A crying baby can send parents into a frenzied guessing game. Are they hungry? Missing a favorite toy? Baby Sign Language, a highly-simplified form of American Sign Language, offers a way for infants to communicate basic needs long before they learn to speak. Studies show that baby signing can lower distress (for baby and parent!), reduce crying and tantrums, increase responsiveness and enhance cognitive development.
Our experience at Sparkles!, where we teach Baby Sign Language in all of our infant classrooms, mirrors these findings. “If an infant wants more milk, they can tell me that, rather than pushing away other unwanted offered items, or crying,” explained Sparkles! teacher Kristin.
The simple non-verbal signs and gestures of Baby Sign Language can be taught to children as young as 4 months old. At Sparkles!, we emphasize four signs:
- All finished
- Happiness and appreciation
The lessons are integrated into daily actions through repetition. Each time our teachers offer a baby more of a snack, for instance, they do the baby sign for “more,” moving their fingertips together repeatedly and saying “more,” emphasizing both the gesture and the word. Or, to show happiness and appreciation, teachers encourage children to make a clapping motion.
Over time, children learn that if they want additional snacks, they can put their fingertips together repeatedly and the teacher will respond with more food. Now, instead of crying or other physical means of expressing frustration, infants can effectively communicate their needs.
Even parents who don’t teach baby signs at home see a benefit when their child learns these simple gestures. A 2013 study published in Child Development, “To Sign or Not to Sign? The Impact of Encouraging Infants to Gesture on Infant Language and Maternal Mind-mindedness,” substantiates that parents are more responsive to their infants and encourage greater independence in their children when infants use baby signs to communicate.
If you would like to start using infant signs in your own home, our teachers have some tips:
- Be patient. It can take months for children to begin using signs, particularly if you start when your child is only a few months old. We start at age 4 months, and begin seeing regular use around the time children become mobile.
- Be consistent. Presenting the sign consistently during related activities leads to better learning, as does consistently speaking the word as you sign.
- Interact. Infants respond better to human interaction with an adult speaking to them in animated voice while using the sign, rather than watching videos.
Have questions about our infant classrooms and our use of baby signs? Our caring staff is happy to help! Call Sparkles! at (571) 312-1052. We are available during our extended hours, 6:30 a.m. – 7:00 p.m., M-F.