Baby Sign Language: A Guide For The Science
What is baby sign language?
The term is a bit misleading, since it doesnt refer to a genuine language. A true language has syntax, a grammatical structure. It has native speakers who converse fluently with each other.
Parents talk to their babies in the usual way by speaking words but they also make use of these signs. For instance, a mother might ask, Do you want something to drink? while making the sign for drink.
Does baby sign language work?
The short answer is yes, it works in the sense that babies can learn to interpret and use signs. As I note below, research suggests that many babies can start producing signs by the time they are 8-10 months of age.
But the same can be said for spoken words, and, as well see, its not clear that teaching babies to sign gives them any special, long-term advantages.
What signs do people use?
It depends. In some cases, families might co-opt the gestures that arise spontaneously during everyday communication.
For example, you and your baby see a butterfly, so you flap your hands as you say the word aloud. Or you notice that your baby waves her hand dismissively when she doesnt want something, as if she is trying to push it away.
Such gestures represent a kind of pantomime. Youre acting out what youre trying to say.
But people often use the term baby sign language to refer to something different: teaching babies a set of signs provided by charts, books, or videos. And many of these signs lack the pantomime element.
Communication Is At The Heart Of Cognitive Social Emotional And Behavioral Development In Children
Research tells us that learning sign language enables babies to communicate vital information — such as being hungry or sleepy, reduces frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves, and increases parent-child bonding. Infants and children often have positive psychological benefits from signing, such as improved confidence, self-esteem, and reduced feelings of anger and tantrums that result from an inability to communicate.
Tips For Teaching Baby Sign Language
Whether you opt for the spontaneous, do-it-yourself approach, or you want to teach your baby gestures derived from real sign languages, keep the following tips in mind.
1. You can start early.
Babies begin learning about language from the very beginning. They overhear their mothers voices in the womb, and they are capable of recognizing their mothers native language distinguishing it from a foreign language at birth.
Over the following months, their brains sort through all the language they encounter, and they start to crack the code. And by the time they are 6 months old, babies show an understanding of many everyday words like mama, bottle, and nose.
Many babies this age are also babbling repeating speech syllables like ma ma ma and ba ba ba.
If a 6-month-old baby says ba ba after you give her a bottle, could it be that shes trying to say the word bottle? If an infant sees his mother and says mama, is he calling her by name?
Its entirely possible. And as noted above, research suggests that many babies are speaking their first words by the age of 10 months.
So we might expect that babies are ready to observe and learn about signs at an early age even before they are 6 months old.
2. Introduce signs naturally, as a part of everyday conversation, and dont try to drill babies.
3. Keep in mind that its normal for babies to be less than competent. Dont pretend you cant understand your baby just because his or her signs dont match the model!
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Here Are Six Steps To Teach Your Child Sign Language
1. First things first — you need to learn the signs and ensure youre signing correctly. It is also important to learn any additional tips when teaching signs. For example, a strong facial expression to enhance a sign, or specific gestures to point out to make a sign easier for your child.
2. Begin demonstrating when your baby is between six and eight months old. At this stage of development, your infant can hold your gaze for a couple of seconds.
3. Have your infant’s attention before introducing a sign.
4. Start with no more than five key signs. Try signs that are easily linked to objects and basic needs like milk, sleepy, more and/or hungry.
5. Say the word using eye contact. Repeat the signs regularly to ensure consistency. Since infants learn through repetition, consistency is crucial. Maintain consistency with what sign is used, and how it is used in relation to an item..
6. Be careful to notice when your baby begins to mimic the signs, usually after two months of consistent demonstration. Once your infant begins to mimic, continue using those signs while adding additional signs.
Ready to take sign language to the classroom? Learn more about our programs and curriculum here.
When To Start To Teach Baby Sign Language
One of the first things is knowing when you can start. You can start signing to your baby as early as six-months-old. Keep in mind, your baby will not be able to sign back to you until around nine-months-old. Just keep signing to him/her anyway. They can understand you even though they dont know how to sign back yet.
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Want To Learn Moreclick Hereto See The Top 10 Baby Signs
Our goal at Finturely is to build dexterity and finger strength so your baby can work on learning and communicating baby sign language. We find the right toys to make this easy for you and your baby.
Remember to consistently change toys to continue stimulating their senses. Haptic habitation will allow memories to form which are the building blocks of cognitive development.
When Should I Start Baby Sign Language
Around six to eight months old is a great time to start teaching your baby how to sign. Babies are typically at a developmental stage where they are curious to communicate and pay more attention to things presented to them, says Steyns. But she recommends that parents gauge their own readiness, along with their babys, because signing requires learning on their part and committing to a lot of repetition of those hand signs. Some parents are eager to start when their babies are just a few months old, while others wait until their little ones are closer to a year old before they begin. Its not too late if you wait longer than a year because then they can start combining hand signs with verbal cues, she says.
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Potential Benefits Of Sign Language For Toddlers
Possible benefits of using sign language for your little ones include:
- earlier ability to understand spoken words, especially from ages 1 to 2
- earlier use of spoken language skills, especially from 1 to 2 years old
- earlier use of sentence structure in spoken language
- better bonding between parent and child
- potential IQ increase
From what we know, most of the possible gains found in children seem to level off after age 3. Children 3 years and older who were taught sign language dont appear to have significantly greater abilities than children who didnt sign.
But it may still be valuable to sign with your youngster for several reasons.
Many parents who used sign language reported that their infants and toddlers were able to communicate so much to them during those critical years, including emotions.
As any parent of a toddler knows, its often difficult to know why your child is behaving the way they are. But with sign language, the child has another way of expressing themselves.
While this type of sign language may help your child communicate easier, more research is needed to discover if it can help advance language, literacy, or cognition.
Baby Sign Language Basics: When To Start And How To Teach It
All new parents have felt the frustration of trying to figure out what exactly their baby needs. But until a baby speaks her first words, communication is mostly limited. Enter baby sign language, a method of teaching simple gestures for the things they need and suddenly, a whole new world may open up for both babies and parents.
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Baby Sign Language: Why When And How To Start
If youre a parent of a baby or toddler, youve probably heard the term baby signs or baby sign language and wondered what its all about. Is it only for deaf children or can hearing children benefit as well?
How and when do I start teaching signs? If my child learns baby signs, will that keep her from talking? As a speech therapist who worked in early intervention for several years, I can answer all of these questions!
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Babies Learn Words Faster When We Label The Things They Point At
Most babies begin pointing between 9 and 12 months, and this can mark a major breakthrough in communication.
But the impact of this communicative breakthrough depends on our own behavior. Are we paying attention? Do we respond appropriately?
As psychologists Jana Iverson and Susan Goldin-Meadow have noted, a baby who points at a new object might prompt her parent to label and describe the object.
If the parent responds this way, the baby gets information at just the right momentwhen she is curious and attentive. And that could have big implications for learning .
Experiments have confirmed the effect: Babies are quicker to learn the name of an object if they initiate a lesson by pointing. And if the adult tries to initiate by labeling an object that the baby didnt point at? Then there is no special learning effect .
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Sign Language Contributes To Emotional Stability
As babies learn to sign, they experience less frustration and more happiness. They tell you what they need and you understand them. No more wasting time and energy on guessing what they are asking for.
This allows you to focus more on giving them proper care and attention. In turn, they feel content and at ease. This also fosters your babys trust and confidence in you.
And The Social And Emotional Benefits Is There Evidence That Baby Signing Reduces Frustration Or Stress
Individual families might experience benefits. But without controlled studies, its hard to know if its really learning to sign that makes the difference.
Its also hard to know if the effect is general something most families would experience if they tried it.
To date, claims about stress arent well-supported. One study found that parents enrolled in a signing course felt less stressed afterwards, but this study didnt measure parents stress levels before the study began, so we cant draw conclusions .
Nevertheless, there are hints that signing may help some parents become more attuned to what their babies are thinking.
In the study led by Elizabeth Kirk, the researchers found that mothers who had been instructed to use baby signs behaved differently than mothers in the control group. The signing mothers tended to be more responsive to their babies nonverbal cues, and they were more likely to encourage independent exploration .
So perhaps baby signing encourages parents to pay extra attention when they communicate. Because they are consciously trying to teach signs, they are more likely to scrutinize their babies nonverbal signals.
As a result, some parents might become better baby mind-readers than they might otherwise have been, and thats a good thing. Being tuned into your babys thoughts and feelings helps your baby learn faster.
And this begs the question: Does teaching your baby signs necessarily give you more insight into what your baby wants?
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Baby Sign Language Allows Children To Communicate Earlier Than Verbal Speech:
Babies and toddlers can understand far more than they can express. Receptive language skills usually develop before expressive language skills . Learning to coordinate your tongue and teeth to produce words is a tricky skill and most babies wont be able to do this until around 12 months.
However, gestures or signs can be produced much earlier . So a baby who can sign will be able to communicate much earlier than those babies who use only words to communicate.
Benefits Of Teaching Baby Sign Language
If you teach your baby the most important signs from as early as six months old, you will improve parent-child bonding, increase IQ and lessen crying tantrums.
Did you know? In the late 1970s, some researchers realised that hearing babies of deaf parents could communicate their needs at a much earlier age than those with hearing parents.
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Baby Sign Language Basics For Beginners
Have you taught your baby sign language? Id love to hear your best tips and tricks or favorite words to teach them!
If youre just starting, you can totally do this the results are SO worth it!
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Jen is a Registered Nurse, owner of Minnesota Momma, and mom of two little ones. She loves to focus on topics that keep families happy and healthy from pregnancy through birth and beyond.
Do I Need To Take A Baby Sign Language Class To Get Started
The answer to this is actually no.
There are many materials available to purchase for home use.
Here I am teaching a baby sign language class!
However, there are benefits to participating in a baby sign language class with your little one.
- being able to ask the instructor questions
- enjoying quality time with your baby
- learning new songs and activities
- seeing other babies learn to sign
- hearing stories from other parents
If you are interested in taking a class, I highly recommend the classes by Baby Signs® .
To find a certified Baby Signs® instructor in your area, please click here..
If they dont offer classes in your area, a quick google search should give you many results.
Make sure to find a class that isnt too focused on ASL and teaches only a handful of signs per class.
No need to go overboard as signing with your baby is meant to be a transition until spoken words start happening. Just like crawling is a transition to walking!
Let me know if you have any questions regarding teaching your baby sign language!
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Do Baby Signing Programs Boost Long
Overall, the evidence is lacking.
The very first studies hinted that baby sign language training could be at least somewhat advantageous, but only for a brief time period .
In these studies, Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn instructed parents to use baby signs with their infants. Then the researchers tracked the children across 6 time points, up to the age of 36 months.
When the childrens language skills were tested at each time point, the researchers found that babies taught signs were sometimes a bit more advanced than babies in a control group.
For instance, the signing children seemed to possess larger receptive vocabularies. They recognized more words.
But the effect was weak, and detected only for a couple of time points during the middle of the study.
For the last two time points, when babies were 30 months and 36 months old, there were no statistically significant differences between groups .
In other words, there was no evidence that babies benefited in a lasting way.
And more recent studies using stringent controls have also failed to find any long-term vocabulary advantage for babies taught to sign .
For example, Elizabeth Kirk and her colleagues randomly assigned 20 mothers to supplement their speech with symbolic gestures of baby sign language.
The babies were tracked from 8 months to 20 months of age, and showed no linguistic benefits compared to babies in a control group.
Is Sign Language Good For Babies
The answer is yes! Not only is this a valuable language for kiddos to learn, but it could even help them express the emotions they dont have the words for yet. Baby sign language gives kids the opportunity to express frustration, which could prevent crying and tantrums. Remember, when teaching baby how to sign, be verbal. Sign language is not meant to replace oral communication, so make sure youre talking as you sign, so your child learns to speak in both languages.
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Be Consistent With Your Signing
Teaching your child is the easy part. Ensuring you consistently repeat the sign when ever possible is whats hard. If youve had a long day or have worked late, mustering the energy to teach sign language can be a stretch.
With repetition theyll pick up the signs a lot faster and once theyve learned them, theyll be familiar with the process of learning new signs.
And when your baby starts signing back, be proud about it. Even if their signs bear no resemblance at all to the sign. It keeps them engaged and will reinforce their learning if they can see it makes you happy.
What Age Should You Start Teaching Baby Sign Language
The good news is, its never too late to teach your baby to sign. If youre thinking about signing with your 12-month-old, go for it! As long as you approach sign language as a fun way to connect with your baby, rather than as a chore, the experience should be a positive one for any preverbal tot.
As for when you should ideally start, you can begin showing your baby signs between the ages of 4 to 6 months, but dont expect instant results. Babies are just beginning to learn how to use their little hands to grasp and hold things at that age, so most likely your baby wont begin signing back until around the 8-month mark. Until then, focus on teaching signs through repetition. For instance, if youre teaching the sign for milk , you should make the sign and say the word out loud, show your baby the bottle, and then give the bottle to them.
Dont wait for your baby to make the sign back before giving them their milk or toy. Remember, teaching your child to sign is going to take practice and patience. As long you practice the signs with them multiple times each day , then youre on the right path.
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