Monday, June 21, 2010

Sign Language

I was talking to someone on the internet the other day about baby sign language. She said she would never teach her kids to sign, because she found it "annoying".

I couldn't respond. For one thing, I'm not sure how communicating with your child could be considered annoying. Besides, after years working with special needs students, it seemed natural to me to sign. So, when Miles was still incredibly small - less than two months old - Patrick and I began signing "milk" to him every time we gave him a bottle.

At six months old, he was consistently telling us when he wanted "milk". And if we signed it back to him before preparing the bottle, he was far calmer than when we forgot. It was obvious to us that this communication was essential for him. Frustration and tears diminished immensely on both sides.

With the success of "milk", we began adding signs. Now, at less than nine months old, Miles tells us when his diaper needs changing ("potty"), when he wants a "cookie", and "more" (though he's less consistent on that one). And, he recognizes "drink", "food", and "play".

Then, this week, he made the next cognitive leap. He wanted something he didn't have a sign for. So, he signed at me, waving his hand crazily over his head and saying "ahhh!" I told him I didn't know what that meant. He crawled over to the stereo cabinet, pulled himself up on it, and banged on the door. "Music?" I asked. He grinned and sat down, waving his hand over his head again. I turned on the music and he danced for almost fifteen minutes straight. That night, I asked Bethany for the sign for music. Then, every time he would make his crazy sign over his head, I used the sign and said, "Music?"

This morning, he signed "music" to me, clearly and earnestly.

I've read several studies, all of which conclude that babies who can communicate through sign language before they speak tend to learn to talk earlier and more clearly, and with a larger vocabulary. Plus, they tend to score higher on intelligence tests, have higher self-confidence, and are more sophisticated in their play than babies who don't sign.

I don't know about the rest, yet, but Miles has already started to talk. He clearly says, "Hi!" when people walk in. He also says, "Dada", "Mama" (when he's not being ornery), "Dg" (dog), "kitty", "hey!", and Stacey swears he calls her "Tay". (I haven't heard it yet, though it wouldn't surprise me in the least). He's beginning to learn that things have names and he will often bring me toys or stuffed animals and look at me as if asking for the word. When I know the sign, I give him both the sign and the spoken word. Otherwise, I just give him the spoken word. More and more, he tries to repeat what I've said.

And this whole process has taught me two things:

1) That poor lady who finds it 'annoying' is losing out on so much.

2) I need to learn more sign language!

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