"More Crackers Please" and "Poop" - Our Experience With Baby Sign and a Guest Article From Primrose Schools

When Otto was 7 months old I got together with some local mamas & their babies for a private baby sign workshop (I think once a week for eight weeks) through Sign With Baby Tucson a wonderful tutoring program led by Libby Quinn, who teaches ASL. 

Anyways, our experience with baby sign has been textbook perfection. Even at 7 months Otto quickly learned to recognize some of the signs we used daily, like "more" "milk" and "all done" and by 9 months he was signing those and a few others back to us! We always coupled the signs with the spoken words. I really felt, almost right away, that the baby signs were allowing us to communicate and connect with Otto much earlier and with more clarity than we would have otherwise.

Meals, Snacks, Naps and Poop...

Everyone knows babies do 3 things more than anything else - eat, sleep, and poop. Honestly, the baby sign was helpful to us in all three areas. EAT - He's been able to tell us what he does/doesn't want to eat (one day when he was 13 months or so he fell to the floor bawling when he signed "more crackers please" and I misunderstood and said, "you want a cookie?" because he'd been so used to us understanding exactly what he was "saying". NAPS - Since he was 10 months old Ot's been telling us when he needs a nap. He puts his hand to the side of his head (the sign for "sleep") to let us know he needs a little peaceful nap time. I can only guess that without the "nap" sign Otto would probably have gotten overtired instead and understandably frustrated without the ability to tell us, "hey dudes, I need a nap, like NOW!" POOP - I've been told the poop sign is considered crass in the deaf community, but for our purposes it's been great. Otto lets us know when he's going to poop, and sometimes you'll catch him in the act, making the sign while he's doing it! Super-funny yes, but also cool because he'll tell us about his dirty diaper right away and I'm thinking it'll be a nice leg-up as we start toilet learning.

So in a nutshell - I'm all for baby sign - now at 20 months Otto has well over 100 spoken words and is already combining them into 2 and 3-word groups. Most often "no mama" which I can't tell you how much I LOVE (umm, no I don't). Obviously there was no control group in our home to prove that Otto wouldn't be just as verbal without the sign, but I know in my gut that the baby sign helped him to communicate and to learn the spoken words more easily & much earlier. And even now we continue to sign certain words and Otto will revert to the signs when he's frustrated or tired, which further shows me that they act as a helpful crutch in the communication department.

Ok, well I went ON and ON much longer than I'd intended! Now for the guest article from Emily and Kathleen with Primrose Schools. They approached me to see if I would be interested in sharing their article and I am MORE than happy to. Read on for a more academic look at the benefits of baby sign for lil ones...

GUEST ARTICLE - Early Childhood Education – Acquiring Sign Language
One of the keys to surviving in a tilted economic system in which opportunities to achieve a decent standard of living will be limited is versatility – and the ability to communicate articulately in a variety of ways with the widest possible audience. This includes bilingual ability as well as the ability to communicate in non-verbal ways for the benefit of the disabled – primarily the deaf.

At the same time, a growing shortage of qualified interpreters fluent in American Sign Language has led to more career opportunities – and if current trends continue, it's likely that skilled ASL interpreters will have little problem securing lucrative employment in a society where such a commodity is destined to be in short supply.

Signing Before They Can Speak
A great deal of research has clearly demonstrated that the early years – ages 2 to five – are the best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well.

This is not as odd as you may think. As you know, many indigenous peoples around the world, including American Indian nations, have used sign language for centuries to facilitate communication with other tribes with whom they do not share a language. Some paleontologists and anthropologists theorize that Neanderthals – who apparently lacked the vocal mechanism to produce many spoken words – depended a great deal upon hand gestures to communicate.

In fact, recent research suggests that sign language is innate. An article published in the Boulder Daily Camera in 2003 presented strong evidence that babies as young as six months old communicate with their hands:

"...by 6 to 7 months, babies can remember a sign. At eight months, children can begin to imitate gestures and sign single words. By 24 months, children can sign compound words and full sentences. They say sign language reduces frustration in young children by giving them a means to express themselves before they know how to talk." (Glarion, 2003)

The author also cites study funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development demonstrating that young children who are taught sign language at an early age actually develop better verbal skills as they get older. The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that "using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration...[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music" (Glarion, 2003).

The Best Time To Start
Not only does early childhood education in signing give pre-verbal youngsters a way to communicate, it can also strengthen the parent-child bond – in addition to giving children a solid foundation for learning a skill that will serve them well in the future. The evidence suggests that the best time to start learning ASL is before a child can even walk – and the implications for facilitating the parent-child relationship are amazing.

Co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas
Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the network of Georgia child care facilities belonging to the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose child care schools. Primrose Schools are located in 16 states throughout the U.S. and are dedicated to delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum throughout their preschools.


Becca @ My Crazy Good Life said...

I love this post!

My Master's degree is in Special Ed: Deaf and Hard of Hearing, so teaching our boys to sign was a natural step. I was able to practice my ASL and teach the boys at the same time. They picked it right up and I noticed a drastic reduction in the "stressed out" cries and tantrums once the boys could communicate with signs.

OT and ET said...

That's awesome Becca! And I'm with you 100% - I'd really struggle to find one drawback to the baby sign. It's been a 100% positive experience for us and Otto :) Oh, and we have something in common... I taught Special Ed for two years in a language & learning delayed classroom. I was an assistant and almost pursued that as my degree (and often wish I had).

Alana said...

I want to try Baby Sign with D. My sister-in-law is getting her minor is ASL and has already been helpful. Too bad she lives in Texas! I have a book to start studying up on. Friends swear by it and said it helps cut down on the meltdowns because they can actually tell you what they want! Good job, mama! xoxo

OT and ET said...

Thanks Alana! You guys will love it - I really think so! ps. I gotta get my act together and work on the blog post for you. Wanna get it to you tonight! xoxo

Aleksandra Nearing said...

We loved using sign language with our daughter and raved about it to everyone. We really enjoyed the Baby Signing Times DVDs, too.

OT and ET said...

@BusyWorkingMama we love the Baby Signing Time dvds too! They're a special treat for Otto like once a week but he asks for them every day! haha :)