This post was first published August 5, 2008. Since we are back in the signing stage I thought I'd publish it again!
So, if you have met me, or my kids, you know that we sign. Not fluently, mind you, but we do sign. I am a big believer in teaching your kids to sign. Not just because it comes in handy when they can sign "more" and "all done" but because it is a HUGE confidence builder and frustration deflector. I know this is somewhat controversial, but in my opinion, you should use ASL and not made up baby signs. Of course this is my opinion and I have no studies and scientific data to show you but in our experience it has been awesome. How many people who teach baby signs can say that their kids can communicate with people who are deaf? Not many. Here is our story and how we did it.
When Naomi was about 14 months old she still wasn't saying any words. Nothing to be too alarmed about but she wasn't even doing baby talk so I started looking into how to teach her some signs to help with her frustration. I checked out a few books and videos and then stumbled upon Signing Time, The best baby sign language videos!. We watched a couple from the library and realized that Naomi was able to watch the 20 minute video through a couple times and was able to remember nearly all of the signs on the show. Most of the shows have about 30 signs in them. They were engaging and she loved watching them. This was great considering it was really her first TV watching experience.
I did a little websurfing to find more out about Signing Times and was so impressed with how the videos came about. You can read about it at Signing Time: Our Story. The great news is that they are at the library, and on PBS in most areas. Having a DVR we went the PBS route and recorded all of them. There are now about 26 videos you can get I believe. Give or take a couple. (Updated: There are more videos now!)
By the time Naomi was 18 months old she was saying about 5 words consistently but signing nearly 300 words, and Signing ABC's and Numbers. Impressive? Yes, but I think any kid can learn to sign. You do need to learn the signs too so sit down and watch the shows with your kids.
You don't have to start them as babies either. My niece, who is autistic, started watching the videos when she was 3 or 4 years old and caught on very quickly. I think most ages up to even late elementary school will enjoy these shows. Daphne started watching them a bit younger than Naomi but didn't catch on as fast. She was our very verbal baby and spoke nearly 300 words at 18 months but only maybe 50-100 signs. She is really getting into it now though. And it does take kids quite some time to figure out how their fingers work. I think signing really helps with fine motor skills.
When Naomi was around 18 months old she had a "conversation" on the ferry with a woman who is deaf. The woman was so thrilled that this little baby could talk with her. Granted she was a baby so the conversation was more like "boat, water, bird…." When Naomi was around 2.5 we ran across a man who is deaf in Costco's parking lot and her conversation was a bit more mature, "nice to meet you, what is your name? my name is Naomi…"
Both of our girls learned their alphabet, colors and numbers by signing. I think there really is something to learning with more of your senses other than just sight and hearing. Not that kids need to be pushed to learn their letters…
We are hoping they will keep all these signs in use and in their memory vaults until they are old enough to take some classes. It could be very valuable as a second language. So, this is why I think you should stick with ASL over made up signs… I wholeheartedly recommend Signing Times as a way to teach your kids signs. Yes, it is TV so if you have a problem with that then just get over it because this show is awesome. The ONLY drawback to the show is that you'll have the songs stuck in your head, forever.
How has your experience with signing been?
Updated: We don't have Signing Times on our PBS station here so we've invested in some of the DVDs and are really happy we have!