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As seen in Washington Families Magazine, December 2003.

5 Reasons Why Parents Love Signing With Babies
Eileen Ladino, founder of TinyFingers.com Sign Language Classes for Hearing Babies & Toddlers

In the past decade, a growing number of parents worldwide have discovered the joys of using simple sign language with their preverbal babies.  Why sign language?  Babies can gain control of their hands long before they develop the oral motor skills necessary for speech, so signs allow little ones to express their thoughts without crying or whining – a bonus for both babies and parents.  But reducing frustration is just one reason parents love using Baby sign language.

Here’s what researchers Linda Acredcolo, PhD and Susan Goodwyn, PhD, the authors of Baby Signs:  How to Talk with Your Baby Before  Your Baby Can Talk (Contemporary Books, 2002), have found in their 20 years of research on the effects of Baby sign language on babies’ development.

Baby sign language

1.       help babies talk sooner . . . and boost spoken vocabulary

2.       empower babies to direct adults’ attention to what they want to talk about

3.       reduce frustration

4.       provide a strong foundation for early literacy

5.       stimulate intellectual development

1 Baby sign language help babies talk sooner

One concern that parents have is the effect of sign language on speech development.  Acredolo and Goodwyn have found that Baby Signers actually talk sooner than non-signers.  The reason being that they are using expressive language from an earlier age, playing with words, ideas and pairing them up before they have even developed the oral motor skills necessary for speech.  In addition, they have found that by age 8, children who signed had stronger reading skills than those who did not.  For more information on this NIH funded research, please go to www.BabySigns.com.

2 Baby sign language Empower Babies to Initiate Conversation

Most babies will show signs of wanting to communicate by coming up with their own simple gestures:  they will raise their arms to say “Pick me up,” reach for things they want, pat the couch to say “up”, or open their mouth wide when they want more food.  Signs expand on this idea and offer children an opportunity to communicate about specific ideas or concepts. 

After returning from a walk around the neighborhood, Isabel looked at her mom and signed “airplane.”  
“Yes,” her mom said, “we saw a big airplane up in the sky today.  It was flying to a place far away.” 

In this exchange, the child expressed a topic on her mind and the parent was able to elaborate on it, modeling language on a topic the child initiated. 

3 Baby sign language Reduce Frustration

Parents and researchers agree that after learning Baby sign language as a communication tool, both child and parent have fewer moments of frustration that stem from a lack of communication.  Tantrums decrease, and parents have found that they can discipline or redirect their child in public without using their voice, therefore avoiding embarrassing moments for the child. 

The most frustrating age for a toddler is 17-22 months because although he is mobile and he understands what you’re saying, he may not be able to communicate about what he wants.    Sign language can help clarify communication between parent and child, replacing grunts and whining with clear expressions of thoughts.  Children as young as 6 to 8 months old can understand the signs for “milk,”  “more,” and “all done.”  Between 8 and 12 months, children often begin signing “more” when they are out of Cheerios or would like another push on a swing, or they will sign “all done” when they have had enough to eat or want to leave the mall.   Once children start speaking, parents have found that signs help fill in the gaps until the child is able to intelligibly communicate all the thoughts he wants to share.

4. Baby sign language Provide a Strong Foundation for Early Literacy

Signs make books more meaningful to babies.  Your child can be an active participant in story time, labeling pictures and predicting what comes next in their favorite books.  This kind of participation and interaction helps children understand the similarities and differences between concepts.  When they first learn the sign for “dog,” they may generalize it and label all mammals in a book “dog.”  Once the parent has helped them learn to see the distinguishing features of a dog, a horse and a bear, they can then learn to generalize the sign for “dog” to the family pet, a stuffed animal and the star of Blue’s Clues, given appropriate feedback from adults.

5. Baby sign language Stimulate Intellectual Development

Participation in reading activities, along with the vocabulary boost inherent in early communication, lead to stronger early reading skills.  Marilyn Daniels, author of Dancing With Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy (Bergin & Garvey, 2001), found in her research that hearing students in pre-kindergarten who had the benefit of adding the visual and kinesthetic (movement) elements of sign language to verbal and written language scored significantly higher on standardized vocabulary tests than hearing students with no sign instruction.  Adding sign language to verbal communication has been found to help enhance a preschool child’s vocabulary, spelling and early reading skills. 

Eileen Ladino is the founder of www.tinyfingers.com.   She earned an MA in Deaf Education from Gallaudet University and has 15 years of experience as a teacher of both deaf and hearing students and as a freelance sign language interpreter.  She is now experiencing the joy of using American Sign Language with her own daughter and is dedicated to improving communication between babies and their parents & caregivers through her tiny fingers classes. 
www.tinyfingers.com                          sign language classes & videos for babies & toddlers


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