I wish my baby could talk!

lion(Actually, your baby can talk!) More and more parents are discovering the joys of communicating with their children at a surprisingly young age . . . by using sign language with their hearing infants and toddlers!

Children don’t develop the myriad fine motor skills required for speech until 12-18 months, on average, and most children don’t speak clearly or develop a substantial vocabulary before the age of 2. However, babies gain control over the gross motor skills required to move their hands and arms (and create signs) by 6-7 months. As a result, very young babies can use signs to let others know their needs long before they can communicate those desires in words.

For example, although most parents follow a schedule set by the clock, young children are not bound by time. A baby can let her parents know when she’s tired or hungry, even if it’s not “on schedule”... by putting a child who signs BED down for an early nap, mom and dad can potentially avoid a long period of unexplained crankies!

Meeting your child’s needs is wonderful. Even more exciting is the ability to experience the world... as your baby sees it! Most of us go through the day relatively unaware of the number of lights all around us; this changes as soon as your baby learns the sign for LIGHT—he will make sure you notice the dome light in the car, the lamp by the changing table, the fluorescent lights at the store, the wall sconces at the restaurant! The same applies to barking dogs, airplanes, and sirens, all things that we adults have learned to tune out of our busy minds... and then there are HATS!!!

Although parents can start signing with their babies at ANY age, the Signing Smart play classes offered at Belly Bliss and throughout the Denver area are recommended for babies from age 5 months to 2 years.

Signing Smart play classes run for 8 to 10 weeks, and are filled with songs and interactive activities to engage both children and their parents/caretakers. Parents discover how to integrate signs and communication strategies into daily life, while learning over 130 ASL (American Sign Language) signs, focusing on themes such as mealtime, playtime, animals, health and safety, nature and sports. Strategies to help children sign back as quickly and prolifically as they are able are discussed, as well as developmental information regarding how children learn, assimilate language, form categories, and more.

Many of the youngest babies demonstrate their first sign before the end of the 10 week class session. Older children, those who start at or over 12 months of age, may well have a 20-50 sign vocabulary by the end of the class.

Even older children who have begun talking benefit greatly from signing. Some children may begin speaking quite early, but many will not have perfect enunciation or complete vocabularies for some time to come. Signing can help reduce frustration for both child and parent, as it offers an alternative tool for communication when the child’s enunciation is not clear.

Signing infants and toddlers will often request more information if they do not know a word the parent uses; they might sign a rhyming word they do know, asking for clarification. Owen, who was 18 months at the time, signed DRIVER to a book his mother was reading about a “diver”. Although the book featured a scuba diver, complete with mask, bubbles and fish, Owen did not know that word, and so signed the closest word he did know.... thus enabling mom to clarify his confusion immediately. Similar confusion might arise from words such as flour/FLOWER, gas/GRASS, doll/BALL, and so on.

Signing also offers great opportunities for long-term learning, early literacy and concept development. Through signing, parents can help children grasp abstract concepts such as opposites, colors, and emotions more quickly.

The Signing Smart Talking Toddlers class, which follows the Beginner class, focuses specifically on older children who have begun talking, and offers parents tools to help build their child’s growing spoken vocabulary. This advanced class also focuses on strategies to support long term learning, concept development, and literacy. 

Rina Coury has been teaching Signing Smart workshops and play classes since 2004, (at Belly Bliss since 2009!) and has had over 1300 babies come through her classes. For more information about Rina and the Signing Smart program, please go to www.BellyBliss.org and visit our Baby & Toddler Page or www.SigningChild.com.