Sometimes our baby requests a sign which catches us off guard. Instead of making a sign up, you can explain to your baby that you just don’t know and then look it up as soon as you possibly can. Depending on your baby’s age, this might do. An older baby is much more likely to remember their interest and pick up the sign later, but a younger baby with a shorter memory, might forget. This means you’ve lost the teachable moment. What do to?
Well, first of all you might just say the word out loud. Even though your baby won’t be able to say a word, he’ll at least know the verbal label. Just as baby’s pre-sign are still benefiting from watching a parent sign, a pre-verbal baby still benefits from hearing the word spoken – this is a given. If your baby habitually surprises you, you might take the time to learn some bigger categories to prepare yourself. What I mean by “categories”, is for example, the sign for ANIMAL. That way when your baby wants to know the sign for KANGAROO and you don’t know it, you can just do the sign for ANIMAL and then explain that you’ll look up the specific sign later on. You can also learn the sign category for all sorts of other things too.
Sometimes you come across words that don’t have signs. These are usually fingerspelled and include names of people, places, and so forth. These you would usually just say out loud, but you can also try fingerspelling them at the same time. You might find that your baby will actually imitate you as you do this. In fact, this is how my son began fingerspelling as he made the sign for T.V. which is fingerspelled “T” and “V.” All along we figured there was no way he’d be able to do it, but sure enough he made his own approximation and it got the job done!
So never underestimate your baby’s abilities, you just might be surprised by how much he remembers and what he finds important.