Why I love baby signing
You can read it in the online version of ABC magazine (Select Page 27 at the top of the page). or here it is in glorious plain text:
“Change my nappy, change my nappy!” This was the first sign our then ten month old boy Elco used.
This was quickly followed by ‘Eat’, ‘Drink’ and ‘Sleep’
His being able to tell us his needs so clearly was both a joy to behold and a huge relief as it removed the frustration, for him and for us, of not being able to know what he wanted from us. No longer was there the trial and error round of, is it his nappy? is he hungry? Is he thirsty? Is he tired? He could just tell us!
For this alone baby signing is for me a ‘must have’ for parenting, but it is so much more than this than an expression of needs.
As the weeks went on, Elco started to use signs to tell us about things he could see, or things we had done. He would combine signs together, ‘Cat’ and ‘Sleep’ to tell us about seeing a neighbour’s cat asleep on the lawn.
Signing was the enabler of some deeply emotional and memorable exchanges. I remember returning from a business trip to the US to find mummy and baby Elco standing on the door step, Elco signing ‘Daddy’ to me as I got out of the taxi.
Elco, as I gather is common with lots of children who learn baby signing, experienced a ‘signing explosion’ at about twelve months when he suddenly started signing all sorts of things. Everything had been going in and suddenly it all came out in a rush of communication and expression.
As he learnt to talk he would combine words, or approximations of words with signs. So the signs for ‘train’ and ‘cake’ together with the sound ‘Mu’ for ‘Mum’ recalled our day trip travelling on a steam train and mummy buying us all some cakes.
On top of all this, the sing and sign classes are an absolute joy for both parent and child. Joining in the songs with the other mums and dads both helps to cement your knowledge of the signs in your own mind but also make the whole class cohesive. We still have friends we keep in touch with from Sing and Sign.
I am not ashamed to say how much I enjoyed it when a favouite song, like ‘Change my nappy’ made an appearance in the class. It was a bit like going to see your favourite band and them playing one of your favourite songs, there was such an emotional resonance.
Having the parents and children all join in and engage in the same way is key. After all you are aiming to communicate with your child, to share things, what better way to do this then by sharing in the songs and activities in the class; Where oh where oh where is Jessie?
Elco is now five years old and will still occasionally come out with a sign, normally accompanied with large guffaws of laughter, ‘Beans on Toast’ is a favourite of his.
The CDs of the songs from the class remained a firm favourite long after he had learnt to speak and the Sing and Sign books, both the Jessie Cat book and the Signing Dictionary took on a second life as bed time story books long after their original purpose had been superceeded.
When Elco’s little brother Louie came along earlier this year, we started singing and signing with him from day one. When it’s getting towards bed time and he is starting to get a little fractious, we sing him the ‘Bathtime’ song and his little face lights up as we sign playing in the water, seeing the little boat and the little fish.
This to me demonstrates the real value of ‘Sing and Sign’, that it is activating the intelligence and desire to communicate that are there in children from the start.
It gives them a way to express their wants and needs but also to share their view of the world with you.
You are not teaching them to sign so much as to communicate. It just happens to be with signing. As speech comes along the signs drift away, the signs and the songs having played their part.
I am normally the last person to offer advice to new or soon to be parents but I make no apologies for extolling the virtues of Sing and Sign. It’s wonderful and I can’t wait to start taking our youngest to classes in the new year.
* This piece was written back in 2013.