Baby signing is the use of signs which have been adapted from a sign language, and it has become increasingly popular over the past decade. It is different to British Sign Language (BSL) and other sign languages across the world, as it uses signs to support speaking, rather than replacing spoken language completely.
Sign languages are, as their name suggests, ‘languages’ which have their own grammatical systems and rules. In baby signing, we are simply teaching key vocabulary which will be useful in helping children to communicate in the early years while their verbal communication is still developing.
In this article, we’ll cover the three most popular questions and concerns we hear from parents and carers who are considering signing with their babies and toddlers.
1.Will signing stop my baby talking?
While we know baby signing isn’t proven to ‘speed up’ language development, there is also no evidence to suggest that it can slow down, or discourage children from talking!
On the contrary, some signing companies claim that signing will ‘speed up’ children’s language development. However, more recent scientific research suggests that this is not the case. There is some evidence that signing may support children who have ‘weaker communication skills’ – for example, ‘late talkers’ – and can also help parents tune into their baby’s non-verbal language.
While there is no evidence for signing ‘speeding up’ development, it’s important to remember that there are still a number of benefits. Signing can:
- Give children a way to express themselves before they are able to say words clearly.
- Reduce communication frustrations by providing another way to say what you need, want or feel.
- Support children’s understanding of messages we are giving them.
- Help parents feel confident in supporting their children’s communication.
- Be fun and interactive, and build you and your child’s confidence.
2. I want to sign but I don’t know where to start
We know it can be overwhelming to learn something new, especially when you don’t know how your child will respond. We see baby signing as an extension of natural gestures and you’ll find that many of them are just a gesture (think charades!). Our course helps you to focus on the words that you and your child might find helpful or motivating to start with. We recommend just learning and using a few at a time.
As part of the course, you’ll also learn about three different stages of communication. This will help you to understand which signs might be helpful to begin with.
3. What if I get it wrong?
Worrying if you’re getting it right can often mean people don’t attempt signs at all. We want parents to feel empowered to use signing alongside their spoken language interactions in a fun way. If you’re having a go, this is what counts!
- Consistency. Once you’ve chosen a sign, try to stick with it. If your child goes to a childcare setting, it might be worth showing them what signs you’re using so they can do the same.
- Awareness. Look out for your baby understanding the signs you use and attempting to do them back. They might not look like yours so keep an eye out!
Key messages to take away:
- Baby signs are not the same thing as a sign language.
- Teaching baby signs may not ‘boost language development’ but do have a number of benefits.
- Teaching baby signs will not delay children’s speaking.
- It’s important to continue to say words while signing.
- You can start signing with your child at any age.
- When teaching signs, be consistent and model signs in a range of situations/activities.
As speech and language therapists and mums who have used baby signing with our own children, we have seen the benefits signing can bring and are excited to be able to share this with other parents.
If you would like to learn more about how to start signing with your little one and learn 100 signs, then you can sign up to our FIRST 100 SIGNS online course on the April Cottage Therapies Bloss Profile.