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Teaching Sign Language to Your Baby

        Health | Newborn Development

Teaching Your Baby to Sign <i>(cont'd)</i>

Sign Language Concerns

There are worries that teaching sign language will slow down a child's speech development. "My friends signed up for signing classes with their babies," said Carly McGuire, mother of one-year-old Max, "but to me it just seemed like putting roadblocks in front of the way they should be learning. Like it confused the situation." But others strike a different tune. Olivia Meeks is the mother of three-year-old Elizabeth and a big fan of baby signing. "I think like with a lot of things, kids are smarter than we give them credit for. And the sooner we tap into that, and give them much more practice with language, the less they'll be afraid of it later on. Elizabeth had signs she used all the time when she was a baby, like 'milk,' 'Mommy,' and 'Daddy.' And now that she speaks, I can't get her to stop talking." Lora concurs: "By 18 months, a child should have about 10 spoken words. A signing child of the same age will have 10 spoken words and 10 signs … and possibly 10 more signs."

The Future of Baby Signs

And the buzz has spread across the country. Debra Messing of Will and Grace taught sign language to her infant son, Roman, and Meet the Fockers helped spike the trend when it featured Robert DeNiro teaching sign language to his grandson. Meanwhile, Joseph Garcia, Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn, and Lora Heller all have books that instruct parents on how to teach basic signs. Though each has different methods of teaching signs and gestures, all believe that having fun with signs is the best way to make it an enriching experience for the child—and the parent.

How to Become Your Child's Sign Language Instructor

Want your child to be a signing star, but don't know where to begin? Lora offers these tips:

  • Make eye contact
  • Speak while simultaneously signing
  • Sign while doing the action—for example, sign "change" when you're changing your baby, and "milk" when giving a bottle
  • Teach the signs to all the important people in your baby's life, like babysitters and grandparents, to keep the learning consistent
  • Show your feelings
  • Respond with excitement to his or her attempt to sign
  • Be attentive to your child's likes and dislikes, new interests, and favorite things, as they will often be the things your baby is most interested in signing
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