Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Guest Post - Hey, Baby, What’s Your Sign?

Baby A, MandyE and Baby B
 I am so lucky today to have my blogging friend MandyE from the US doing a guest post today on Baby Sign language. Mandy and I have similar aged twins and I can tell you that this signing thing seems to work because her girls are chattering away like a pair of old Nannas. Not bad for 21 months! Over to you, Mandy…

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.


life in a pink fibro said...

Wow, I've read about signing but never heard from a 'real person' who's used it. I am a doubting Thomasina no longer.

Tenille said...

I hadn't heard from a 'real person' who'd used baby sign before either. I read about it when Lil was born, but when the husband rolled his eyes when I mentioned it, I didn't take it any further. Might have to give it a go if the next bub works out :-)

Gill@OurParklife said...

i have only vaguely heard about this too...My partner also reacted with a little eye rolling

It would be fabulous though if I could master it....Thanks for sharing your skills and story

MultipleMum said...

I love that this has been so successful your girls Mandy! I tried a few signs with Doo Dah but I don't think I was consistent enough to be successful. My hat goes off to you managaing this with twins. I could barely speak most days in the early stages, let alone coordinate speech and signing. You are a wonderful Mum!

MandyE (Twin Trials and Triumphs) said...

Thanks so much for allowing me to guest post, MultipleMum! Signing really wasn't difficult with our girls, it was just a matter of being consistent. And it's payed rewards many times over.

DancingInTheRain said...

We did signing with MiniMe and I found that consistency was the key. We didnt put the time in with Goofy so it got forgotten about but your post has inspired me to start with JollyJumper as she is just at the right age to start I think. So thanks for the reminder of how worthwhile it is to keep at it!

DancingInTheRain said...

We did signing with MiniMe and I found that consistency was the key. We didnt put the time in with Goofy so it got forgotten about but your post has inspired me to start with JollyJumper as she is just at the right age to start I think. So thanks for the reminder of how worthwhile it is to keep at it!

katepickle said...

I signed with my twin girls and 'finished' was one of the signs that worked so well for us, that and "milk" which became the use all sign for food.

For some reason we never got into it so much with our next one, but I'm hoping to pick it back with number four!

Rebecca said...

I'm not a huge "believer," but I taught the Crazies two signs...more and all done. It saved me in so many ways...great post!

x0xJ said...

So fantastic to see someone else using baby sign.
I didn't with my firstborn, but with our second we started signing at around 4 months of age. We started with "milk" and then slowly added things like "please", "sorry", "more", "Drink"....etc. etc.
There were lots of words we introduced that never kicked off, but there are some we did he still uses now, whilst he speaks the corrct word to it. He started signing back around 6 or 7 months old. The first being milk. It was something that helped greatly for me to know if he wanted to feed or if he just wanted a cuddle. Sorry is one now that he still signs, but doesn't speak, which i feel is important, learning to apologise.

I think the biggest tip to give parents thinking about baby signing is it DOESN'T have t be ausign. You can make up your own little sign, whatever fits your family best. And there isn't a set list of what you have to teach them. Choose just one or 2 signs to slowly introduce over a month and once they start picking up a few you can add a few more. It will be hit and miss to what they want to communicate back, and honestly it does help greatly. At least for us, with my toddler i tend to have an idea about what he wants more when i compare him at this age to his brother who certainly was talking more, but was communicating far less.

Carolyn Whitley said...

We start teaching our young children sign language with simple words like, yes, no and goodbye.

I think it is an excellent idea to extend this and teach them words that will help them in their communication, avoiding some of the frustration of not being understood.

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