Before Evalyn was born, I knew that I wanted to do baby signing with her. I had seen so many of my friends and family members teach their babies to sign and I was always amazed at how well some babies could communicate even before they spoke their first word.
We started doing basic signs with her when she was about 7 months old. I started with eat, milk, all done, and puppy. As time went on and she started to show that she was beginning to understand some of the signs, we began incorporating more. Now, our most common signs are: eat, milk, cup, more, all done, help, thank you, please, puppy, and birdie.
After these few months of signing, I thought I would share what I’ve learned. Of course, I’m not an expert. I haven’t taken any classes, read any books or really, done a whole lot of research. I’m just an everyday mom that has found it helpful to teach my kiddo signs. So, maybe what I have to say will be helpful to someone. And then again, maybe not.
First of all, don’t get frustrated when your baby doesn’t sign back right away. Some babies may start signing as early as 7-8 months and some may take quite a bit longer. Aside from puppy, which she started signing around 8 months, it took her until around her first birthday to really take off with the signs. And I was getting frustrated - wondering if she would ever learn these dang signs. She did show recognition of the signs a lot earlier than when she started to sign back to me. When I signed eat, she would smack her lips and move towards her highchair, when I signed milk she would do a funny laugh/cry until she got her milk (which she still does and I have got to catch on video), and so on. We could tell she was starting to understand the signs but wasn’t quite ready to sign to us.
And then right around her birthday, at the same time I noticed she was beginning to comprehend our language so much better, she exploded with signs. At first, she started to only sign words that she could also “say”. By say, I mean, words that she could make some kind of sound that resembled the word. Over the past two months, this was another reason we have been so glad that we taught her signs. If we hadn’t, we may have had no idea what she needed when she would walk around the house, whining and saying, “meee meee”. But, since she pairs it with the sign for milk? I know exactly what she is saying. Soon after this, she started consistently doing other signs, even if she couldn’t say the word, like please and thank you. Now, she sometimes attempts to say these words with the sign, but mostly just uses her hands. All of her other signs she also says, or tries to say, the word to go with it.
I try to consistently sign every single time I say any of these words to her so that she will learn how to use them in context. So far, thank you has never been used unprompted but please has. She is starting to pick up that if she wants me to do something for her or give her something that I will expect her to say please. She also has figured out how to use help in context. As I wrote in my post last week, she will sit in front of the fridge and push all of her fridge magnets underneath and then come to me and sign for help so I will get them out. She also signs and calls for help when she’s trying to get into her little rocking chair, or picking up something heavy or playing with a toy that needs to be turned on. Can’t tell me she doesn’t know what that one means!
My second piece of advice (if you can even call it that) is: Roll with it. Your baby may make up her own signs. She may adapt the signs that you show her to become something that is easier for her to sign. And that is great. Like I mentioned earlier, when Evalyn started recognizing the sign for eat, she would smack her lips together and move towards her high chair. So, we went with it. When I asked her if she wanted to eat, I would interchange smacking my lips together and doing the actual sign for eat. Now, she flips back and forth between these two, as well. Most often she does her made up sign but when she really wants something to eat, or when prompted, she knows how to do the proper sign.
Also, when I started signing I differentiated between cup/drink and milk. I wanted these two signs to be different so we could draw a distinction between nursing and having a cup of milk or water. So, I did the sign where you hold your hand in a C and tip it towards your mouth for cup/drink and I did the sign where you squeeze your hand together for milk. Despite my attempts to distinguish between these two, she hasn’t done so. She uses the milk sign to signal nursing and having a cup. At first she would sign it and say, “Meee” when she wanted to nurse and “cup” when she wanted her cup. Now that we’ve somewhat started the weaning process and she doesn’t nurse as often as she used to, she seems to interchange the words milk and cup pretty regularly, too. But either way, it works. She knows how to ask for a drink with her hands and with a word. That’s the bottom line to me.
Next, don’t worry if you are unsure if you’re doing the sign exactly right. I know there is controversy about this point. Some people have different opinions. I know some people think it’s important to be sure that their babies are learning proper ASL signs. For me, that wasn’t as important. If I had a family member of close friend who used ASL to communicate, I would likely be more picky about this. But at this point in her life, Evalyn doesn’t have anyone close to her who relies on sign to communicate. So, I am pretty lax. If she is able to get her point across to me with less frustration than what would happen without her signs, then I am happy.
For example, her sign for help and her sign for more are very similar but she sometimes pairs more with a “mo” sound and help with a “hep” sound so I can differentiate. When she does a sign incorrectly or makes up her own sign, I do always follow up with the correct sign, though (like I mentioned with her version of eat). I know this seems to go against what I just said about being lax about her signing so let me explain.
What I mean is that I don’t stress the issue but I try to encourage her to do the correct sign, mostly for other people’s sake. Most people who are around her on a regular basis will recognize the basic signs that she does such as more, please, thank you, eat, and all done. But, these people aren’t with her as often as I am and may not know the made up signs, or how to differentiate when two of her signs look the same – considering her words are not very clear yet. So, I keep working on them so there will be a better chance that other people can understand and communicate with her if I’m not around.
Lastly, remember that it doesn’t have to be complex. Like I said, I didn’t take any classes or read books, I just chose basic signs that I felt would be helpful for our day to day life and rolled with it. Now, you definitely have the option to be more extensive if you want. One of my good friends did a baby sign language course with her little one and absolutely loved learning new signs and enjoyed the instruction. I know lots of Mamas who have read books and use online video tutorials to learn signs and gain tips for teaching their babes. And all of that is great if you are interested in it and want to teach your baby lots of things or learn the best ways to go about signing. But, all I’m saying is that you don’t have to invest that much into it if you don’t want to. It can still be extremely effective.
To finish up, here’s Evalyn showing you a few of her signs. I’ve been trying and trying and trying to get a good video of her signing but, well … she’s not always cooperative. And now that she’s picking up more and more words, she almost always pairs her word with her sign.
Did you sign with your baby? What are your favourite signs? What did you find the most useful? What did I miss?