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When Joey was a toddler, he would talk a blue streak… but most of what he said wasn’t easily understood (come to find out years later, he had a speech delay). He would try so hard to communicate his needs and wants, but frustration and meltdowns often followed his efforts. While his Daddy and I learned over time how to decipher some of his words, other people who weren’t around him every day were just clueless. We tried to translate for him, but we weren’t always able to decipher his meaning.
I don’t remember how I stumbled across them, but we learned about Baby Signing Time videos when he was about a year and a half old. We immediately borrowed a few from our local library in hopes they would help. They were a game changer! He picked up on the basic signs very quickly (within a week of watching them daily) and suddenly he could sign to us what he needed to say when his words weren’t clear enough to understand. What a Godsend! Daily life in our home was easier and happier (for him and for us), and we saw a major decrease in his meltdowns.
Fast forward to 4 years later. By this time, we had purchased our own copies of a few volumes of the Baby Signing Time series, and we started them early on with Jack. I want to say he was about 6 months old when we started playing them for him daily. By a year old he was familiar with a few basic signs – eat, drink, milk, more, all done, and hurt. In the coming months, his ability to sign to us grew alongside his language skills. He would often still sign along with speaking the words aloud. The videos were actually helping him develop more words into his ever-growing vocabulary! Thankfully, Jack never exhibited signs of a speech delay like his older brother had. Even so, learning baby sign language helped him to communicate his needs to us long before his words were clear. He was a very happy, busy baby and toddler. We never experienced those frustration meltdowns (at least due to language) with him like we did with Joey years before.
We started these baby sign language videos again with Lily when she was about 6 months old. By this time, we knew they would only help her language development. She is now 16 months old and very vocal. She loves watching her signing time videos and signing along with the babies on TV. As soon as she hears the opening song, she stands up and signs the motions for “baby” and is instantly glued to the screen. Sometimes she will even sign and say “baby” to me when she wants to watch! When I ask her if she is ready to eat, she signs “eat” back and vocalizes (even though she can’t yet say the word “eat”). She also signs all-done, bye, day, more, milk, and cracker (which she uses interchangeably for cookie).
Research behind teaching baby sign language…
Our results are not isolated, there is research aplenty that shows the benefits of teaching babies to sign. Research on baby sign language has found that teaching baby signs improved cognitive and emotional development. Far from slowing down speech, baby sign language actually increases the rate of verbal development and at the same time increases the parent/child bond.
The most significant research was an NIH-funded study comparing two groups of 11-month-old babies. One group was taught baby sign language. The second group was given verbal training. Surprisingly, the signing group were more advanced talkers than the group given verbal training. The lead of the signing group continued to grow, with the signers exhibiting verbal skills three months ahead of the non-signers at two years old. Their lead seemed to shrink a little after two years old, but even at three years old, the signers were still ahead.
Link to source: https://www.babysignlanguage.com/basics/research/?v=7516fd43adaa
Another study done in 2007 showed similar results:
Existing research suggests that there may be benefits to teaching signing to hearing infants who have not yet developed vocal communication. In the current study, each of 4 infants ranging in age from 6 to 10 months was taught a simple sign using delayed prompting and reinforcement. In addition, Experiment 1 showed that 2 children independently signed in a variety of novel stimulus conditions (e.g., in a classroom, with father) after participating in sign training under controlled experimental conditions. In Experiment 2, crying and whining were replaced with signing when sign training was implemented in combination with extinction.
Link to source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1868823/
While the majority of research shows that these benefits mostly benefit language development in babies that have verbal difficulties or delays, all research shows a change in the parent-child relationship. There is an increased attention to following and interpreting babies non-verbal cues, which results in less frustration (and tears) for child AND parent. Being actively engaged in teaching and facilitating your child’s acquisition of basic signs makes the parent more in-tune with babies cues.
The difficulty here is knowing when there is a language delay or difficulty when a child is still too young to really exhibit the signs. This is why our philosophy has been to use baby sign language with all of our babies, just in case. We didn’t realize Joey had a speech delay until he was 4 years old. We had become accustomed to his way of communicating after spending every day with him. We understood him, purely as the result of practice! As you can imagine, we experienced a lot of parental guilt over this. We didn’t realize how far behind he was until we were able to hear him speak through the “ears” of the trained speech therapist who evaluated him. We did get him speech therapy at that point, and he benefitted greatly from it. He still has difficulty enunciating certain sounds (mostly consonant digraphs) because he spent so much time learning the “wrong way” of forming those sounds. Upon his “graduating” from his therapies, we were given tools to help him at home, and every day strive to correct him and help him practice forming sounds correctly.
We firmly believe that baby sign language has helped our children tremendously! There are many resources and programs available to parents to teach theoir babies and children to sign, but Baby Signing Time is hands-down our favorite. The methods used are simple and engaging, using music to reinforce learning. All you have to do is consistently watch the DVDs with your child, use those signs in day-to-day life, and watch them learn!
You can purchase Baby Signing Time videos directly from their website. They are also available as a physical DVD on Amazon OR as a digital copy. We chose digital copies because there are no DVDs to get scratched or damaged (or lost).