Introduction

Thankfully, baby sign language has become very common lately and is becoming ever more so moving forward. If you don’t know someone specifically who does sign, then you’ve heard about it in the media or through a search online. For some reason, this motivated you to sign up to this program to learn exactly how to do it. Have you thought about why you want to teach baby sign? Was it for the challenge, the ability to move conversations forward, was it to reduce tantrums when baby turns two, was it to show off, or did you just think it would be something fun to do with your baby? Hopefully it’s a healthy balance of all of these, because if it’s for the wrong reasons, you’re unlikely to get the full benefit of the course. Signing with your baby is multifaceted and so requires parents to look at it within the proper context. For example, signing just to show off to others, is the wrong reason to sign, and will probably leave you frustrated, stressed-out and bored. If this is the only thing that makes you tick, you might even give up prematurely. All parents should note this from the start: Sign with your baby because it’s fun, nothing more. Yes, there are plenty of side benefits to signing with your baby, your baby might even gain a few IQ points for having done so, but the tried and true reason to signing, which never disappoints, is the amusement you and your developing baby will experience. This is invaluable!

Above: Courtney walks through how using the signs FRUSTRATE and HELP can reduce tantrums.

The good news is that depending on your baby’s age, he might already be signing! Babies raise their hands to be picked up, they point to things they want, the wave bye when parents head to work, and most amazingly of all, they pick these things up passively from observing the gestures done by people around them. Babies are amazing little creatures. All people use silent language – it’s a natural thing to do. Can you imagine trying to “point” someone in the right direction without using your hands, arms and other body language? We all use our hands while we speak, it’s an inherent part of our DNA. We very likely used our hands coupled with grunts to speak thousands of years ago. This “rudimentary” communication skill has stuck with us despite our abilities to use complex vocalizations. Signing is simply a revival of communication skills we used eons ago.

Babies are no different, and if you don’t teach them to use sign, they’ll still use gestures to convey their wants and needs – they’ll simply do it with much less clarity. In fact, in a lot of ways, signing with your baby is easier than not signing with your baby. Signs allow your baby to express themselves specifically thereby eliminating the 20-questions game most non-signing parents endlessly endure. Signs give infants a way to communicate their wants and needs more precisely than smiling, cooing and crying. If you don’t teach baby to signs, then they’ll resort to other means – and there will be times when it’s not so pretty – think tantrums in busy shopping malls!

Babies are born intelligent, but their minds aren’t born organized. While they have certain tendencies according to their genes, their brains are a clean slate for which experiences will be written. Babies are also born helpless, their muscles and the coordination required to use their bodies are undeveloped. Signing is a way to utilize their best abilities according to their developmental stage. Take baby’s speech apparatus by example, which is incapable of producing complex sound until years after birth. Obviously multisyllabic words, let alone sentences are impossible until a baby’s development catches up. In fact, most babies won’t produce understandable words until 12-16 months of age, and children won’t use 2-3 word sentences until 18-21 months of age. However, 4 month old babies have been documented making the sign for milk. This is because their motor coordination and brain capacity have been correctly matched. Signing is just a way to couple ability with capacity.

Signing follows the same trajectory as verbalization. Signs begin as large movements due to a lack of fine motor coordination. This is why signs are often approximated meaning they look close to true ALS signs, but are not exact. When vocalizations are made, the same coordination is required except this time it’s through the mouth, tongue and vocal cords. The only difference between the two is that speech requires more advanced coordination since it involves much smaller and more delicate processes. Signs made by hand and arms are done through much larger muscles making them easier to produce. When signs first appear though, they also lack clarity. However as baby progresses, they are able to utilize their fingers to make better approximations of the signs in ASL. Babies understand a lot more than what we give them credit for, let signing prove this to you!

Ideally you want to teach signs early. The 11-month benchmark is an excellent time to start, but plenty of parents are successful starting even earlier. The “terrible twos” habitually creep in at 12-24 months and you want to be well equipped with sign by this time. One likely theory says that the terrible twos are due to the frustration experienced by toddlers who’s understanding of the world has exceeded their ability to communicate it. Imagine being able to understand your wants and needs, but lack the ability to ask for and talk about them. This is a sure recipe to infuriate. Signs will arm you and your toddler with an arsenal of words to defend against daily frustrations reducing or eliminating flare-ups and tantrums leading to a more well adjusted child. In early life, babies have very little control over their lives. Signs gives them an early voice allowing them to express themselves and their needs. This power and control will foster self esteem, emotional integrity, and even stimulate intellectual growth.

There are many other benefits to signing aside from just tantrum reduction. Signing has been scientifically proven to increase IQ, vocabulary and literacy, produce better infant-parent bonds through shared attention, build confidence by becoming an active member of the household and through reduced surprises, create stronger sibling relationships, cut back on aggressive behaviours such as hitting and biting, and make Mom and Dad’s life easier!

Socializing with parents is a key component to proper development and signing with your baby will give you plenty of opportunity to converse with your little angel. While signing you will spend a lot of time face-to-face, discussing books and talking about birds and other animals. In fact, when compared to non-signing parents, you’re going to spend literally dozens of hours more each week talking directly to your baby. This is doing wonders for them. This one-on-one interaction is making your baby feel important and listened to, and isn’t something that can be replaced by technology. No DVD, or television program can provide love and affection like you can. Your baby adores you, and he wants to be with you stripped away from all other distractions. Your baby wants you to come into their world, and them into yours – so taking the time to sign with them, is a wonderful excuse to share this wonderful world together.

Since you have signed up for this course, you obviously have an open mind about baby sign language, so congratulations! You intuitively understand that baby signing is not going to delay your baby’s language development and might have even read the studies confirming the exact opposite. You’ve also chosen to take a more active stance at communicating with your baby. In other words, you aren’t just popping in a signing DVD for baby and ignoring them as they glaze over in their playpen. For some reason you are blessed with the knowledge that signing, and communication at large, is more than a passive thing baby experiences with inanimate objects – it’s more than hitting the play button and walking away.

Stick with me through this book and you’ll learn everything you need to know to teach signing efficiently to your hearing baby. The goal of this book is to cover all the ins and outs of signing, you will learn the why’s, how’s, when’s and what ifs of baby sign. By the end of this book you’ll be able to devise your own system to signing which may include various elements of the fast track program or something more suited to your pace, teaching style and your baby’s learning preferences. Luckily, babies find far fewer things important than do adults, so we can get away with teaching them more basic signs. In all, this course includes about 350 signs. If you stick to signing right through to the end, you and your baby, will learn to sign activities, foods, names for caregivers and family, animals, objects and things, basic commands like no, no touch, manners and much, much more.

Above: Playing around with family signs.

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