As a parent or a childcare professional, there will have been many times when you’ve experienced frustration at guessing what your baby is trying to express without the benefit of spoken language. This is a common scene across many households with babies under the age of two.
But now you have an opportunity to change this! From the moment babies are born they begin to learn about the world around them and as they develop they try to communicate with us through facial expressions, gestures and verbal sounds.
Research carried out over the last 10 to 15 years has shown that hearing babies as young as 7 months old can be taught simple signs to communicate their basic human needs and express themselves before they have the benefit of speech.
What is Baby Sign Language?
Baby sign language is an extremely effective method that allows two-way communication to take place between infant and adult. It is a known fact that babies are able to control their hand muscles much earlier than their speech muscles are able to develop. Therefore, by incorporating simple signs (taken from British Sign Language) into daily activities with babies, it is possible to provide them with the skills they need to communicate, enabling them to bridge the communication gap before they are able to speak.
American researchers Linda Acredelo and Susan Goodwyn (authors of ‘Baby Signs’) and Joseph Garcia (founder of the SIGN with your BABY (SWYB) programme) were key pioneers in developing the concept of using sign language for pre-verbal hearing babies. The key difference between the two basic programmes is that Acredelo and Goodwyn promote the use of home-made signs, whereas Joseph Garcia advocates the use of the national sign language – in this case British Sign Language for the UK. The benefits of using British Sign Language is that it will provide consistency across all baby signers, it is already an established standard and has been designed for ease of learning.
Will signing hinder speech development of my baby?
This is the first question that many parents ask when they hear about the concept of signing. In fact, the opposite is true!
During teaching of a sign, parents are encouraged to reinforce the sign with the spoken word and any actions. This allows the baby to be continually exposed to the sound of the word in relation to its meaning and sign. One of the key modes of learning for babies is repetition for which signing serves as a powerful educational tool. Research conducted at the University of California by Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn showed that babies encouraged to sign scored higher for receptive language development (how much they understand) and expressive language development (how much they can say), and engaged in more sophisticated play.
Benefits of teaching Baby Sign Language
Research conducted with regards to using sign language with hearing babies has outlined many benefits:
- builds on a baby’s natural tendency to use gestures
- reduces frustration in babies as they are able to communicate their needs
- stimulates intellectual development as babies are having to connect objects or actions with words and signs
- strengthens the parent/infant bond through the process of increased communication
- builds self-esteem and confidence as babies become aware that they are being understood
- helps with language development as words are being reinforced with the teaching of the signs
- increases interest in books from an early age