Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Get started baby signing: A review of Baby Sign Language for Hearing Babies

This is third in a series of guest posts for Hobo Mama by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Jorje Axline. I've talked about our baby sign language experiences with Mikko, and here Jorje is reviewing a book I never got to and ever so helpfully giving us the low-down on Baby Sign Language for Hearing Babies.

10 Fingers baby hands -- Andy Haworth

Guest post by Jorje Axline

I remember hearing about baby sign language when my middle child was already communicating pretty well. It sounded cool, but I wasn't sure if I would really dedicate the time to it and it seemed a bit late anyway. Well now I have a two-month-old and pretty much as soon as I brought her home, I picked out and requested Baby Sign Language for Hearing Babies -- Karyn Warburtona book from my local library about baby signing. I chose Baby Sign Language For Hearing Babies, by Karyn Warburton. (There wasn't a lot of selection in the first place, and this one was available.)

Haven't heard of baby signing?...especially not for hearing babies? The idea is that babies can communicate with you well before they are able to speak, especially before they are able to speak clearly! That doesn't sound so far-fetched, does it? Toddlers are famous for pointing at things, and who hasn't seen a baby raise their arms to an adult, the international sign for "Pick me up!"

The book is small enough (146 pages, including a picture dictionary), and the chapters are short, so they are separated pretty well into bite-sized bits. If you are a bathroom reader, this book would work well for that kind of reading. It is absolutely riddled with little anecdotes sent in by parents who have used the methods in the book. So if you don't like that style...well, at least you can skip those bits. They are clearly marked. Interestingly, all of the anecdotes come from New Zealand, including ones from the author and her husband. It seemed odd to me to have anecdotes added in by the actual author of the book. I mean...wouldn't that go into the content?

All right, before I rattle too much, I really wanted to go through the book in chapters for you:

  • Chapter 1 - This chapter tells you about the "Baby Talk Program," explaining what baby signing actually is. It also provides lots of researchy stuff on why YOU should try this! You can see the Table of Contents and read the entire first chapter of the book at Google Books.


  • Chapter 2 - tells you the benefits and explains that signing babies actually talk earlier than other babies! So this is kind of more selling you on the idea, including a FAQ section. I think the biggest selling point presented here is that if you teach your baby to sign, to communicate with you, you set her up for less frustration. Sure, a toddler can point, but it often takes several guesses to figure out what they want. Other examples are given, of course.


  • Chapter 3 - This is where I am right now. My darling Sasha is just now two months old. She hasn't even quite figured out that she has hands, so it is far too soon to teach signs! This chapter gives you ideas on how to sort of prime your baby for signing and how to tell when she is ready. My husband thought it was funny that some of the suggested games were ones he is already playing with her. That said, there is a reason that people naturally tend to play certain games with babies...because they need them for their developing synapses. That's right, playing peek-a-boo and squeezing your baby tight helps their little brains develop! I love this chapter (probably because it is our stage right now)! It has lots of ideas of games to play with your little one.


  • Chapter 4 - With so very many words to learn, the information could seem overwhelming. Where do you start? This chapter covers just that. The author suggests three words in particular to teach your baby first. I love that she suggests teaching your child words for whatever interests them. Much like child-led education (she is a Montessori teacher, btw), you want them to be interested. So teaching them how to communicate with you about whatever it is they most want to communicate just makes sense. She suggests starting with milk, eat, and more. These signs are simple enough that I am already doing them when I talk to Sasha now. I figure it can't hurt, right? Anyway, this chapter helps you figure out when your baby is ready for how much. It also provides some dos and don'ts, like not to pressure your child into signing or correct them when they get it wrong.


  • Chapter 5 - This chapter is about more advanced signing including emotions. I don't have a lot to say about this chapter because we are just nowhere near this stage yet!


  • Chapter 6 - This one is chock full of songs and games to do together! These help keep the learning fun and light. I can certainly say from experience as a Girl Scout leader that children love action songs! And really, aren't those basically signs set to music anyway?


  • Chapter 7 - This chapter talks about signing in child care centers and with special-needs babies. It encourages you to use all available time for signing. It isn't something for which you need to set lesson time aside. It is communication...and we communicate all the time. I agree that it is important that all adults who spend a lot of time with your child should be in the loop on signing with them.


  • Chapter 8 - This chapter is a signing dictionary, broken into very clear categories (clothing, animals, food, etc.), and it provides photographs of someone (the author, perhaps?) doing the signs. The chapter is accompanied by an index of the words as well, so the signs are cross-referenced pretty well.

Along the way, she also suggests that when your child needs a sign for something, don't put it off until you can check the book. Make one up! It isn't about what the official sign is for anything, it is simply about communicating. So if a sign makes sense to you and your baby, then it can be the right sign for you. The book has pictures of real children doing real signs sprinkled throughout. And what parent doesn't appreciate pictures of little ones being cute and amazing? It kind of shows you that this really can be done! I am really excited about signing with Sasha and we're having fun playing the "getting ready" games that we would have been playing anyway.

Admittedly, there is some controversy about this practice. The signs provided are not ASL signs or BSL signs. The book does warn that this system is meant only as an aid to early communication, not to teach signing as a second language.

But, no matter which baby sign language system you use, communicating with your pre-verbal baby will be a positive experience for you and for your baby. Baby Sign Language For Hearing Babies is a comprehensive tool to give you a good kickstart into baby signing!

[Editor's note: For further baby signing resources recommended by Hobo Mama, try the list at the end of this post and a review of Baby Signing Time. — HM]

Jorje -- mommy and childJorje is starting out Life #3 with a new husband and a new child. She is still figuring out this nursing-from-work business and enjoying cosleeping again. She is thankful that she and Daddy can take turns home with Sasha, but does miss having more time as a couple.

You can take a further peek into the day-to-day concerns, thoughts, and moments in Jorje's life in her journal at www.verthandi.org.


Baby hands photo titled 10 Fingers courtesy Andrew Haworth,
who graciously allowed us the use of it here.
Visit his sites Haworth Photography and Afraid to See
to view more of his work. He even said I didn't have to credit him,
and you can see how well I did at following that suggestion.


Please see Hobo Mama's Disclosure Policy for information about affiliate links.

8 comments:

CaroLyn said...

How timely! I've a four month old (my first) and I'm reading Baby Signs by Acredolo and Goodwyn. It is very similar to this book in layout and philosophy. I'm enjoying it a lot and already working in some of the basic signs when talking to the Baby Piranha. My husband is even somewhat enthused about it, though we'll have to be careful about making up signs for the same words, or better yet, a word in one language gets one sign and a word in another language meaning the same word gets a different sign... Could get confusing with me speaking English and signing to her and him speaking Spanish and signing to her! Fun though. I can't wait for her to start signing back.

Whozat said...

We've been signing to my daughter since she was very young, and she started signing back to us at 10 months.

Now, at 13 months, she knows about a half-dozen signs, and it already makes things SO much easier and less frustrating for us all - especially because she can tell us "more" or "all done" at mealtime.

We can also "chat" about dogs and flowers, which is just amazing.

Hobo Mama said...

CaroLyn: If you do use different signs in English & Spanish, let me know how it goes! I've actually been appreciating that the sign is the same from one language to another (English & German in our case), so that it builds sort of a bridge between the two languages. But I know there are specific Spanish sign languages, so maybe you could find out those signs! That would be cool.

Whozat: Isn't it great? I love having a window into their minds when they're still so young. It always astonished me what Mikko was noticing and thinking, and I would never have known if not for signing.

Jorje: Thanks again for guest posting! I'm so glad you tackled a book I hadn't read. I'm going to have to check it out now. Hope signing continues to go well for you guys & Sasha!

jorjedatoy said...

I'm curious, HM... did you choose the signing videos because they are ASL? or because they're videos?

I have picked up Vol 1 from my library and wonder how well I could use the two in conjunction.

Lisa - edenwild said...

I just want to say that baby sign language is AMAZING! My son (17 months) can communicate very effectively using signs, although he's dropped some signs as he is picking up more verbal language. His first sign was "milk" which he recognized at 5 months, and started using later. His signing really picked up around 13 months and in a couple months he had maybe 80 signs?

I like the website signingsavvy.com because it has a great animated dictionary. Baby Signing Time videos are the best! My son LOVES them, and he's learned a lot from them and also regular Signing Time videos, and I get to learn right along with him. I think it's the easiest way for the parents to learn the signs. Then you just use them regularly as you learn them...there is no special "teaching time"--you just use the signs in every day conversation.

jorjedatoy said...

Thanks for the link, Lisa!

Now if I can just *decide* whether I want to stress ASL or just go with whatever. I watched Signing Times with my 11yo daughter this weekend and we liked it.

Nancy said...

Hi all. I’ve been reading this thread & wanted to hop in. My name is Nancy Hanauer & I have a business called Hop to Signaroo ®. I teach American Sign Language (ASL) classes for hearing parents & babies. I started my biz in 2000 & was one of the first people in North American teaching classes. To date more than 1,500 babies & 3,000+ parents & educators in the Seattle area have graduated from my four-week classes & two-hour workshops. Previously, I was a Special Education Teacher & have 20years of teaching & signing experience. I tell you all this to verify my “street cred” so, hopefully, you’ll find my input & expertise helpful when deciding what kind of materials to use when signing with your little ones. ;0)

First let me tell you that the book Hobo Mom reviewed is not American Sign Language, it’s New Zealand Sign Language. A parent likely wouldn’t realize this unless they’re fluent in ASL & read the author’s bio on the back of the book. I’m very surprised it was published in the U.S. All developing countries have their own version of sign language, even though many people assume signing is universal.

The Baby Signs book, referenced by Caroline, is based on a system of created gestures. It does have *some* ASL signs but the basis of the program, & Acredolo & Goodwyn’s initial philosophy before they added a small portion of ASL signs, was a system of created gestures. Unfortunately some of their made-up gestures are inappropriate things in ASL & many of the created gestures involve sniffing, pant & blowing. Have you heard that signing with your baby will slow down speech? Well, it won’t if your use ASL b/c you speak to your little one as you normally do & add the key signs with your hands. If you teach your baby to sniff, pant or blow as a means of communication - well, you do the math. Also, if you teach your little one a created “language” & they’re in a distress situation signing “hurt” or “help”, no one else will understand them. If you use ASL, there’s a much better chance someone will.

Continued on next post...

Nancy said...

Part two...

As you’ve likely guessed, I’m a strong proponent of using true ASL signs. It’s the third most commonly used language in the U.S. after English & Spanish. When little ones see & use ASL their brains process it in a unique manner with right & left brain coordination, & that isn’t the case when exposed to created gestures or pantomime. Also, as a former Special Education teacher, I know that your little ones will encounter others who use ASL as their main means of communication by the time they’re in elementary school. With the amount of mainstreaming in the schools, why not teach a sensitivity, at an early age, for others who need to sign throughout their lives? Finally, many ASL signs are iconic, or representational, so they visually make sense to parents & little ones & are easier to learn & remember because of that.

The topic of bilingual homes came up in the thread and some wondered how to use sign language in that situation. You do not need to learn signs in the second language spoken, such as Spanish or German. The signs would indeed be different in ASL vs Spanish Sign Language or German Sign Language. Use the ASL whether the word is spoken in English, Spanish, German or whatever and your little one will have a better understanding of the two spoken languages, because of the signs used to link the two spoken languages in the home. Make sense?

For those of you still looking for quality materials, or wanting to focus purely on ASL signs, please check out my website for my Roo-minder Rings. I created these, instead of a book, b/c busy parents often don’t have time to make it through an entire book. The rings of cards can be hooked onto a diaper bag, high chair or stroller or post individual cards around the house for reminders to sign consistently. They’re the only cards that have full-color photos of adults signing, arrows, sign descriptions & memory aids to remember the signs. Also, they're laminated...i.e. spit up proof! ;0) I also sell a fun ASL music CD & songbook set on my site from a local publisher & adults & little ones love the music! BTW, I give a big thumbs up to the Signing Time videos. They’re all true ASL & the one of the children starring in them is deaf & the other is hearing.

Finally, if any of you are in the Seattle area, I hope you’ll check out the class offerings on my website. Happy signing all! I hope you found this info helpful & feel free to email me through my website if you have any questions. http://www.hoptosignaroo.com

Nancy Hanauer - Hop to Signaroo ®

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