I am a firm advocate of using sign language with children. This passion came about when I was pregnant with my 1st child, Haley Rose. I read an article about sign language & how it can enhance a baby’s cognitive development & help them communicate before they can speak. I was intrigued by the thought. At the time, baby sign language was not well known in my group of mommy friends. I immediately did a google search & found these Baby Signing Time DVD's, of which there were only two at the time.
I ordered them right away! I had no previous signing experience other than the one American Sign Language course I took in my first semester of college. Fast-forward a few months later, my daughter was born. She was beautiful! We were in love & ready to let her experience the world!
We began by signing the word milk consistently from day one. (To sign milk, open & close your fists like you are milking a cow.) Every time I nursed, I would look her in the eyes & sign/say milk over and over. When I pumped & she drank from the bottle, my husband would do the same. I worked full time as a NYC teacher and I was fortunate to have my mom watch her. My mom also was on board, bought a set of Baby Signing Time DVD's for herself and signed with her as well. We were all very consistent with it.
One evening in the middle of the night, Haley woke up crying. I had just fed her about an hour before & I was exhausted, as most new moms are. I remember picking her up and saying, “What’s the matter? You can’t possibly want milk again?!” Her eyes were still closed as she was crying. In that moment, BOTH of her tiny hands started signing milk! I was elated! I could not believe that what we had been doing actually paid off! She was only seven months old! I woke up the hubby as fast as I could and we both sat there amazed through tired eyes. She was able to communicate before she could speak! Amazing! So it began...
We continued to learn and teach what we could & she continued to amaze us with her signing vocabulary. The funny thing was that it wasn't only her signing vocabulary that was flourishing, her speech was developing quite rapidly & we saw her very spunky personality very early on. (If you are the parent of a signing baby, I'm sure you know what I mean. Signing babies really give us a window into their mind and you can actually see what they are thinking. It's so fascinating!) We would drop her off at the baby nursery in our church & people, without fail, thought she was much older than she was. Now, in hindsight, I can see why this was happening. There is a lot of scientific research on the benefits of signing with babies & the unique way it enhances brain development.
Four and a half years later, we had our 2nd baby girl, Chloë Quinn. We felt a little more confident with this parenting thing with baby number two! We started signing with her from birth just because we were really excited to see if she would catch on like Haley did. Sure enough, when she was about 6 months old, her first sign was the word DUCK. (The sign for DUCK looks just like a duck's bill opening and closing.) Every morning, I would take her into my bed...actually every morning she was already in my bed. How did that happen?! Anyway, I had a rubber duck on my bedside table & each morning when Chloë woke up, I signed DUCK & gave it to her to play with. One morning, without me even saying the word, she signed the word DUCK to me. This signing thing really works! Time went on...Chloë's signing vocabulary & verbal speech both flourished earlier than what was considered "normal" just like her big sister. "Normal" is such a terrible word to use when discussing children's development anyway!
And again...four and a half years later, our 3rd baby GIRL was born. Please pray for my poor husband when you think of him! At least the dog is a boy! ; ) Her name is Riley Jade. We were even MORE comfortable with this parenting gig.
Riley began signing at six months as well. Her first sign was DOG because we have one. His name is Gunther. If you happen to watch my Instagram stories, I'm sure you're well acquainted with his adventures. Riley loves Gunther and it was only natural that her first sign was initiated towards someone she loved and was excited about.
American Sign Language is beautiful & has been such a wonderful tool for parents of children with disabilities & without. Children with Down Syndrome, in particular, have seen amazing results when signing. I encourage you to give it a try, if you have not already. With consistency, you will see results!
UPDATE: We’ve now added baby girl #4 to the family. She signed milk for the first time at 5 months.
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