Sign with me

My blog has started to become a time for me to reminisce on life with Lexi as Lexi is now 1!

I am shocked at how quickly time has gone and miss the tiny baby she once was but her skills are rapidly increasing so I need to hurry up and write some more blogs! Many of the skills I am writing about are skills we have been working on for the last few months.

Today I am turning back time by a few months… when we started to sign. When Lexi was confidently clapping, waving and holding her arms up to be lifted I started signing with her. My sister asked me why I bother signing to her when she can’t sign back. My response was if I don’t start signing to her how will she ever learn them and sign to me? It is the same as learning words; you have to put in a bit of time and use the signs yourself before your baby starts to use them back.  The period of time when I thought she was maybe/sometimes/occasionally watching me signing was the hardest time. I found I kept forgetting to sign so I picked 1 or 2 signs to try and use every day to get me back into the practise of signing. It took Lexi a few months for her first sign to emerge and she still only has 4 or 5 signs she uses.

Easy ones to start with;
‘more’ (because it can be used for any game/activity)
and ‘bubbles’ (because who doesn’t love bubbles!!).

The sign Lexi actually used first was ‘duck’. A friend told me her babies first sign was ‘milk’. Both of these looked very similar when I saw each of them signing. Both opened and closed their hand pressing their fingers into their palm.. I wonder  if this is because it is one of the easiest early hand movements? I will have to ask a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist that question!
Lexi surprised me with ‘duck’ but it just goes to show that babies will learn dependant on thier own interests and motivations. ‘Duck’ just happened to be something she was really motivated by.

Lexi now uses the same sign for Bubbles, twinkle twinkle little star and duck. She just holds her hand up above her head for twinkle twinkle, holds it out to the side for bubbles and says ‘du’ at the same time as signing duck.

I’m not sure how copyright works with signs so rather than video Lexi and I here is a very cute video I found on you tube

I’m not sure what sign system they are using as I don’t recognise the signs but it’s nice to see! As you can see babies signs might not always look much like the signs we have learnt but if they start to do something consistently treat it as if they have made the right sign and model the sign back to them like the mum in this video did.

Here are some really useful first signs (in Makaton sign system)

If you need some convincing about using signs here is why I do it:

  • Before a child will use words they have to understand what the word means.Using simple phrases and words over and over again is one way of helping a child begin to understand what you are saying. Another way to help them understand your words is to make your words visual by using signs to support some of your key words.
  • Making signs by moving your hand is easier for a child to do than learning to move their mouth to make words.
  • If they can use their hands to communicate it empowers them helping them understand more about communication. It goes back to cause and effect; if I sign [cause] I get what I want [effect].

Some people often worry that their child won’t start using words if I start teaching them signs. In fact research has shown that children learn language more easily if you say the word at the same time that you sign it.

I have also heard that teaching your baby to sign can help reduce tantrums when they are older. This makes sense to me but I am yet to experience a full blown tantrum so I will hold my tongue on that one until I have seen for myself!

I sometimes think that signing to help speech is a bit like visual aids we use to help writing skills. When learning to write we put little dots on the page for children to join up or we have another letter nearby for them to copy. These are visual aids which help children learn.

There are a few well known signs systems developed that help children such as Makaton, Sign A Long, sing and sign and Tiny Talk. I’m sure there are also more! You can buy apps/books to learn signs and attend mummy baby classes . They also all have books which teach you the signs and most library’s will stock them (saves you a bit of money!). The other cheaper way of learning signs is to watch ‘Mr Tumble’ on TV who uses A LOT of Makaton! Or watch you tube. Your local SLT department may offer classes too so it’s worth asking them.

Lexi also uses her whole body to sign. When we sing row row row your boat she will start rocking front and back when the song finishes to request it again. Or if I am rocking her to sleep (yes I now have arms of steel!) and I stop before she is quite ready she will gently bob to tell me she wants me to carry on. Although these whole body movements are not hand signs they are still ways she is able to communicate with me without using any speech just her body.

One last point about signing is that you only sign the main word within a sentence. This is not like British Sign Language when each individual word is signed.

Ok I lied…. one more final point…I promise… Some signs require two hands. This can be really really hard when little ones are on the move and/or you are holding the object you want to sign. Sometimes I just sign as best I can with one hand. Other times I hold the item on my lap or prop it on my legs so that my hands are free. I have learnt a few books off by heart and so when reading the book with lexi I sit her/stand her/ encourage her to stay in front of me and prop the book on my lower legs. I then point to the animals in the book and sign them.


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