|Baby A, MandyE and Baby B|
As a mom to twin toddlers, now 21 months old, I often get the question, “What is the one baby item you could not have lived without?”
While I certainly have my favorite baby blankets and lullaby CD’s from the girls’ first few months, the real lifesaver for me over the past year has been teaching the girls the basics of baby sign language.
When I mention this to most people, they marvel how hard I must have worked to teach our girls, or some people comment that they tried it with their children, but just didn’t have success.
I knew very little about baby sign language when the girls were born, but I had heard enough that I knew it was something I wanted to explore. I bought a “how to” book online, and I’ll admit that the introduction – filled with examples of children naming every last zoo animal – was pretty daunting.
Still, I believed in the basic premise of baby sign language, that children have the capacity to communicate long before they have the ability to form words. I decided to focus on a few key words and phrases, ones I thought would really make my life easier…and if the girls eventually wanted to know the sign for “hippopotamus”, I’d figure that out when we got there.
By the time they were 18 months old, I’m proud (or at least amazed) to say that our girls in fact did know the sign for “hippopotamus”. It seems like once they grasped the concept of being able to convey ideas with their hands, they learned quickly…and suddenly they began to find a lot of joy in communicating.
Here are the keys to our success:
• Identify a couple of key phrases to focus on. For me, those were “all done”, which I hoped would tell me when to stop coaxing the girls to eat their broccoli, and “sleep”, which I hoped would help avoid meltdowns from overtired babies.
• Be consistent with using the sign every time you say the word or phrase. Starting when they were about eight months old, every time the girls would finish eating, I would declare, “All done!” I would make the sign, and I would physically move their hands to make the sign, as well. I consistently did this until they eventually caught on, around 10 months old.
• Gradually expand the sign language vocabulary, using the most common words to the baby’s environment. After the girls had been successfully signing for a month or so, I opted to focus on two new words, “ball” (of which we have at least 115 in our den) and “bird”. Every time I picked up a ball, I would make the sign. And whenever we observed a bird through the window, or as we were walking in the neighborhood, I would flap my arms. I’m sure I looked a little nutty to the unindoctrinated, but the girls began to incorporate these signs after a couple of weeks. They would just beam when I would interpret their sign correctly.
We continued in this fashion, adding new words every couple of weeks. And by the time the girls were a year and a half old, they could have given a tour at the zoo…at least for those fluent in baby sign language.
Teaching the girls the first couple of signs did take some perseverance, but after that it seemed to evolve very easily. I am a big proponent of baby sign language helping to reduce the frustration that many infants and toddlers experience at not being able to communicate their needs and wants. And it’s definitely allowed us to have some great conversations…
Mommy, please, we’ve had enough spinach already! Hello…I’m tired…I would never fuss for no reason, ya know? Could you please hand me the ball that’s fallen behind the sofa? Come check out this squirrel peering through the window at me!
Granted, I’m filling in the blanks here just a bit, but baby sign language has been a lifesaver, and a lot of fun, to boot.
Have you tried Baby Sign Language with your kids? What were your experiences? What 'signs' would you like to teach your child to make life in your household a little easier?
You can find MandyE over at My Life as Described by Twin Trials and Triumphs where she blogs motherhood and life with twins...the joys, the challenges, and all the fun in between.