Why should I teach my baby sign language when she is not deaf?
Signing builds on a baby’s natural ability to use gestures. They are able to coordinate the muscles to make signs (hand movements) many months before they are able to speak, certainly before they can coherently relay their needs/desires. Signing with hearing babies is not intended to replace speech. When signing with your child you ALWAYS say the word as well.
I am worried that if I sign with my baby it will delay her speaking or stop her altogether?
People have been signing with babies (especially in the United States) for many years and this has not been experienced. The opposite in fact. The research suggests that babies who sign speak earlier than non-signing babies, that they have a larger vocabulary at a young age, take a greater interest in books, engage in more ‘sophisticated’ play and even have higher IQs!
Signing is a natural pre-cursor to speech similar to the fact that developmentally many babies crawl before they walk but there is no concern that by crawling they will lose the desire or ability to progress to walking. Signing is always done in conjunction with speaking. It merely gives babies an ability to communicate what they want before they can actually verbalise it.
A signing baby has a stronger foundation for language and communication. Because they can support their first speech with signs it has been found that they have fewer miscommunications and tantrums and therefore more success with language.
When can I start signing with my baby?
You can start doing basic signs right from when your baby is born, although it appears that they still won’t sign back to you for several months. Although they will undoubtedly understand them far earlier. In fact, one current Sign2Me Instructor, Laura Berg, www.mysmarthands.com has signed with her son since birth and much to his Mum’s joy he recently requested milk at 6 months using the sign! (see clip) NB all babies sign back when they are READY and they are all different, some may sign at 8 months and others at 14 months, we have found the majority of hearing babies sign back on average between 10 and 13 months.
Ideally we recommend starting to sign with your baby at about 6 months of age mostly because it is then usually only two or three months before she will sign back to you. The older your child is when you start the quicker she will be at replicating the signs. It is never too late to start signing with your young child.