You see parents signing “more” and “all done” with their kids in restaurants. You see them signing “stop” and “play” at the park. But is teaching your baby American Sign Language (ASL) just a fad or are there legitimate benefits? There really is no question. Twenty-five years of careful studies in clinical and university settings have proven, without contention, that teaching hearing babies sign language is significantly beneficial.
I know these benefits first-hand. I started teaching my daughter to sign when she was 5 months old. Teaching Samantha sign language has been a wonderful experience. She learned her first sign within weeks. I almost couldn’t believe that her fist-squeezing was her responding “milk” as I nursed her. As her signing improved, I got a kick out of watching the little wheels in her head turn as she interpreted language. As an example, one day while talking to a neighbor on the street about the cracks in her apartment, I looked over at Samantha in her stroller, and she was signing “cracker.” Watching Samantha’s challenges with homonyms was a benefit I hadn’t even considered when I was researching signing with my baby.
Signing with your child increases child-parent bonding. Parents who sign with their children have more eye contact with their babies. They also spend more time reading books to their children – and more time on each page of a book – because they take the time to also sign the pictures and words in the stories.
The benefit sited most often by parents who sign with their babies is that it reduces frustration and temper tantrums. Because signing babies have gestures for “milk,” “change diaper,” and even their favorite lovey, they can easily communicate their needs to their parents. That desire is then quickly met, long before a temper tantrum occurs. Being able to express their needs at an early age also builds babies’ self-esteem. They know that their needs will be met quickly if they make them known through sign. This makes them feel safe in their environment. And because they have this early form of communication, they are more willing to experiment with verbal language when they are physically capable of speaking.
Yes, that’s right. Babies who are taught ASL actually speak sooner, more articulately, and with larger vocabularies than those who were not taught to sign. While the most frequently voiced question about teaching babies sign language is whether it will delay speech, this is absolutely not a concern. Not only is there zero evidence that signing delays speech, studies have found the opposite to be true.
When you teach your baby sign language, you say the word at the same time. You do not replace one language with the other. This actually gives the baby more cues to go on. Most ASL signs look just like the idea they represent. For instance, for “drink” you cup your hand and bring it to your lips. It is easier for babies to associate that sign with drinking than the actual word “drink.” Signing and saying the word “drink” lessens the time before your child understands what “drink” actually means. Then when your baby is capable of talking, he will. It is actually easier to talk than sign. As your child’s verbal language grows, his signing will drop off.
Where to take Baby Sign Classes in Queens
My Smart Hands™ is now in Astoria and just won the “Parent Tested, Parent Approved” Award. For the past five years, My Smart Hands™ has been teaching babies around the world to sign through activities, songs, and games. I look forward to bringing My Smart Hands™ to my fellow Queens Mamas, so that we can all enjoy the benefits of baby sign language.
Rebecca Raymond, My Smart Hands™ NYC
Check out www.mysmarthandsnyc.com for more information.