Silent Language

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This week, after waiting out a terrible hail storm in our van, the kids and I were tired, hungry and weary of being cooped up. We made an impromptu stop at a diner style restaurant and ordered whole wheat grilled cheese. Our dinner together was very calm, relaxed and enjoyable. But I started getting funny glaces as I signed: Jonathan, would you like “more” “crackers?” Say “thank you” “Mama.” I wondered if the people in the surrounding booths were thinking that one or both of my kids were hearing impaired, or if they were just amazed, as I am, that my 13 month kiddos can communicate via sign language.

My fascination with baby sign language began when my sister-in-law taught my niece to sign. It was amazing! The only problem was, the rest of us had NO IDEA what she was saying! So without Tonya to interpret, we were clueless about what Natalie was talking about!

 Signing seemed like a good idea, a possible way to cut down on tantrums and communication frustrations.  Plus it was something I thought I could teach the kids for fun, without getting caught up in the whole “baby genius” thing. I am leery of anything that puts unrealistic expectations on babies, but signing seemed like more fun than work. I borrowed my niece’s signing video’s and started trying to watch them with the kids around the age of 9 months. Their attention span was about 30 seconds, so I ended up watching the video by myself. I learned several signs, and practiced them with the kids often.  We tried the video again at 10 months with slightly more success. Faith was entranced for about 5 minutes, and Jonathan could have cared less.  At 10 1/2 months, Faith signed “more” for the first time. Jonathan didn’t start signing until after their first birthday.  At the time, I thought he was never going to sign, that it just wasn’t his thing. And then, one day, he signed “more” like he had always been doing it. “Dog” and “eat” quickly followed suit.

At 13 months of age, we are all on the signing bandwagon. The kids grandparents think it is cool, as do the aunts and uncles. My normally stoic husband cheers when the kids use a new sign. The kids themselves are so proud when they clearly communicate something to us by sign.

The other day, I did have a moment where I regretted teaching the kids sign language… I was quickly trying to get dinner ready, and Jonathan and Faith were standing at the gate, upset. Faith pounded on the gate, and when I turned to look at her, she frantically signed “EAT! EAT! EAT!” I said “Sweetheart, I know you are hungry. Mom is fixing dinner as fast as I can! “EAT! EAT! EAT!” More banging. I don’t think I have ever cooked with that much pressure before!

The key to our signing fun, has been for me and my husband to learn the signs and use them in normal conversation. We don’t have lesson time, but when the neighbor’s dog barks, we all four turn to eachother and sign “Dog.” The words that I have found easy to integrate into normal conversation are: Eat, More, Milk, Drink, All Done, Mama, Daddy, Dog, Cat, Car, Up, Down, Please, Thank You, No, Share, Baby, Sleep, Crackers and Hat.

Another helpful tool has been the flashcard pack Sign Language for Babies by Parents Magazine which you can buy here:

I keep this pack on my coffee table and practice my words while watching Jon and Kate Plus 8! The flashcards are also great for our babysitters to refrence, so they know what the kids are saying.

The last point I would like to make, is about baby signing vs. American Sign Language. The signs we teach our kids are a combo, but if you have a choice, I would go for a tool/book/product that is based on ASL. What we teach ourselves and our kids may come in handy someday! I know the little bit of spanish I learned in 2nd grade has stuck with me, but the three years I took in high school are long gone!

What are your thoughts on baby signing?


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15 thoughts on “Silent Language”

  1. I am a music teacher to deaf and hard of hearing children. In addition to signing and voicing for myself, I have wonderful ASL interpreters. These interpreters help me communicate the world of music to children who experience it very differently from hearing children.

    That being said, I am a big fan of hearing children learning some basic signs for communication! It helps with brain development, vocabulary building and parental stress of not being able to understand the needs of your little one(s).

    Krissy, you brought up two excellent points!
    1. Teaching your kids sign language should be fun for the family, not a demand on your wee ones’ schedule or development.
    2. There can be a difference between baby sign or ASL. My professional (and personal) opinion matches with Krissy’s – go with ASL if possible. It’s a beautiful language!

    Keep signing with your kids!! It’s fantastic!!

  2. Love it! I took the Kindermusik Sign & Sing class with my kids (and with M, it was our family-of-four Saturday outing for 10 weeks). My kids have yet to sign anything back to me, but I am not super consistent using it with them. I do try, though.

    I think the best points that I learned were to focus on signing when your kids are interested and engaged, sign where they’re looking (do it on them, or on the book or toy that they’re looking at), and to mix in words that you need and use a lot (more, all done, eat) with words that they’re super interested in (dog, cat, duck, light, fan).

    I also agree, I would totally go with ASL whenever possible. But just like spoken words, babies are going to have their own versions of signed words. It all works out in the end!

  3. So great to hear (ie. read) that they are signing back. I started signing milk, mama, dada to my twins at 3 months. Early, I know, I just wanted to start getting used to it myself. They are almost 6 months now and I have ‘introduced’ milk, mama, dada, grama, grampa, change, bath, eat, more, all done, night-night, apple. Of course, no signing back yet…but I am so excited for their first sign!

  4. Awesome post! We have found sign language to be a huge and wonderful accomplishment in our house. There is no doubt that the boys are thrilled to death to be able to communicate with us. I was personally surprised by how easy it’s been and how I didn’t need to buy into some elaborate program. It just takes a quick internet search for the sign followed by about a week (or less in many cases) of sticking with it.

  5. We started signing at 9 months and have LOVED it. It really helped ease frustrations with drinks and eating. Our main sign with twins is soft/gentle. I use this one 100x a day!!!

    A GREAT tool for signing is Signing Time on PBS. Every day they have a different theme. The babies LOVE Rachel (the host) and Signing Time.

  6. Wow, I wish I’d read this when my twins were little. I’m sure it would have helped us through a lot of frustrations. I am so impressed with parents who take the time to learn this and do it!

  7. I used signs with my twins – we got more, milk, eat, and please down cold. (Mom was pretty lazy about learning others – and these seemed to work for most things). My poor son would do a combination of all of them just to try to get something, ANYTHING! :)

    And I THINK Logan (at 9.5 months) just signed “more” tonight (Go Logan!)…but he could have just been clapping LOL

    My sister has kicked BUTT with sign language. To the point when she didn’t acknowledge her son’s “milk” one night, he put his little hands right in her face to sign it again. LOL Sing “yelling” tee hee

  8. I’ve taught my twin boys to sign basic things too. My older son didn’t talk till almost three and he really could have used a way to communicate.

    Signing is helpful, but you must say the word as you’re doing the sign to encourage them to talk. :)

  9. We have taught our children to sign as well. It started because my 3rd child has a brain disorder that effected her speech and she couldn’t talk. So, we found ASL and used the Signing Time! DVD’s. We learned so much and can communicate with our daughter as well as out other 2 little ones. Signing made it easier to deal with frustration. Good for you in teaching sign. You should check out and learn more about the company and people behind the DVD’s. Happy signing! :)

  10. I am nowhere near becoming a mom but I love hearing tidbits like this. This sounds like an amazing way to communicate with your children. Hopefully I remember this info for later on in life!

    Oh and I LOVE jon & kate plus 8!

  11. My youngest grandson is turning 1 year old tomorrow and is beginning to sign. I am amazed at how patient he is and calm as he asks for what he wants. Little brother (or sister) is due any day. It will be fun seeing the two of the develop together as they grow with their signing skills.

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