When Polly was a mere four months old, I took her to baby signing classes, via Babies Can Sign. Part of me wonders now why on earth I took her so early – she couldn’t even sit unsupported at the time. By the end of the program of ten classes, she was just about signing for “milk”, but not particularly consistently. I signed up again – for the same Babies Can Sign 1 class, not the next level for bigger babies. The main reason I signed up again was so she could continue to play with other babies – not necessarily because I thought she’d pick any more up. I was pretty convinced she’d be talking before she was signing anyway.
How wrong I was! She seems to have suddenly picked up loads.
It was a sudden change – although she’d been consistently signing “music” for a while, other signs were either absent or inconsistent. The sign for “music” is like conducting an orchestra, so for a musical babe like Polly it must have felt quite natural. The sign for “milk” is less so. When she suddenly started properly, consistently and insistently signing “milk”, it was a big change. Most importantly, to a baby there isn’t much of a logical link between the sign for “milk” (hold your open dominant hand sideways, and close/open/close/open – in theory like milking a cow) and actual drinking of it – so it’s clearly learned.
It’s too early to tell whether signing has had any impact on her speech acquisition, though she seems to either speak a word or sign it, never both at the same time. Baby signing is based on BSL, but with spoken language order, which means any BSL grammar is lost – you speak as normal, but sign relevant words as you say them.
She’s now signing and talking quite a lot, and it’s added such value to her attempts to communicate. For example, once while sat in the living room in her high chair, her daddy came in from work, but quickly then went to get changed. She pointed backwards to the door while saying “hiya”, then made the sign for “all gone” and made a sad noise. A fantastic sentence I think! “My daddy came in over there, I said hello, then he went away and I am not happy about it!”
More recently, she has gone towards the kitchen, stopped, and signed for lights going on and off, to signal that she wants to go into the kitchen but she can’t because it’s too dark.
So many words you’d like your baby to learn are very similar at the start of language acquisition. For a start, just think of how many start with a B – baby, ball, bath, balloon, bubble, bed, book, blanket, bear, bowl, biscuit – the signs can make it much more likely that you’ll understand which is being communicated.
Easier communication, less frustration, happier baby, happier everyone all round :)