Saturday, April 11, 2009

A review of Baby Signing Time DVDs, aka the cocaine of signing babies

I'm taking my subtitle from a quote from a (perhaps) little-known '90s movie called Watch It, wherein a cocky John McGinley explains that he can attract the ladies despite his arrogant ways because — "I am human cocaine."

Sam & I have found it a useful metaphor for when some things are inexplicably addictive.

Baby Signing Time DVDs are now one of those mysteries. Just ask Mikko.

I mentioned before that we hadn't yet tried out the Baby Signing Time DVDs, just the regular Signing Time versions.

I found the regular Signing Time DVDs, despite being geared toward preschool or elementary children, very useful for Sam and me as adults as an easy, fun, nonthreatening way to learn a variety of useful signs. (If I want only a refresher and get bored with the repetition, I can just click forward to the next sign.)

I had avoided the Baby Signing Time versions, because they were marketed as being for 3-month-olds up through about age 3, and I have philosophical aversions to parking my not-yet-2-year-old in front of the TV. I certainly don't think a 3-month-old needs a DVD! I think I was considering them akin to Baby Einstein, but it occurred to me belatedly that they're probably being marketed to the parents maybe more so than to the children.

Anyway, somewhat hesitantly, I checked a couple of the Baby versions out of the library this past month, and I blame what followed all on this blog, because I had said I would see what they were like. I started playing them, and Mikko was transfixed. He usually pays no attention to what's on our television screen, but he loved these programs.

Well, it is what it is. Baby Signing Time DVDs are toddler narcotics. Now it's just a question of limiting the amount of time he watches them, a process that will be helped by the fact that they're due back at the library soon.

But, here's my two cents on the series, for interested parents or for toddlers who are seeking a quick signing high:

     • I'm, as ever, impressed with the production values. For a smaller, mama-started company, Two Little Hands Productions does a quality job with its DVDs and original songs.

     • As far as the young age recommendations go: As I said, to be fair, it's not clear if the DVDs are for parents of such young children or for the children themselves. I can see the Baby versions being used as simplified starter kits for the parents if the parents are avoiding screen time for their little ones. (Just don't play them when your baby's around! Don't say I didn't warn you!) They're also (obviously) very attractive as occasional viewing for older toddlers and aren't as annoying to have playing as certain purple dinosaurs. (My niece had an addiction that lay that direction.)

     • The differences between the regular and Baby versions isn't huge. It seems like the Baby versions offer fewer signs and more repetition, with simpler songs.

     • The songs are very repetitious on the Baby version, presumably to emphasize the signs. But they're also super catchy! "Put your fingertips together for more, more, more" has been going through my head for a day and a half now. They'll stick with you long enough to start incorporating them into your daily routines of eating, playing, sleeptime, and observing the wide world.

     • The babies featured are all younger (generally 1-3 years old), whereas the regular Signing Time DVDs might have elementary age children as well as toddlers. The cohosts on the regular version are the real life children Alex & Leah, whereas the Baby version features animated drawings of baby Alex and baby Leah. If you have older kids with a concept of what's cool or not, they might not groove to watching diaper-clad cartoon tots.

     • The signs in the Baby version might be a little more basic. Depending on which volume you have, you'll learn names of foods (carrot, apple, milk), signs relating to the outdoors (outside, snow, wind), or old standbys like "more" and "all done." But I don't know — they didn't seem dumbed down at all, and there was still a good variety. The reason the regular versions have more signs to offer might just be that there are simply more volumes out of the regular ones so far. I do know the regular versions, at least in the second series DVDs, are now offering more interactive practice and signs involving finger spelling.

     • For "milk," they (hooray!) showed a nursing mama and baby along with toddlers drinking from sippy cups and bottles. I was suitably pleased. Granted, the nursling was a newborn, and you couldn't really see anything (not that that's bad or unexpected — I'm just pointing it out), but a child voiceover said something about a baby drinking mommy's milk, which I thought was positive and matter-of-fact.

     • Rachel, the host and co-founder, is unfailingly energetic but manages to avoid being cloying. It's a fine line, but I think she pulls it off. (I refer you back to the purple dinosaur for a counter example.) I certainly couldn't manage that much genuine enthusiasm, so kudos to her.

     • As with any child-oriented programming, it's best to use it interactively with your children. We watch with Mikko, prompting him to repeat the signs along with Rachel and the featured signing babies, and we point out favorite things he might see on the screen, such as dogs and flowers. That way, he's not just sitting and staring and he's still having playtime with us.

     • Mikko has learned so many signs from three days of watching these DVDs! I mentioned in my last post that he's had a sign explosion just recently. Well, I'm not saying it couldn't have happened without the Baby Signing Time DVDs, but the fact is that it happened with them. He easily picked up "bug," "day," "cloud," "stop," "go," and "snow," and probably others I'm forgetting right now. These were all completely new signs to him, and it took only one viewing of each to get the hang of them.

     • Most exciting of all (to me), he's started to say the words as well! It's garbled, but he said "cloud," "go," "baby," and "more," all without prompting, surprising the snot out of me. Maybe it's just language explosion time in general!

So, there you have it. I thought I might not be as enthusiastic about the Baby Signing Time DVDs as I am about the regular versions, but it turns out — they're all good! So whatever's easier to get hold of, or whatever level appeals to you, go for it.

OK, this might be belaboring the obvious, but I'll just point out the difference in appearance between the two versions so you can easily tell them apart: The regular Signing Time DVDs just say "Signing Time," feature Rachel on the covers, and are more primary colors. The Baby versions say "Baby Signing Time," have prominent pictures of adorable tots, and are more pastel in their color scheme.

I'd recommend the older versions if you want a greater amount of vocabulary and more practice with things like finger spelling or counting or other more complicated signing skills. Don't worry — it never gets too complicated, but it's a good DVD set for preschool or older children or for adults who want a fun entry into signing. I know there are even flash cards (for both versions) and extra practice modules if you want to get more intensive.

But if you have a young baby and want a good introduction to the most useful and basic signs for signing with your baby, give Baby Signing Time a try. Our library now has all the available volumes of each, or you could try Amazon or eBay for perhaps some bundle deals.

The audio CDs of Rachel Coleman's songs for both the regular and Baby versions are also available if you want to keep singing along throughout the day. No, seriously, "put your fingertips together, your fingertips together, your fingertips together for more, more..." — it doesn't stop!


Lisa C said...

Hey, thanks for the great review. I've been wanting to introduce new signs to my 9mo, but wasn't sure where to go.

Jinxy said...

Thanks for the review. I have a 3.5 month old and was wondering if these were good or pointless.

Lauren Wayne said...

Hope you have fun with signing! If you get bored with the repetition, remember you can always click the "forward" button your DVD remote to go straight to the next sign. I will say, though, that I appreciate seeing real kids repeating the signs, because you get a sampling of what the signs might look like as done by a baby. With those chubby little hands and still-developing motor skills, it's never quite what you'd expect!

Unknown said...

Great review. probably won't buy them, but still great to read this.
My LO has recently started using one sign. I'm not really sure what to teach next.

BTW, I've been trying to visit your site for a couple of months now on and off. In IE I get a 'stack overflow' message and get stuck having to restart my computer.
I finally made it here using Firefox. Just wanted to let you know.
If you're non-techie, it means there's a scripting error on your site.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review! I was wondering how the "regular" version was versus the baby version. We rec'd the baby version as a gift. Even though Sean was only 4 weeks old (now 9), I put it on. It's a great bonding experience for us, actually, because I sing the songs (not very well, but he doesn't know) and do the signs. He stares intently at me while I'm doing it, and I'm learning how to sign. And believe it or not, a few fussy times, I hold him to me and sing them in his ear and he falls asleep. Once I figured that out, the CD that came with teh shower bundle went straight into his player, and that's what he falls asleep to every night now :)

I look forward to getting the regular version now. And at 1AM when I'm pumping or can't sleep, it's certainly easy to remember the words cuz they go through your head...on and on and on and on and on. LOL

Lauren Wayne said...

anon: Oh, yes, those songs get beloved quickly! I'm glad you're enjoying learning the signs. We've been watching the regular version, the new Series 2, more and more now as we (all) increase in proficiency -- our son's 2 now, and he's learning to finger spell and other things that boggle our minds. I've found that the regular version (in Series 2, at least) has a lot more contextual signs (as in, signs that Rachel uses that she doesn't explain) as well as finger-spelled signs (the sign for "toys," for instance, is just to spell it out) and counting in sign, so it's a great next step up (but only if/when you feel like it!).

Oh, mon, very belatedly: Thanks for the heads up. I was working on that script overflow thing for forever. I have a Mac, so we don't get those. [shrug] I've tried limiting number of posts, number of scripts, etc., but I can't easily test if it's working. But I hope I at least made it less likely to happen, if not stamped it out completely. Frustrating all around!

Anonymous said...

Oh awesome! I had no idea these existed, so when I saw the topic of this post I had to read it. It looks like my library has several copies! I couldn't tell if it was the grownup or baby version, though. I guess I'll see when I pick it up!

Anonymous said...

I love your post. I was curious to see what others were saying about "Baby Signing Time". I couldn't have written this better myselft. I had bought my 6 month old volume 1 & 2. She wasn't interested. Now, at 18months I dusted the dvd's off and well, she is addicted. Just a couple of days into it, she signs "baby" points to the t.v. so she can watch. I would recommend this to everyone with a toddler.
thanks for your post.

Lauren Wayne said...

jorje: I forgot to ask which version your library ended up having.

motherese: Isn't it funny how attractive they are to toddlers? Are the songs going through your head yet? :)

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