Baby sign has become quite popular lately and is certain to be a topic at mother’s groups.
The trouble is, you don’t have to be qualified in early language development or signing to teach it. Hence, ‘baby sign’ can thus vary and be very expensive to learn.
What is key concept signing?
The ‘real’ baby sign is called ‘key concept signing’. Here are some features:
- it uses individual signs from Auslan (Australian sign language) along with gestures, pointing and facial expression
- just the key concepts (or words) are signed, not the whole sentence – for example, ‘come get your hat’ or ‘more or finished?’
- words are always spoken as you sign
- you might find key concept signing at childcare centres (if they use any)and also by Sofya, the hearing impaired Play School presenter
What are the benefits of signing?
Research indicates that all babies, not just those with hearing difficulties or language delays, benefit from being signed to. Whilst many parents can only dream of teaching their baby a second language, signing allows your child to experience the same language opportunities of learning an extra language. These benefits include increased neural pathways in the brain and thus enhancing the language areas of your child’s brain.
Just like teaching another language, teaching your baby a sign for a word is teaching it that we can give more than one symbol to the same meaning (eg. flower), that is, a spoken word (‘flower’ or even a hand movement (the sign for ‘flower’). This develops ‘symbolic thought’, which is the crux of language.
On top of having a ‘second language’, signing to your child gives more information than just saying a word verbally, which teaches them more about that concept. For example:
- the sign for ‘cow’, showing horns above your head, teaches the child a feature of a cow
- the sign for ‘duck’, showing the duck’s bill with your hand, also teaches a feature of that animal
- the sign for ‘book’, opening two palms outwards, shows that a book is something to be opened
- the sign for ‘bath’, rubbing fists up and down in front of body, teaches your child the action that takes place in the bath
This all sounds very simple, but is literally building pathways in your baby’s brain and helping them to remember the word for next time, as it would be easier for you to learn a word in another language with someone reminding you with natural gestures (think ‘hat’, ‘come’, ‘stop’). The sooner your child starts communicating to you, the sooner they get more interaction which is like a snowball effect for their development.
Keyword signing has been shown to promote quicker language development and definitely not hinder speech! Here are a few reasons:
- The adult is forced to speak slower and use simpler phrases, whilst they learn the signs. This allows extra processing time for the child to understand the message.
- Signing encourages establishing more eye contact and using more hand movements and facial expression.
- A sign lasts in the child’s visual field until you take it away, whereas a verbal word comes and goes. Think about someone talking to you in another language. You would stay ‘with’ someone longer if they were using some gestures, rather than someone just talking.
- You virtually only need to know a handful of signs at first, and repeat them. This repetition of early words/concepts, thus helps your baby to learn language much quicker.
- A baby starts to understand words well before they begin to speak. They also start to use their hands before their lips and tongue can produce speech. Hence a child can start to use their hands for signs, before their lips and tongue can produce speech. Giving them signs is a way to help them express what they want to say much sooner.
- Signing can help to decrease frustration not only now but also down the track when your one or even two-year-old hasn’t developed clear speech.
- An example would be being at the shops and with no context, your child says ‘doo’. It could be ‘two’, ‘do’, ‘zoo’ – but then they sign ‘zoo’ … Some children develop clear speech quickly, others do not. Some children don’t mind if you don’t understand them, others do. Having signs is a good back up, just in case!
Remember, the early years count. The sooner you get your child understanding and then expressing their thoughts, the more they can interact with you, which builds up the social and language areas of the brain and of course the cognitive areas.
So can you see the benefits of signing to your child? It is quite easy and quick to get started. See post Getting Started With Signs for more information.
Declan working out his hands! Signing ‘finished’ using both (his brain hadn’t yet worked out how to only use one)!
My sister and I signing the alphabet song to Hayden when he was about 7 months old. Fun!