Try This Tuesday: Teaching Sign Language to Kids

22 Sep

Try This Tuesday

I know there’s an ongoing debate about whether or not to teach kids sign language before they learn to talk.  I’m definitely an advocate, and thought I’d share our story.  We didn’t do anything “fancy” and didn’t have set teaching times.  I checked out one book from the library, but I don’t even remember what it was anymore, and, quite frankly, barely even looked at it.  Most of our education came through the wonderful Baby Einstein signing DVDs.  We started with Baby Wordsworth, which teaches 30 vocabulary words for things around the house in both spoken and signed language.  We later added My First Signs when it was released.  It teaches 20 common first vocabulary words in both spoken and signed language.  Both feature Marlee Matlin, colorful puppets, lively music and entertaining story skits.  They also include wonderful bonus feature tracks that extend the teaching and let you interact a little more.  The bonus features also teach some additional/advanced vocabulary words not included in the main video.

Jenna watches a movie while she’s on her feeding pump each morning for one hour.  This was an easy way for us to incorporate teaching.  We started when she was about 9 months old.  We watched with her, and learned at the same time she did.  Jenna was completely engrossed.  We were basically hoping to teach a few “essential” words like “more,” “hot,” “cold,” “drink,” “blanket,” and “all-done.”  We were truly amazed at how Jenna took off with learning.  Often, I would realize that she was signing something and would have to re-watch the video to figure out what it was.  It wasn’t long until she was signing every word from both videos, and teaching US some that we hadn’t picked up on.    It made communication so much easier and, I think, eliminated potential melt-down and tantrum situations.  It’s hard to know how she would have handled frustration about not being able to communicate with us, since we don’t have a “non-sign-language Jenna” to compare to, but I feel fairly certain that we would have had a lot more problems as a result of failure to communicate without signing.

I think all parents realize very early on that their kids are understanding language LONG before they’re speaking it.  From my child development studies, I also know that kids have the motor ability to sign before they have the ability to speak.  Without sign language, parents and children have a tendency to resort to gestures and pointing anyway.  Sign language just seems like a natural extension of that desire to communicate.

I think it’s important to make the learning fun, no matter whether you use DVDs like these, or some other method of teaching.  Jenna also “modified” many of the signs to be her own version of what we saw.  Most kids will tend to have their own “style” and method for different signs.  Just like with spoken language, the important thing is that you understand what they’re trying to tell you.

One of the main arguments against teaching sign language is that it delays spoken speech.  I’m not sure what the data is on this, but I can tell you about Jenna.  At 18 months, she had a sign language vocabulary of 30-50 words.  From there, it seemed like she added new signed words every day.  Right around her second birthday, she started speaking more.  Amazingly, she was immediately speaking in short (correct) phrases, which quickly evolved into sentences.  She had very little problem with pronoun usage and other common trouble spots for toddlers learning to talk.  I have another friend who taught her son sign language, and she said that he spoke later than “average,” but, again, had an amazing vocabulary and was almost immediately speaking in (correct) phrases and sentences.

So, if you’re considering teaching your baby sign language, I’d highly recommend it.  I also highly recommend the Baby Einstein movies. ( Just make sure that you watch them too!!)  It’s so amazing to see your baby’s joy at being able to tell you something, and it’s definitely worth any chance that it might decrease melt-downs and tantrums.


12 responses to “Try This Tuesday: Teaching Sign Language to Kids

  1. Karen Putz/ DeafMom

    September 22, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    I always enjoy reading other mom’s experiences with teaching signs to their infants and toddlers. I loved watching the emerging signs with my own kids, from sloppy signs to perfectly formed signs– it was a lot of fun to learn what they were thinking before they could say it.

  2. Moms At Work

    September 23, 2008 at 8:38 am

    We’re big fans of the Baby Einstein DVDs, too!

  3. Jenny

    September 23, 2008 at 10:05 am

    Jackson also had a much easier time learning signs than words, and that’s the primary way he communicated with us up until he turned 3. He still uses signs for some words, and will often use a sign in addition to saying a word. I never focused on teaching my younger daughter sign language, but she picked up on it just by watching Jackson and me do it.

    Thanks for sharing your experience with sign language. I love the idea of a fun educational video while on the feeding pump! FYI, the Siging Time videos are also great.

  4. Bitsy

    September 23, 2008 at 11:09 am

    Sign language was a HUGE help to us before Bug finally started talking.

  5. Heather~Domestic Extraordinaire

    September 23, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    What a wonderful idea. My BF is having her baby soon, I may just get her these for the gift of communication.

  6. Insta-mom

    September 23, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    We taught MiniMe sign language at 1 yr. My brother, who made fun of it at first, saw how well it worked and taught his own son. We’re starting with the twins soon. I recommend it to everyone I know.

    We used the Signing Time videos, and now that it’s on PBS we record it on the DVR to save money. But I know there are a lot of great resources out there.

  7. ASL Yia Yia

    September 23, 2008 at 4:22 pm

    In my profession, I find signing with babies to be an invaluable tool. It is fascinating to see both moms and kids light up!

  8. Heather of the EO

    September 23, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    Wow, Jenna knew A LOT of signs!
    We used signs with our first with great success. Then with our second, we found that we would try and try to teach a sign, like MORE, for instance and he would just look at us like we were crazy. I’d show him over and over and then all of the sudden he would just speak the word MORE. Hilarious really! No need for signs with Asher. He likes to just talk 🙂

  9. Julie

    September 23, 2008 at 8:42 pm

    We used Baby Signs long before I found out my son has Autism. I think it helped SO much and we would have had far less communication without them. When his eye contact “disappeared” I couldn’t teach new signs anymore. Of course, I understand all of this looking back. I didn’t know all of this while it was happening…

  10. Smart Baby Sign Language

    September 24, 2008 at 6:32 am

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with Sign Language. When I started teaching my daughter two-years ago I was looking everywhere for people to share my journey with. Now that she’s two, I’m finding people who sign with their children everywhere!

    I loved watching signing DVDs with my daughter. It taught us both how to sign. I’m having a contest at my blog to win $100 worth of Baby Signing Time products. If this would help your family, please enter!

  11. Trish

    September 24, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    This is wonderful! I totally agree that signing is a good thing because it opens up communication. I have heard many speakers say that it does not interfere with speech; kids will talk unless they are not able due to some aspect of their disability.

  12. psychmamma

    September 28, 2008 at 10:06 am

    Wow! It’s great to see so many moms using sign language with their kids! Thanks for all your comments. I’ll have to check out the Signing Times videos. I haven’t seen them yet.

    Smart Baby Sign Language –
    Thanks for the info about your fabulous giveaway! I registered, and I hope others who see it here will too! Your website is also a great resource for parents, and I hope they take advantage of it!


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