Two years ago with Buddy Boy I discovered the book Baby Signs; How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. They present a system of teaching sign language to babies starting around six to nine months old, on the theory that babies know what they want and are much happier, easier to live with, and learn faster when they can communicate their thoughts and desires. I started teaching Buddy Boy when he was about nine or ten months old. He was right around a year when he really took off with using signs. Especially at meal time, when he knew what he wanted and would tend to scream and throw things out of frustration if he couldn’t get his meaning across, the signing really made a huge difference in our lives. I believe it helped him develop more sophisticated language skills at a younger age, which is what this book says will happen.
So now I am working with Punkin on learning some signs. So far he waves bye-bye and blows kisses. His only other sign is one he made up himself independently. When he is really hungry he bangs his left fist against his chest repeatedly. He stands at the kitchen gate while I’m cooking supper, peering through the bars whimpering and banging his little fist against his chest as if to say “Oh Ma, come on hurry I am about to faint here! I’m starvin’ like Marvin!”
Breakfast every morning is ‘O’ cereal and milk and bananas, so we are working on the signs for those things first. He claps his hands together when he wants more, which I think is pretty close to the sign for it. We also have two board books showing baby signs, Baby Signs for Meal Times and First Baby Signs. We have the Baby Einstein tape Wordsworth, which is all about baby signs too. He is not much into watching videos yet, and doesn’t sit still long for books, but I think it’s good to keep presenting the ideas in little doses all throughout the day. I lent the books and tape to my mom for her to use while doing day care too, and next year when I move Punkin to Buddy Boys’ daycare I am going to try to get them to use baby signs too.
In my experience it is one of the really wonderful developments in understanding child development in the last 20 years. They really do understand so much more than they can express at around a year old, and being able to communicate with their family and care givers makes a huge difference. The research done by the NIH showed that 24 month olds who used baby signs were communicating like 27 or 28 month olds, giving them a 3 month advantage on their age mates. 36 month olds were talking like 47 month olds, giving them almost a full year’s advantage. Eight year olds who had used baby signs scored an average of 12 points higher in IQ tests. They concluded that baby signs help children develop both language and cognitive skills. From my point of view, if it cuts down on screaming, whining and throwing food off the high chair tray it is worth it!