Updated: Nov 18, 2018
Charissa looked at me with wide eyes and a giant grin. Her sweet little hand patted one leg. "Dog," I replied naturally. "Did you hear Lucy barking?" Again a beaming smile, "Eh!" Our dog had just barked at a neighbor outside, and Charissa was delighted. She is fifteen months and LOVES baby sign language. The fact that she can communicate basic needs or thoughts is magic for her.
Whether you're new to baby sign language or have used it with each of your children, you are likely to come across this innovative early childhood technique sooner or later. And when you do, you're likely to love it. So what is baby sign language and what is it used for?
What is Baby Sign Language?
Baby sign language allows young children to communicate through gestures with their loved ones before they develop the ability to speak. It is used by hearing parents with hearing children in order to improve communication. Up until it's development in 1982, a toddler might cry in order to communicate she is hungry. Now, she can be taught to sign eat by putting her fingertips to her mouth. Rather than fussing because the bath water is too hot, she can sign hot by waving one hand forward and back. The frustration of not being able to talk is minimized by using simple gestures to communicate instead.
Our family has been thrilled with baby sign language. Some of our favorite books have been in the Baby Sign series by Linda Acredolo. There are real photographs of children using the signs along with pictures of what they are signing. Charissa and I spent a solid 45 minutes the other night learning bunny, baby, hat, ball, and butterfly. Each of my children stay focused with these books for longer, in part because of the photographs of real children, but also because they love gesturing something that is meaningful. There is something remarkable about watching my sweet girl signing I love you. It will never get old.
It's important to note that baby sign language is not the exact same as American Sign Language. Some of the signs for the deaf community are very complex and require fine motor skills too advanced for toddlers. Baby signs are often based on the original ASL signs but modified to be accessible to young children.
It is also important to note that a young child need not perform the sign to perfection. While you might always use the correct sign yourself, your sweetie might modify it slightly as she develops her fine motor skills. This is OKAY! It's the communication piece that really matters. Celebrate that she is trying to tell you something...and you understand it!
Baby Sign Language in Sing, Move, and Memorize
Here at Sing, Move, and Memorize, we developed a baby sign dictionary for the purposes of memorizing Bible verses. About 75% of our signs are standard or very close modifications of the original ASL. However, there are some signs that are unrelated to ASL and are much easier to gesture for little hands.
Our books are designed to teach both children and parents the baby signs that accompany a Bible verse. Each page has one of the words in the verse underlined and a corresponding picture of the baby sign. A brief description is included to help parents understand how to perform the gesture.
We love knowing that when children are introduced to God's word through baby sign language, they will love engaging with each of their senses. Kinesthetically, children are touching and moving to God's word. Aurally, they listen to the beautiful recording of God's word being sung over them. Visually, they're delighted by the pictures of young children performing each of the signs, and verbally they'll often try singing along. Our books are designed from start to finish to give families an experience with God's word that leaves them full of joy and longing to read it again and again. It's magic.