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.