The desire for enrichment classes geared towards babies and toddlers have become very popular in the United States. Teaching sign language to children as young as 6 months, and in some cases younger, is a growing industry, and the demand for baby-signing videos and classes have gone up a over 200 percent over the last few years.
Signing for infants and toddlers is offered as a way for parents to communicate with children who are too young to communicate, a way for the infants and toddlers to express wants and needs that parents and care givers mostly have to guess at in response to crying.
I had signed with my day care children for many years and my older two children at a young age, but not as much as I should have, apparently. When my son was born in February 2007, the research was very prevailing, and I wanted to give him the advantage from birth. At 23 months, he now has almost 400 words, combined signed and spoken, but mainly spoken. He also has multiple 2-5 word sentences. He produced his first sign younger than 6 months of age.
Like an increasing number of parents, I wanted to make the most of my infant’s natural urge to communicate — capitalizing on a window of opportunity in which infant’s gesture long before they talk. Hand gesturing is a natural part of any baby’s development. Without much coaching, a baby who is offered food when he is not hungry might shake his head vigorously; a baby whose mother leaves the house might wave his hand or start trying to reach out for his dad.
By actively teaching their pre-verbal babies to express themselves with sign language, parents are taking such gesturing a step further. For example, babies could learn to ask for a book by placing their hands together (palm to palm) and then opening the hands while maintaining contact between the pinkie fingers or to ask for food by rubbing their tummies. (Some baby-signing programs recommend using only gestures from American Sign Language; others believe children should be allowed to create their own gestures.) Babies exposed to true ASL signs regularly from an early age can generally begin using them effectively by 6 or 9 months or younger — even before they can say them, much sooner than those that use mere gestures, and even sooner then those who used no sins what so ever.
ASL Advocates believe that its signs are easy for babies to learn and that it offers the additional benefit of being widely known and understood. You want your child to learn another language correctly, just as you want them to speak correctly. You would not teach your baby made up words for things, so why would you want to teach them made up signs? Look for programs that only use ASL, if you want your child to have the highest level of benefits.
Signing provides children with far more than just basic communication skills. Signing can increase self-esteem and happiness, reduce fussiness and temper tantrums, improve a child’s intellect, improve problem-solving skills, and help toddlers get along better with each other. It also strengthens the bond between parent and child, as you are able to communicate effectively with your baby. Signing has also been proven to enhance early language and literacy skills, enabling children to speak sooner and develop larger vocabularies. Many studies even attribute significant increases in IQ to early signing.
Signing with children with special needs is also very beneficial. Since many children with special needs will have trouble speaking for quite some time, teaching them to sign will lessen the chances of tantrums and frustration (on both sides!). There have been many parents with special needs children, especially those with children with Downs Syndrome, Autism, and Apraxia, saying their child learned to sign and all of a sudden had a language explosion, much sooner than they would be expected to.
Numerous parents, caregivers, and others who work with young signing children have confirmed the findings that research has conclusively indicated: that babies who sign tend to have a stronger command of verbal language and often begin speaking at an earlier age than babies who do not sign, with their personal experiences and observations. Multiple professionals, including Speech-Language professionals, pediatricians, and educators are supporting the use of signs to encourage early language development.
A study funded by the National Institutes of Health and reported in 2000 endorsed the contention that signing yielded verbal benefits. “The study showed signing facilitates learning to talk,” says Linda Acredolo, a professor emeritus of psychology at UC Davis and the report’s coauthor. Up to and even beyond age 3, children who had been instructed in signing had an advantage over non-signing children in language development. “The study also found that signing offers an intellectual advantage,” says Acredolo. Around the age of 8 years, those children who were taught to sign as babies, toddler, and preschoolers, were found to have IQs 12 points higher than their non-signing counterparts. The study’s authors offer a variety of theories for this apparent benefit. They suggest that the observed IQ advantage associated with signing might be the result of “jump-starting” a baby’s intellectual development. They also speculate that the social and emotional benefits of signing, such as higher self-confidence, can have long-term effects on IQ.
When looking for a sign class for your child, make sure to look for the following items:
• ASL background of the instructor(s)
• The program is American Sign Language based, and not mere gestures
• Past class participant satisfaction
• Instructor(s) education level
• Whether or not the instructor has had success with their own child(ren)
It is very important, especially in this electronic age that parents and young children interact face to face, instead of letting their children spend hours in front of a television set, computer or video game system.
Becka has a Bachelors in Early Childhood Education and Development, and has 17 years experience in the field. She is a Certified Parent Educator and Licensed Baby, Toddler, and Preschool Sign Language Instructor. You can visit her site, at www.learnandgrowtogether.com