When my twins were little and started to show frustration at telling me what they wanted because their speech hadn’t yet caught up with their demands, I began to teach them how to use sign language. Since I had never used sign language before, we bought several videotapes designed to teach sign language to young children (and their parents). At first, the twins didn’t seem to get the “connection” between signing and communication merely by watching the videos, but as I continued to reinforce the lessons with them through our interactions, I was amazed at how quickly they caught on.
When the twins started signing, their signs were very primitive as they didn’t have the hand coordination to do them properly. But as they matured, their signs got more and more recognizable. Some of their favorite signs included “more,” “cookie,” “book” and “cheese” (naturally, the things they wanted most!). Best of all, it was wonderful to see the look of satisfaction on their faces when they knew they had been understood. For instance, before they knew sign language, Austen would point to things he wanted and hum. If he pointed to the cupboard and made noise, I would have to guess at what he might want, which got very frustrating for both of us. But when he made the sign for “cookie,” and I said, “Oh, you want a cookie?” he jumped up and down with glee because he had been understood! Toddlers naturally use a crude form of sign language merely by pointing to things they want or raising their arms when they want to be picked up. Therefore, teaching sign language is just providing them with more gestures to aid in their communication.
I always recommend that parents try sign language with their babies and toddlers, and I recently came across a great new book and CD called Mealtime & Bedtime Sing & Sign by Anne Meeker Miller, Ph.D. This book focuses on the signs that children can use during those times when they really need something, such as milk at dinnertime or their blanket at bedtime. The book features more than 90 signs arranged alphabetically, along with photos for demonstrating how to do each sign. The CD is filled with wonderful songs that allow you to practice signing with your child. Five songs are about food and meals, five are about bedtime, and two are lullabies. You can bring the CD along with you in the car to get to know the songs, and then use them with your signs when you get home. It’s both entertaining and educational!
Dr. Miller writes in Mealtime & Bedtime Sing & Sign, “In groundbreaking research, child psychologists Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn found that using sign language with children at an early age supports the natural development of their ability to speak. Babies who learn sign experience less frustration and often verbalize sooner than their peers, and most importantly, sign language strengthens the bond between caregiver and child.” So, by learning sign language with your child, you’re not only improving his language skills, but you’re building a closer relationship through your interactions. Best of all, it’s fun! I can still see my twins’ little hands making the cookie sign, which looks like you’re using a cookie cutter on cookie dough!
Would you like to win a copy of this remarkable book and CD? Just leave a comment below telling me why you’d like a copy by October 1, 2008. I’ll randomly pick a winner from the posted comments. One comment per person please, but if you add a link to this blog, Susan Heim on Parenting, on your blog or website, and write back to tell me about it, you’ll receive a bonus entry. You can learn more about Mealtime & Bedtime Sing & Sign at www.babysingandsign.com.