My Secret Weapon

I had several alternate titles for this post:

Why I’m Judging Your Parenting

The One in Which I Brag About My Verbal Child

Why My Kids Are Smarter Than Your Kids

Take your pick.  But, seriously, this is a post you should read.

There are probably a lot of things that I could have done better as a parent.  But, occasionally, I have hit it out of the ballpark.  Baby sign language has got to be among the top 10 of my successes.  I have NO IDEA why not everyone in the world does this with their babies.  We started it with Sam and used it with Eleanor.  I felt like it was very successful and our kids had a larger-than-average vocabulary when they started pre-school.  But here’s where I have to brag.  We brought Lucy home at 10 months of age.  She spoke no English and had not been exposed to it at all.  She spoke no words (according to the nannies) in her native language.  At 12 months, she was evaluated for speech (along with a slew of other things) and was found to be way behind in her verbal skills.  Never fear.  We started using sign language, and by 18 months she had completely caught up with her peer group and now (21 months), she is ahead of where Eleanor was at the same age.  I attribute all of this to our use of baby sign language.  If you’re not using this with your toddlers, you are making a parenting mistake.  Yes, there it is…I am judging you.

Here are some facts:

  • Research confirms that signing babies have fewer temper tantrums.  This makes sense, because if babies are able to express themselves through a sign, they can tell you what they want.  It takes the guesswork out of your job.
  • Baby signers speak earlier than babies who don’t sign.  Babies learn that a sign is something that stands for something else.  This leads to the natural next step, using a word to represent that same thing.  Babies can understand words before they can say them, but sign language provides a bridge until they learn to vocalize.
  • Studies shows that babies who sign, have larger speaking vocabularies earlier than their peers. They even do better as they get older and start school. One study showed that eight year olds who learned baby sign language as infants had an average IQ 12 points higher than non-signers.

Here are some clips of Lucy using signs.  Most of these were in November, so she would have been about 19 months.  These are a little random, because I wasn’t very good at capturing them, but let’s face it, any video with Lucy in it is always popular.

Sign Language Clips from Kristin W on Vimeo.

The amazing thing about this is that it’s EASY to do.  It doesn’t require a big investment or a lot of time.  You simply start by doing the sign when you say the word.  Then repeat.  Eventually, the baby will start mimicking the signs.  Easy peasy.  There are a ton of books, websites, videos, and apps that can help you get started.  After you read up on how to introduce signs, I’d recommend the app “My Smart Hands.”  Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 2.33.01 PM

It has video clips of most of the words you’ll want to use and she explains why the sign looks the way it does (to help you remember).  I kept it on my phone and when we wanted a new word, it was easy to find.  I would not recommend the tons of flash cards that are available.  Learning signs shouldn’t be schoolwork, it should be incorporated into your daily routine, using the words as you would normally use them.  That said, if you want a video to keep the little one occupied, we used “Talking Hands,” which all of our kids liked.  It’s a little slow, but the repetition is important and as an added bonus, the signers are multicultural.  I think it’s out of date, but I found a DVD on ebay (to replace the VHS we had when we started with Sam…it’s been a while).

Lucy is now 21 months and we’re starting to move away from sign.  She can now easily pick up new words and is rapidly adding to her vocabulary.  Last month, we tracked all the words she could say (and use appropriately), and she was up to about 80 words.  As a comparison, Eleanor had 62 at the same age.  I am truly astounded at how a baby so far behind can so quickly catch up.  I think sign is fabulous for any child, but especially for those whose language acquisition was interrupted by international adoption.


6 responses

  1. Using signs with all children is fantastic, I agree!!!! I am fluent in ASL (I have my BA in Deaf Studies, AA in Interpreting), and I teach a preschool special education class. Using Sign Language with all children, with or without special needs is fantastic, I agree with ALL the reasons you listed! You are RIGHT ON!!! I did want to add another resource. Signing Time. My students, and lots of other kiddos I know LOVE LOVE LOVE Signing Time. She uses ASL based signs, and lot’s of fun songs to teach the signs.

  2. Okay, okay, thanks for the guilt trip! 🙂

    I diligently did signs with the first two foster babies from about 4 months on. They never made it to the stage of being able to re-create the signs (although I think they understood signs) before we lost them. I think that lack of reinforcement made me lazy about signing with S & O. I did it for the first month, then gave up. (Which, yes, is ridiculous considering these are the babies we knew we’d have forever, yadda yadda).

    I felt like we’d kinda missed the boat once they turned one and gave up on the idea, but just recently, I started doing the “more” sign again because they’ve been doing a very unattractive, blood-pressure-raising, ear-shattering SCREAM when they want more of their food. Sailor will do it, Oliver just claps. (That’s close, right?). Just this morning, I tried re-instating the “all done” sign and Sailor tried to copy it.

    What are your top 10 (or 15…20?) signs that you’d prioritize teaching?

    • I’ll give you mine! 🙂

      All done
      Thank you

      In my job, I’ve found that signs are best reinforced with food in the beginning!

      This was a great post! Signing even works well with a SUPER delayed six year old who went from speaking three Bulgarian words to signing and speaking over 400 English words in 11 months.
      Sign language is also helpful for disciplining during church, or from across a room… 🙂 Not that I would have personal experience with that…

    • Close only counts in horseshoes and SIGN LANGUAGE. I never cared if it was perfect, as long as I could understand. For us, top signs would be more, drink (we eventually broke this down into milk, water, juice), change (used for diaper, which I’m hoping helps when we get to potty training), sleep, book, play, car (I would sign this when ready to leave and she would run to the garage), and bath. From there, I would suggest favorite foods, which for Lucy were fish, cheese, grapes, banana, yogurt, and cereal. Once they start signing, the start to pick up things really fast. She was learning a new sign almost every day.

  3. wow, really enjoyed your video. So cute!

    Brought back so many memories of when our Will arrived at 18 months from China and we taught him about a dozen signs. He picked it up quick and worked pretty well.

    Thanks for the post.

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