Friday, January 21, 2011

Sign Language for Babies: Yes it really does work!

When I was in college, at some point I read a study about babies being taught to use American Sign Language (ASL)  to communicate before having mastered the means to do so verbally. After reading it I laughed and giggled with friends about how silly it seemed to use sign language with babies. How pretentious, how over-the-top, we'd say. They are just babies, after all, let them enjoy being babies!!!! Fast forward about 10 or so years and I'm a mom. With a 15-month daughter who uses sign language to communicate, a lot. This wasn't something I planned to have happen but it's one of the secret weapons I will now and forever keep stashed on my super-mommy utility belt.

It all began on the munch's 1st birthday when she (me) unwrapped a set of videos from my father and stepmother. My Baby Can Talk, a three video set including 1. First Signs 2. Sharing Signs 3. Exploring Signs. Now please remember that I had laughed at this very topic a mere 10 years ago in college when I had all the answers. Can you blame me for being a little hesitant? No, you cannot. Up to this point in her life, my daughter had watched little to no TV or videos, excusing football Sundays and the San Francisco Giant's championship post-season performances.

Nevertheless we'd had a great day, the present were unwrapped and we thought, "why not? Let's see  what this "signing business" is all about." Pop in First Signs and then the video shows a pretty lady signing words such as cat, milk, more, banana, dog, sleep, etc. Then there is a series of images of real and pretend items corresponding to each sign. It's Baby Einstein blended with ASL with all the classics, Mozart, Beethoven, thrown in for good measure. Brilliant, just brilliant. The wee one sat and watched almost the entire video without moving, her attention span wowed everyone in the room.

If this kind of thing is even remotely interesting to you, or not interesting at all, Google it anyways because I'm not sure how to explain these fabulous keep-mom-sane-while-expanding-brain-capacity videos. There are numerous books on the subject of ASL and babies and I've even had the good fortune of taking a music class that incorporates signs into the songs. I also know there has been some debate in regards to the legitimacy of such videos, including the early morning paid programming favorite, My Baby can Read. This is the real deal, I am a complete devotee. .

From that night on she has asked as nicely as a 12-15 month old child can do, to watch at least one video a day. Don't get me wrong, she'd watch all three all day long if we allowed her to do so and I'll be honest, there have been a couple of days when she's done just that. I found it to be a wonderful way of getting her to sit in one place and found myself thinking, was I being a terrible mother by letting a 13 month old girl watch DVDs, albeit educational ones? Well the day she started using sign language to tell me what she wanted, my hesitation flew out the window. It was one of the most amazing moments in my career as a Marin Mama. She is able to tell me what she needs! To see her use the sign for dog, or eat or more; to see her make the sign for turtle or giraffe, it's simply incredible. Every day I'm constantly blown away by her fabulous sponge-like abilities to sop up information and use it to her advantage.

So blown away in fact sometimes I can't tell what she's signing. I have watched the videos, and I sign whenever I get the chance but wow! Occasionally she'll whip out a sign and mix it up with another sign that could be one thing but maybe another and I'm speechless. I'll ask her to tell me again, and she'll do the sign again, until finally, hopefully, I catch on. She's able to express herself before speaking and although I'm no expert I know her sweet, perpetually happy disposition is related in some way to her being able to tell us when she's hungry, tired, or wants to go down the slide at the playground. I would absolutely tell any parent to buy these videos or try in some manner to incorporate ASL into the daily routine of a child. Even if you think you may be that weird parent at the playground signing to a toddler. It's worth every look!

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