Teaching Sign Language to Your Baby

When Ezekiel was six months old, he asked his mother for "more music" after his mobile stopped. Likewise, Joshua could call for the dog when he was also six months. Both sound like infant prodigies, but they hadn't yet begun to speak. Instead, they communicated these words and many more through sign language.

Neither Ezekiel nor Joshua is deaf, so why teach them sign language? Because studies have shown that through signing, babies can actually talk to you.

Talk to the Hand

Talking is difficult—coordinating the mouth, teeth and tongue requires a finely-tuned set of motor skills. Instead, it's far easier for young children to use their hands to communicate—they can't see the position of the tongue to say "bye-bye," but they sure know how to wave. Tara Fersko, a pediatric speech language pathologist, explains that "developmentally, children are able to communicate with signs before they're able to speak. They point and wave because they've seen adults do it, and will sign if we sign with them."

In addition, teaching sign language can lead to a more peaceful household, one where "What do you want?" is not a weary refrain. "Most children's tantrums come from the fact that people can't understand them," says Lora Heller, teacher of a signing class in New York City called Babyfingers. "Once they know they're being understood, children relax." Because of Lora's classes, many Big Apple kids now know signs for "happy" "silly" "apple" and the all-important "potty." And according to Lora, they always want to learn more. "They're so excited to be able to communicate to those around them. It's a great motivator."

The First Sign

Credit goes to Joseph Garcia for being the first person to introduce hearing babies to sign language. Through his work with the deaf, Joseph noticed that hearing children of deaf parents could communicate far earlier than other children— in some cases as young as six weeks. Meanwhile, psychologists Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn from the University of California-Davis found that by age eight, children who had been taught to sign as infants scored a staggering 12 points higher on IQ tests.

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