Why Sign with Your Baby?
Sign language is the language of the deaf community, but all children can benefit from using signs.
Babies are born with a natural desire to communicate. They instinctively use gestures, eg, raising their arms to be held, waving goodbye and pointing, to tell you what they want. Signing with your baby builds upon this natural tendency to use gesture.
If babies are consistently shown the sign for a word each time it is said, they understand the spoken word and sign mean the same thing. Because the fine motor skills in their hands develop long before the muscles needed speak develop babies can sign well before they can speak.
This reduces frustration and allows babies to communicate their wants, needs and observations. The ability to communicate also enhances your child's self esteem. In our classes we love to see the delighted little faces when little ones first begin to sign.Children vary massively in terms of when they reach developmental milestones, sitting up, crawling, walking and talking at very different times. Many children have delayed speech development or difficulties that affect their ability to communicate verbally. Signing is beneficial as it helps your child communicate in other ways until speech develops. It also fosters speech development.
Signing with children is lots of fun and can add another dimension to existing activities such as singing, nursery rhymes and using puppets in many environments –home, child care settings, playschools, nurseries and schools.
Signing can strengthen your bond with your baby. It not only increases eye contact, enhances communication and reduces frustration but opens a world of earlier communication, giving you a window into your child's mind and an early insight in their personality. It can also help your little one bond with their siblings. This video shows Daire teaching his little newborn brother the colours signs.
Can Signing Help My Child Learn to Read?
Yes. As well as aiding communication and building the foundation for learning a second language, there is an increasing body of research and literature showing how beneficial signing can be in the establishment of early literacy. Many signs are iconic, including the signs for letters. Signing helps children to see letters in a multi-sensory way and supports recall of these letters. Many of the children who attend our toddler classes become familiar with letters and sounds by around 18 months of age. This video shows Cara reading an unfamiliar book at the age of just 4.
Many classes tell you to ‘drop’ signing as your child learns to speak, but you can carry on signing even though language is starting to develop, giving your child a unique way to learn about their rapidly expanding world in a multisensory way. Research shows that adding a kinaesthetic (movement) element when learning verbal and written language has a positive impact on early literacy skills. (Find more details on this topic in the book by Marilyn Daniels - Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children's Literacy (2001): Bergin & Garvey)
Will Signing Delay My Child's Speech?
Many people worry that signing may delay speech development. Research has in fact shown that signing enhances speech development. At Sign2Music we reinforce the spoken word as well as the sign, using signs primarily to facilitate speech development (unless your child has communication difficulties which affect their ability to communicate verbally). My personal experience and that of many carers who have attended our classes is that signing babies become chattertots! See this video of Shawna signing. See how verbal she is?
Can Signing Make My Child Smarter?
There has been highly publicised research connecting signing with a significantly increased IQ, even up to age 7-8. Signing is a multi-sensory experience, stimulating both sides of the brain, giving children plenty of stimulation to activate neurological connections. This makes signing an excellent activity to support cognitive development. However, signing with your baby will not create a 'mini genious' and only supports cognitive development along with other varied activities.
How soon can I expect my baby to sign?
The age at which children begin to use signs varies greatly (like all aspects of children's development) and depends on a number of factors: age at which you start signing with your child; how consistent you are; how many people are signing with your child. Also, as in all areas of development, children are all different. All children will learn to sign, unless there is any physical or cognitive reason they are unable to do so. However, some children will do their first sign at 3 months (yes, it is not unheard of!), while others may be 11 months or older, despite the determined efforts of their family. The most important thing is to relax and enjoy signing, while being aware of things to look out for. It is important to note that the benefits of signing do not only begin when your child does their first sign. Babies can recognise and understand signs very quickly and this can be hugely beneficial. For example, your child may be crying for milk. You show them the milk sign and they calm down because they understand that you will soon be bringing milk.
Just for Babies?
No, signing is not just for babies. Sign2Music also offers classes for toddlers, nurseries, schools and preschools.
School age children love to sign. Signing appeals to young children as it is multi-sensory and appeals to their learning style. Children really enjoy action songs. They pick up language much faster than adults so why not use correct signs in these songs instead of random gestures, teaching the basics of a second language, a great communication and life skill.
Signing continues to benefit children as they get older, helping them understand concepts such as colours, numbers and letters. It has also helps promote self esteem. When a child is able to understand and be understood their confidence grows. Increased confidence and ability to communicate result in a socially skilled child.
This video show Cara demonstrating the sign for rainbow with Sandy. Cara was a 'signing baby'. As you can see, at the age of 4 she is very verbal and confident!
What Signs do we use in Sign2Music?
When I was setting up Sign2Music I made the decision early on to use NI regional British Sign Language (BSL) signs, the language used by most members of the deaf community in Northern Ireland. Like regional accents, BSL differs throughout the UK. The differences are particularly significant in Northern Ireland. We do not use NI regional BSL, a complete language system that has different sentence structure and grammar than English. We use NI regional BSL vocabulary to support the spoken word
People often question this decision as it did immediately create additional hurdles to jump and a lot of work! It would definitely have been easier to use makaton or English BSL sign as these are the signs used in existing baby signing resources. The graphics pack I purchased was created by Cath Smith in England. Luckily she agreed to work with me and over a number of years we have created the huge bank of additional graphics needed for our programmes. I am very grateful to her for the amount of work she put into this on our behalf!
Does it really matter what signing programme we use as it is only used to communicate within the home for a short time? Yes, it matters to me for number of reasons:
- I have a great respect for the Deaf community and the signed vocabulary we borrow from their beautiful language. I feel it is my responsibility to promote the use of this language in its correct regional form. And if you are learning to sign you may as well learn signs that are accurate and potentially useful!
- The signs we use are the basis of a second language used in NI that can be used to by you and your child to communicate with local sign language users.
- Many of our parents fall in love with sign language and decide to complete Stage 1 in their local college. If they weren't learning NI BSL signs in class they would have to start afresh and relearn the signs.
- Many children stop using signs when they no longer need to but some children continue to sign well into primary school. My daughter Cara is now 4. She loves to sign and it has continued to benefit her. I have a deaf friend and I think it is great that Cara has the ability to communicate with her on a basic level. Had she been using makaton or English BSL signs she would not have been able to do this!
- There are moves to introduce BSL as a language in schools. If your child has been to Sign2Music classes and their school is using Sign Language they have a head start!
WILL IT NOT BE HARD OR TIME CONSUMING TO PICK UP THE SIGNS?
The good news for busy parents is that it is quite easy to learn essential signs, even without prior experience using BSL. Signs are easy for babies to understand, as many BSL signs are iconic; they are manual imitations of the actions or objects they represent. For example, the BSL sign for "bird" is demonstrated by placing the finger and thumb next to the mouth in the shape of a bird's beak. Many signs involve miming the action, eg, brushing your teeth or hair, washing your face.
DO OUR TEACHERS HAVE SIGNING QUALIFICATIONS AND DOES THIS REALLY MATTER?
Yes and yes!! Deirdre is qualified to BSL Stage 2 and other presenters also have, and most are continuing, Sign Language training.
Having a sign language qualification is an essential requirement in becoming a Sign2Music teacher. Knowing your teacher is qualified reassures you that you are likely to be learning accurate signs. It also means your teacher has an awareness of deaf culture and of the context of signing. As well as the signs taught in the class, you can also request other signs that would be helpful for you and your child, eg, if your family has an unusual pet. Using accurate signs means that our classes are fully inclusive and are suitable for children with hearing impairments, speech delay and learning disabilities.
WHY USE SIGN LANGUAGE INSTEAD OF MY OWN 'SIGNS'?
By using BSL signs, you are introducing you child to a rich and beautiful second language that they can continue to use and explore as they grow. Deirdre, founder of Sign2Music is currently the only Sign2Me presenter in Northern Ireland. Sign2Music uses the award-winning SIGN with your BABY programme by Dr Joseph Garcia, who was an American interpreter, and the first person to research the use of sign language in facilitating preverbal communication. In his words:
“By using American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL) or the signs of a specific region, we open the doors to communicating with a much broader community of people – and we lay the foundation for our children to continue learning and using ASL throughout their lives”
“I think ASL is a gift from the Deaf community. I can’t think of a better way for us to honour this gift than by using to facilitate early communication and bonding”