You’re sitting with your baby, and out of the blue your child starts crying. Even though your child can’t talk yet, you start asking questions, as if your son or daughter can give you an answer. “Are you hungry?” “Did you hurt yourself?” “Does your tummy bother you?”
Imagine how surprised you’d be if your baby actually answered. For many parents, it’s not surprising at all. It’s just baby sign language in action. With programs like Baby Signs®, more and more parents are using sign language as a tool to help toddlers and young children express themselves and communicate with others before they can speak clearly.
By using simple, physical gestures, babies may learn to tell their parents what they need, what they see and even how they feel. For example, a baby who taps fingertips against his or her lips wants to eat. When he or she taps fingertips together, they want more food. Tapping both index fingers together means they are hurt. As they get older, your baby may be able to sign more intricate words and concepts, such as “The cat hurt me” or “I want more juice.”
Improved communication is just one benefit of teaching sign language to young children. Through nearly two decades of research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Dr. Susan Goodwyn and Dr. Linda Acredolo — the founders of the Baby Signs® Program — have shown that babies who use sign language consistently scored higher on standardized tests of both receptive language development (how much they understand) and expressive language development (how much they can say).
Nevertheless, some parents fear that encouraging a toddler to use sign language might slow down the child’s ability to learn to talk. It seems that the opposite is true. According to the NIH, two-year-olds who used baby sign language had significantly larger verbal vocabularies than their non-signing peers. Dr. Goodwyn notes that babies “gain a lot of language knowledge when they are able to actively engage in communication by using signs — knowledge that lays a good foundation for learning to talk.” It’s similar to a child who learns to crawl being more motivated to learn to walk.
Is sign language the right choice for your child? That’s a choice only you can make.
To learn more about baby sign language, here are some online resources that might be helpful: