I remember when Grandpa paid us a visit, naturally that meant it was time to show off baby signing skills. It was just after Halloween so we had pumpkin seeds around and where munching on them. We quickly looked up the sign for SEED after my son showed interest in what we fussing about. We showed the family how we could teach our son signs even when he couldn’t say the words. The sign for SEED is done by brushing the fingertips together tip to tip as if sowing seeds, with the palm facing downward. We did the sign a few times, had Grandpa do the sign, then mom and dad did it too. We gave my son a few seeds and repeated the sign.
After a few minutes my son was easily doing a sign approximation for SEEDS by itself to ask for more. This is a pretty common thing – when a baby signs something it usually they want more of it. For example, signing MILK isn’t an attempt to discuss how it comes from cows (or mom!), but rather in effort to get more of it. However, to our astonishment, our boy began combining signs. He signed MORE and SEEDS. He had completed a signed sentence which is defined as two or more words signed in quick succession. You might not find this all that amazing, but as far as a developmental milestone, it is. It didn’t stop there though, as he followed his second word with GRANDPA! This was the first time he combined three signs together into a sentence.
Without signs, my son would have been far off communicating his wants. Instead he might have made rudimentary grunts or reached toward the seeds and made eye contact with the person he wanted to grab them for him. Signing gave him the power to speak directly to a person and make a clear request. This is why signing gives children the edge in language development. As signing babies progress they use the foundation provided by sign language to construct the rules of communication. Because signing babies have labels for the things around them, they can move onto more advanced things. Non-signing babies are still working on labels and only when they have mastered enough of these, can they create sentences. This means they play catch-up to the signers.