Sunday, June 17, 2012

Guest Post: Starting on the Baby Signing Journey

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ever wondered what baby is trying to communicate to you? Wanting something but not being able to express it can be extremely frustrating for the baby, and can lead to loud crying, and even tantrums. 

One of the key benefits of signing with baby is it gives the baby the ability to express important needs and thoughts. As babies develop hand-eye coordination sooner than verbal skills, they can learn simple signs for common words such as 'eat', 'sleep', 'milk' and so on before they can even produce understandable speech. This ability to communicate boosts the baby's self confidence and stimulates intellectual development. It also strengthens a parent's bond with the baby, and minimizes the frustrations that come with trying to understand what baby is saying or needing.

So, all the benefits of baby signing aside, what can parents do to begin on this journey?

Recently, I met Alicia, a mum blogger and certified Baby Signing Instructor. I'm delighted to have her share with us her expert tips and experience on how parents can learn and introduce signing to their little ones. 

TM: What are the common difficulties that parents face when learning signing? How can they overcome these?
Alicia: Some of the most common questions I get are ‘when can I start’ and ‘how soon can my baby sign back/why is my baby not signing back yet’? I guess these are parents’ usual concern when they first start to consider baby signing. 

Technically one can start signing to a newborn though I only started when my baby was around five months. This is because at a young age, the infant lacks the motor dexterity to sign back so even if a parent were to start really early, it would take some months before the child can respond. 
Consistency is the key here. The more you sign to your child, the faster your child is able to make the association between the spoken word (sound), the meaning of the word and the sign for it. 

TM: Why is it that babies can understand signing at such a young age? Are there babies who don't?
Alicia: Imagine a baby waving goodbye to you. That itself is a type of sign. Hence, it is very natural for children to communicate with the body language before her speech is developed and baby signing takes advantage of this. Generally most children are able to communicate to some level with signs and I have not met any babies who are unable to so far unless it is due to medical reason(s). One of the key advantages of signing is it increases the confidence of babies in communicating with her caregiver as she now knows that you understand her and is able to meet or respond to her needs be it a staple like asking for milk or a ball for play. So, that in itself is a positive motivation for the baby. 

TM: How long does it usually take for a parent to learn signing? How often must they practice?
Alicia: In my classes and sharing, I always encourage parents to start with something that is relevant for the child and to start small. So, even if it is just three to five signs, the parent can pick up immediately and focus on these ‘core’ signs first. The child will pick up these signs faster as opposed to twenty different signs within a short period. 

TM: How should a parent introduce signing to a baby?
Alicia: For example, for really young children, I strongly encourage parents to pick up staple signs such as ‘milk’ or ‘eat’ as these are the most important signs for the child at this age. Whenever you give milk or food to the child, you should sign accordingly. Consistency and repetition are the key success factors here. So, sign, sign, sign away whenever there is a chance. 

TM: Should signing be introduced alongside the parent's own learning journey? Or after the parent has learnt it?
Alicia: Most signs are very natural or have some logic to it. For example, the sign for ‘drink’ is holding up a cup and tipping it backwards to the lips. So it is very easy to pick up. Parents can start immediately once they learn those three to five core signs. This is what makes baby signing really fun too – you learn along with your child and the bonding is truly amazing. 

TM: There are books on signing, even apps on signing. Are these sufficient for a parent? Should a parent actually take lessons?
Alicia: I first started by borrowing relevant titles and reading up on my own before taking up a certification course.  What I do encourage is for parents to pick up the proper signs (whether it is American sign language or British sign language) as opposed to creating your own. This is because with a formal system, there is progression and a signing parent will find it very much easier to add on to the signing vocabulary. If you use made up signs interchangeably with some of the proper ASL signs, there could be confusion if you should accidentally end up with similar signs.

Taking up classes to learn baby signing has many advantages. You have a chance to ask an instructor the questions you may have, you learn about sign approximates and you also get to know and interact with like-minded parents who wish to embark on the same journey as you and learn from each other’s experiences. In my Baby Signing classes, I also share ideas and simple activities (including crafts!) for parents to do with their children at the home front. 

TM: Thank you Alicia for giving us these baby signing tips.

About Alicia Tan
Alicia Tan is the first certified Baby Signing Instructor in Singapore by Baby Signing Time in the US. She started signing to her child when her baby was less than 6 months and is a strong believer in the benefits signing to children brings. Her child, nicknamed Dumpling, is now 3.5 years old and is an early reader who counts Elmer and Curious George as some of her favourite titles. Alicia is currently homeschooling her child and believes strongly in outdoor investigative fun learning through field trips and excursions where she sometimes has more fun than Dumpling. She blogs her about her parenting and home learning journey at http://www.beanienus.blogspot.com.

Note: This is not a paid or sponsored post. I invited Alicia to share about baby signing because I myself am trying to start on this journey. I hope you have found this post useful!

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