How valuable is baby sign language?

A friend invited me to come along to her Sing and Sign class back when Talitha was nine months or so, I think. I went along mainly because it sounded like a fun structured thing Bristol offered and because I wanted to spend more time with my friend. I wasn’t too sure about baby sign language, mind. I mean, would it actually work?

Most of the way through the course, Talitha wasn’t signing at all. When I saw other babies in the class sign, their gestures seemed more like approximations than signs. You had to want to see the signs, really. Still, I continued to use the signs at home and counted the class worthwhile mainly because Talitha so obviously loved the music and Jessie Cat.

Then towards the end, she suddenly began to sign “Eat”. I wondered if it was a fluke so I tried to contain my excitement. But when I gave her some food, she practically cheered me for understanding her. From then, new signs kept being added. She also began to ask me to name and sign things. It was an amazing insight into what she thought was important: “cat”, “dog”, “drink” and, naturally, “milk”.

I couldn’t believe how much she understood. I still can’t. It blows me away that she can identify and sign some colours, most animals, vehicles and even feelings. If she weren’t signing as much as she does, I wouldn’t realise how many connections are rapidly being made in her mind.

As the months wore on, though, I got a little concerned that though she was signing lots, she still had very few words. I wondered about her hearing. A few people suggested that the fact that she could communicate by sign meant she wasn’t motivated to learn to speak. I’ve never agreed with this. We have always said the words while signing and sign has been shown to aid language development.

Rather, I think if we hadn’t been signing all this time, I’d have a frustrated toddler who wanted to make herself understood but couldn’t. How wonderful it is that she’s been able to picture read her books to me for a long time. On our daily walks she can tell me about everything she sees.

And, as many said would happen, in the last few weeks, 21-month-old Talitha has experienced a language explosion. Everyday she’s adding many words to her vocabulary (and many signs too!). Sometimes she’ll say a word and if she thinks I haven’t understood, she’ll repeat it with the sign. It’s very helpful for sounds that she’s still refining so aren’t yet clear. She also uses signs when she’s emphatic about something, especially when she’s yelling: “No! No! No!”

I’m grateful for what baby sign language has given us. Sing and Sign has been a brilliant way to learn it, both through the classes and the DVDs that we sign our way through together. It’s been so easy to “get it” and the content and structure is so well-catered to babies and toddlers.

I’d love to do it again with another child – and that’s coming from someone who feels ridiculous singing nursery rhymes in a room full of strangers.

Over to you. I’d love to hear about your baby sign language experiences.

Join the discussion

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • I am a big fan of signing – think it helped eliminate some of the toddler frustrations, if you can ask for milk, food, more, a bum change it feels like you have some control surely

    Also a big fan because it starts teaching please and thank you early – think it has made a big difference to mine knowing from early that please (with 2 hands if you REALLY want it of course) smoothes the way to getting things
    Muddling Along recently posted..Can we stop with the politics of division?

  • I’m definitely excited to start baby signing with my little one once he’s been born. My 11 year old brother is deaf but, due to it only been picked up at aged almost 3 and his ADHD only being diagnosed a year ago, he is quite behind in his development. When he found out I was having a baby, he was so excited at the idea that HE would be able to teach the baby some sign language, and that he would be able to help somebody learn to communicate. So, for me, it’s a mix of something helpful to my baby and something that is going to help my brother form a bond with his nephew. I’m really excited!

  • I did the same course as you when my son was about 9 months old. He didn’t think much of the actual classes (he was a bit of a grumpy baby) but I did have the DVDs and he was captivated by them at home. I wouldn’t say that he picked up very many signs before he had the words anyway, but he certainly was doing them, duck was a particular favourite. They still do signs with them at his pre-school, even though he is 4 now.

    I didn’t really do it with my daughter unfortunately (neglected second child syndrome!) but luckily she was quite early with her initial demands, “drink” was the first thing that she said clearly! I think that it must definitely help with toddler frustration when they can communicate what they want.
    Jennifer recently posted..Book Review – Winter Storms by Lucy Oliver

  • I did baby signing with my daughter and she signed until she was about 3 (she was pretty average with her speech development) signing alongside speech. It certainly made it easier for me to understand when she was upset and couldn’t speak.

    I’ve got a lovely video of her looking completely muddled as she says moo to a cat and then signs cat whilst looking at a cow! She did get them the right way round, it just looks out of context in the film because of which animal you can see on film at the time as opposed to the one she can see.

    I tried signing with my son, but its quite hard when you’ve got a toddler too – you just don’t have the free hands to do the signs! But he began to speak very early so it didn’t really matter.
    Knitty Mummy recently posted..Easter Bonnet Making

Further reading

Win a KangaWrap baby sling

I am one of those crazy babywearing mamas who gets all emotional when I see babies in slings. Learning to carry a newborn in a sling is one of the most freeing, empowering and connected experiences out there. I tentatively grew to love it the first...