A Foray Into Baby Sign Language

Little Aussie
"Eat!"

“Eat!”

Around 5p.m. many days, we let Hushpuppy watch some television while I make dinner and Partner-in-Crime is working. We try to keep it educational (though Peppa Pig is creeping her crafty little way into the mix more and more), and our preferred series are either Playschool or Baby Einstein. For some time, P-i-C has been intrigued by the idea of baby sign language, which is a gestural method that allows babies who are too young to speak to communicate with signs. It seemed interesting but, frankly, we were a bit too lazy to really work with her on it from an early age. Our passing interest, however, led P-i-C to pick out the “First Signs” episode of Baby Einstein for Hushpuppy to watch during her TV time. Marlee Matlin stars, and it works through a series of signs related to home life, eating, and bedtime.

To our surprise, Hushpuppy started picking up the signs with joy. She became quickly adept at the sign for “eat,” which will be no surprise to fellow toddler parents, and then started learning more and more. I’d actually not been paying much attention to the video, so as her baby sign language vocabulary started to surpass mine, I needed to sit down with her for a viewing so that I could learn all of them, too!

She was about 18 months when we started, and now at 21 months she’s become quite adept at communicating with an effective mixture of words and baby sign language. At the moment, her vocabulary of spoken words is around 35 words (one of which is “Peppa”), so there’s still plenty that she wants to say that she can’t, yet. Baby sign language is filling in a lot of those gaps.

For instance, she used to get very frustrated and point frantically at wherever she thought her cup was when she wanted water, which often took me some time to figure out. Now she just signs for “drink,” and I know right away what she’s after.

Drink.

Drink.

I also get a great sense of what she’s thinking about. For example, she’ll often do the sign for plane, signalling that she’s heard a plane or the TV station helicopter that flies by our house. She’s much more adept at noticing those noises than I am.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Or, the other day, we were on the bus, and she was looking up at the sign in the window that shows icons illustrating who is permitted to sit in the special assistance seats. One of the pictures is a pram, and she started doing the sign for “baby.” I thought that was pretty clever, I must say. She also points to the paint on the bus floor, which has those shiny specks in it to make it reflective, and she signs “stars.” I love the things she notices. I would have never thought of the floor of the bus being stars. Such a lovely way to look at the world.

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“Baby” basically looks like you’re holding and rocking a baby.

I’ve been trying to work with her on the alphabet, and instead of repeating the letter sounds, she’s started telling me something that starts with that letter. I have no idea where she got this, but whenever we get to “C,” she starts gleefully doing the sign for “cereal.”

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A few others:

Milk –

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Bath –OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And her absolute favorite – “More.” She hasn’t quite worked out that doing the sign for more doesn’t automatically entitle her to more fruit or dessert.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At this stage, her baby sign language seems to be developing side by side with her verbal skills. Apparently studies have shown that learning baby sign language doesn’t impede verbal development, which I think is a common concern. That looks to be true from our experience. She’s picking up more spoken words every day, but also very quick to learn and even make up new signs. I think she’s just looking for whatever route she can take to communicate what she wants to say.  Baby sign language has certainly saved her, and us, a lot of frustration, and has been a window into what’s on her mind, even if she can’t yet speak the words.

5 thoughts on “A Foray Into Baby Sign Language

  1. Yvette

    Nah… she’s just super smart. But seriously. I think most kids are much more intelligent than we give them credit for. And even if speech were delayed (as with kids learning two languages at once), I believe it’s beneficial to them.

  2. Kirstie

    I took a few linguistics classes in college, and sign language came up a lot in those (how it develops in children, etc.), so this is pretty fascinating! I suddenly really want to teach my future kids sign language (although hopefully that’s years down the line!).

    1. Cristin Post author

      It does seem to come so naturally to her. I can highly recommend it – whenever that time comes. 😉

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