Have you heard of baby sign language? Are you wondering whether it works and if it can really improve communication with your baby? Our teachers at Tandem IMS have been consistently using baby sign language in our early years and pre-school groups for several years and they confirm it makes a big difference. Therefore, we would like to explain how baby sign language works, what benefits it brings, and how you can introduce and use it at home.
While baby sign language allows parents or carers to interact with the child, more importantly, it empowers the baby to communicate with them. At such a young age, a baby can become very frustrated when they want to express how they feel or what they need. This frustration can be passed onto family members and carers who are trying to figure out how to help the child.
Our early years teacher, Karen, suggests that using symbolic gestures enables both parents and baby to communicate with each other. She recommends, when signing, to also use your voice so that the child connects the two stimuli, which will help build speech.
From about six months old, babies know what they want and when they want it. The emotion that a baby shows when they need something, but cannot tell you, has a very powerful effect on a parent. You clearly see that the child needs something, but you cannot figure it out quick enough before the tears or screaming begins. By using sign language, you are building a connection with the child that allows them to feel understood and helps them communicate their needs.
We have observed that using baby sign language also contributes to the development of other communication skills such as visual perception. While making eye contact with the baby, the baby's attention span increases. This, in turn, strengthens the mutual connection and helps them understand how to connect with others. Using baby sign language also aids in building vocabulary when connecting signs with food, drink, and even people.
Karen suggests to begin with simple signs such as food, drink, milk, water, banana, or apple. These signs are very useful, to begin with as parents will start to know their child’s routine, when they are hungry and begin to be aware of what the baby prefers. While younger babies may not be able to sign perfectly, they may identify what their parents are signing to them and be able to communicate in this way. Signs are generally recognised by the child before they can repeat the action. However, it has been found that babies are able to sign the item before they are able to speak the word. This process allows the baby to develop understanding and communication from an early age.
We have found that the best time to introduce signs is during feeding time or while singing songs. Some signs that are commonly used in nursery rhymes are gestures that babies become familiar with and are recognised as sign language. Moving onto a wider range of words, Karen suggests that parents use images and sign language posters around the home to introduce new words such as family members, items around their homes, and pets. Introducing new signs allows the baby to build up their vocabulary and expressions for future communication.
The benefits of baby sign language are most noticeable with multilingual families. When a child knows the word in one language but is unsure in another language, they can use sign language to help them be understood by others. Likewise, parents can use signs when teaching their child new words in a different language.
Our experience shows that parents have found sign language very helpful as they are able to better understand the child's needs. This reduces frustration and emotional episodes. Our parents have also commented that they feel more confident in being able to meet their child's needs. They enjoy watching their children think, learn and develop while gaining great confidence from their new ability to communicate. In fact, some parents believe that being able to communicate at such a young age has increased the child's vocabulary and language skills at later ages, enabling them to use a vast variety of words in their everyday language.
Other benefits of baby sign language are noted with other children within the home. Some older children want to bond with their siblings but are unsure on how to communicate with the younger child when they cannot speak. By teaching sign language to all children, they then can ‘talk’ with each other, helping them to build a close bond.
Using baby sign language at our early years and pre-school groups has brought about numerous benefits for the parents and babies. Our parents find that it is a wonderful bonding experience that allows them to talk, laugh, touch, and develop with their baby. Children who learn baby sign language reap the psychological benefits due to improved confidence, higher self-esteem, and reassurance. Generally, parents find that outbursts of emotions are reduced as the child can now sign what their needs are. Moving through each stage, the child will soon develop the speech for the signs that they learnt from such a young age, allowing them to more quickly increase their range of words and feel confident in their delivery.
Our nursery team was trained and individually assessed by TinyTalk, to use a range of everyday signs with the children who attend Tandem International Multilingual School on a day-to-day basis.