Sunday, October 21, 2007

Baby Sign

I am a convert to signing with babies. To find out why, visit The Lilting House where Lissa sets out the case for learning to sign far better than I could. She also details how their family have gradually immersed themselves sign language, and how it has benefited them all, not just her young son with hearing loss.

I had read enough by Lissa and other baby sign enthusiasts to know that I wanted to try signing with Little Cherub. What I didn't know, was how to tackle it with no experience of using sign language. The first decision to make was what sign language to teach. There were four choices:

  • Baby sign - simple signs developed for use with babies, but not based on the signs used by the deaf community.
  • American Sign Language (ASL) - tempting as there are family friendly resources available for use with young children such as the Signing Time DVDs many homeschoolers enthuse about.
  • British Sign Language (BSL) - the sign language used by the British deaf community, so obviously more appropriate for us than ASL, but with less resources available (or at least, less resources that I knew about!). ASL and BSL are completely different languages.
  • Makaton - a simplified version of BSL widely used with children and adults with language difficulties and learning disabilities. For babies and toddlers Makaton and BSL are very similar.
I opted for BSL, despite the temptation of those ASL resources (would it really matter if we used ASL in our family? would we really use BSL much, if at all, once Little Cherub was older?). Good decision. There is much more signing around than there was when Angel and Star were small, and everything I have seen has been BSL or Makaton. I browsed Amazon, took the plunge and bought a book - Let's Sign Early Years, by Cath Smith and Sandra Teasdale.

This turned out to be a good buy, with clear pictorial representations of the signs most likely to be useful with a toddler or pre-schooler. I can't pretend to have been particularly consistent with signing, but despite my shortcomings we have made some headway and it is definitely helping Little Cherub to communicate - she uses milk, all gone / finished, please and thank you signs consistently, which doesn't seem much. What is noticeable, though, is that although she does not yet speak more than a handful of words she is less frustrated by this than her sisters were at the same age, and she clearly sees her hands as a way of communicating. For example, she uses "all gone" a lot, very expressively and in many different situations - to point out that she has finished a meal, to accept that a toy is being put away, to say that someone has gone out, and so on. With Tevye's help she has evolved her own sign to show she wants to be put somewhere (on the sofa, on a lap, or whatever). It is obvious that the idea of signing has clicked in her brain, so if I can be more consistent about using sign I think the number she uses will explode.

If you are interested in using BSL with little ones, here are a few other resources I have found:
  • Something Special TV programmes (broadcast on CBeebies) - these are intended for young children with learning difficulties and use Makaton to support speech. Little Cherub isn't interested, but watching has helped me get a better feel for how sign works. The website includes demonstrations of basic signs.
  • Rhyme Time - a free monthly activity run by our local library, with songs and rhymes for babies and preschoolers. The librarian who leads it is obviously an enthusiast for baby signing and often adds signs to the songs.
  • Tiny Talk classes use BSL. As Angel and Star were still home last year these weren't a viable option for me, even though there is a local class. (Another UK baby signing programme is Sing and Sign, which is based on Makaton).
  • City University has a website on BSL early sign development which includes videos of early sign phrases and a basic vocabulary.
If anyone has any other BSL early years resources to recommend, I'd like to hear about them.


Nancy Ruth said...

My husband's brother, 70, who is severely retarded and has never been able to talk, is being taught sign language, and he can now communicate a little. Quite wonderful.

Meredith said...

WE love learning sign language, it's been so fun this year with the Signing Time DVD's!!

Romany said...


I sometimes watch a friend's 3 year old with Downs and she likes to watch Something Special. She does not speak but loves to sign to the songs!