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