we both sometimes use hand signals.  It might be too much at once.  Then again, maybe she’s just lazy.  Then again, maybe there is just nothing besides dog and milk/thirst that she feels pressed to tell us.  I guess we’ll never know for sure.

Despite the fact that the Baby Signing Time videos make me a little crazy, they seem to be effective learning tools.  A woman explains and sings and signs and two cartoon babies and a frog accompany her, as well as myriad real live signing babies.  The songs are incredibly cheesy, but they are catchy, and Pickles lights up as soon as I take out the dvd.  If you want to give signing a try, but don’t want to buy anything, there are a number of clips available on youtube, and before my mom gifted us several of the official dvds, Pickles and I would just watch this clip over and over again.  She loved it.  She still loves it.

There are also a number of books, two of which I’ve read (Sign With Your Baby: How to Communicate With Infants Before They Can Speak and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Baby Sign Language).  Books are good for the theories behind doing baby sign language with hearing children, but ineffective for learning the signs yourself.  If you want to hear a more successful story of baby signing, then check out Katey Sleeveless’ blog on the subject here.  That shit is seriously awesome.

Have any of you taught your children sign language? Or learned sign language for other reasons? (Or of course, speak sign language as a main language.) How did it go?

If you decide that you want to order one of the Baby Signing Time dvds, you can simultaneously support Click Clack Gorilla by buying them over these links (amazon):
Baby Signing Time Vol. 1 – It’s Baby Signing Time
Baby Signing Time Vol. 2: Here I Go
Baby Signing Time 3

0 Comments on “babies and sign language

  1. My sister did baby signing with my nephew. I was totally gobsmacked by how brilliant it is; it somehow felt like such a relief for this tiny little person to be able to communicate stuff to us. We all got totally into it and even now, several years later, if one of us is knackered (or drunk) we sometimes sign instead of ask verbally for more food at dinner, hehe.

  2. We did signing for the first time with our 6th child recently. It wasn’t really widespread when the first two were born, and then the middle three were in this decade of tandem nursing and sleepless nights and double diapering, so we never tried. Then came along this little guy….and we had more time.

    He is 19 months now and signs “milk,” and “drink,” “more,” and “bird.” He uses words for almost everything else, but he gestures a lot, usually when he wants something, or wants us to do something. When he wants me to lie down and nurse him, he points to my pillow on the bed and makes a little “aaaaah!” sound. When he wants a story, he brings us the book and points to our laps, indicating he wishes to sit there and hear it.

    I like how just a few signs have given him this great confidence in communication….that he can improvise and try other ways of getting his point across. We have wonderful conversations, and he thoroughly understands quite a bit of what we are saying. His frustration level is quite low, as he can communicate easier with us. Baby signing is pretty awesome, even the little bit we use.

  3. Frau Dietz: Ha! Awesome.

    Dana: That is so awesome. I hope Pickles eventually tells us more with her hands. Funny thing, RIGHT after I posted this we watched Baby Signing Times, and now all of the sudden she’s got baby down. And the next day she started doing hat, and possibly more. I felt like writing this had somehow cast a spell on her to get started already. 🙂

  4. I had no luck teaching sign language to my baby, although I learned some signs from a book, because I kept forgetting to use them! Partly this was because he liked to be held all the time, and I usually was using my other hand to do something, and anyway a lot of the most useful signs use two hands. We didn’t let him watch TV or videos until 2 years old, so that wasn’t an option.

    However, he did communicate with hand gestures to some extent, and also with expressive sounds–he was saying, “Mmm-yum!” to mean, “I like this food,” or more abstractly, “Please share your food,” and, “Boo!” to mean, “I’m startling you!” a few months before he said his first actual word. (First word was “this.” Very versatile.)

    He sometimes managed to convey very complex things with gestures. I remember when he was maybe 15 months old, riding on my hip in the sling, waiting to cross an intersection, he noticed a sound and looked around for its source. The sound was made by a metal plate that was covering a hole in the street; every time a car drove over it, it tilted and then fell back into place, making two sounds. When Nicholas figured this out, he leaned that way, saying, “Oh see!” and when I looked, he pointed to a car approaching the plate, then tilted his hand in synchrony with the plate tilting.

    He learned a lot of words and said them clearly from an early age, and started putting them together in phrases really early, so we didn’t have a lot of opportunity to get frustrated. If we had I might have regretted the lack of sign language more.

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