sign me away

February 8, 2011

Sarah asked on yesterday's post: I've been trying to get our daughter to sign "more" "eat" "please/thank you." Are you just doing it by yourself, do you have a book? Or something else you're following?

I thought today I'd share the low-down details on what our baby sign-language experience has been like and explain a little bit about the resources we've used. I haven't spoken about it much other than to mention that the jude signs so here's the deal:

When I was pregnant I read about baby sign-language and was all, yeah! we'll start signing at three months! that way he can learn it really good really fast and communicate to us! we'll get a book and DVDs and blah blah blah. Like so many of those ambitions ideas I had before baby, that did not pan out at all. Between the nursing and the swaddling and AHHHHH baby sign language was one of the last things on my mind when reality struck. It wasn't until around month 6 that I even started considering it again.

I looked in to a few local classes as recommended by The Adventures of Lactating Girl but was unable to find any that worked with our schedule. No dice. What I did learn about however was the My Smart Hands program/website. On their site they offer a video dictionary of ASL signs which is AWESOME. That has become my number one sign resource because it's so quick and easy. If I notice a new word that might be handy (for example, we're learning egg and cheese right now) I can go there and see not only the adult version of the sign, but examples of what the modified baby-version might look like.

(they also have a great mobile dictionary app for iphone. you can look up signs on the go AND jude likes to watch the people do the signs as some kind of weird educational baby-tv. i know this sounds like an official my smart hands commercial, but i swear! we've just found it really useful.)

So, around six months in I found this awesome dictionary and we figured we'd give it a swing. We started with the sign for 'milk' which seemed like an obvious place to begin because we could incorporate it with each nurse/bottle. So each time he would eat we would all sign 'milk' over and over. And over. And over. And over. We tried to consistently use the sign and repeat the word out loud clearly each time he was getting ready to nurse/nursing. You know when he finally signed milk? 10.5 MONTHS. So that's four months of nothing, zip, zero reward for all that repeating.

This is the part where baby sign-language gets tricky: it's frustrating. You can go for AGES without any sign from them that they are paying attention to your goddamn flapping hands. They're learning, but it can take a long time before you get results. If you're interested DON'T GIVE UP! We signed and signed and signed with 'milk' 'more' and 'dog' for six months before suddenly it clicked. It seemed in line with his other speech development/growth spurts so I doubt anything we could have done would have sped the process up. Once he realized that signing 'more' made more food come and put two and two together... it was ON. That clicking moment where they realized that they can get their needs met faster by signing is a huge turning point.

Some weeks we would forget to sign at all, some weeks we'd sign like crazy– but we kept it up. It's also very normal (just like with words) for them to use the sign a few times and then not use it again for WEEKS. I got so excited when jude first signed 'milk' and then couldn't get him to do it again for months (in fact, he still refuses to sign milk on most occasions even though he knows it and will yell YEEEAH if you sign it at him).

Now that jude is coming up on 18 months it happens much faster. He picked up cracker in a few hours, then didn't sign it again for a month, and now he signs it all the time. There seems to be a certain rhythm to their learning patterns. Since he knows a few more signs now he'll stop and think about what he wants and sign it. If he's in a hurry he'll sometimes mix up signs, like 'more' and 'cracker' and it becomes a big jumble, but we get the gist of what he wants and that's the whole idea.

The signs we use currently are milk, more, eat, thank you, all done, cracker, cheese, water, and egg. It's key to identify which signs will be most useful for your child. We started off teaching him 'mama' and 'dada' but in reality the only signs he wants to use are for FOOD (obsessed). It helps to figure out what their motivators are. We tried out 'up' but... come on, like arms up in the air isn't enough to tell you he wants up? And once he could SAY dog we pretty much stopped using the sign. By process of elimination you can kind of figure out which signs they'll gravitate to and which you'll use most. If I notice we're having trouble with a certain activity I'll go look up that sign and we'll learn that one next. Right now we're working on 'help' because he does this crazy shrieking thing every time he wants help, but it's a trickier motion and we haven't made much headway so far.

We had a nice experience over the holidays where we were at Dunkin Donuts picking up some egg and cheese wraps and jude was at the counter signing more! more! more! in anticipation of his delicious eggs. There was a dad with three girls sitting nearby and he came over and was laughing and signing 'cheese' and 'cookie' to jude and talking about the donuts because he recognized that jude was signing for more. It was pretty damned cute. On the other hand, if your other caregivers don't know any signs if can be tough for the little dudes to sign what they want and not have the person respond. Luckily jon has been totally hands-on with it and Awesome Babysitter knows the basic signs. Having them on board has helped reinforce all the signs all day every day.

I'm not sure how much longer we'll keep signing now that he's picking up words at an alarming rate. I see it as more of a transitional thing, to help him get his needs met between when he can think and when he can SAY what he thinks. At this stage it's been helpful because he clearly has a lot of understanding but no way to tell us what exactly he wants. He won't come tell me he's hungry, but he'll go to the kitchen and sign eat-eat-cracker. I see it as a kind of lubricant between toddlby/toddler to help things run more smoothly. It's definitely getting the job done while he picks up more vocabulary and it doesn't seem to be keeping him from picking up any new words.

So baby sign-language:
Worth it? Yes. Kind of annoying? Also yes.
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