When we lived in North Carolina I met a woman who did sign language with her baby. Ten years ago, it seemed like a fringe baby communication technique. I was pretty impressed anyway, not only with the mom’s thoughtfulness but also with the baby’s ability to communicate. I told Stephen about it then and suggested we give it a try when we had a kid.
Before Eli was born, I bought the standard Joseph Garcia work Sign with Your Baby. We worked and worked with Eli until finally, not knowing he was trying to communicate with us, we gave up. We didn’t think he was responding or trying to duplicate the signs we were making. A few weeks later, a child care worker at church asked us if we’d been doing signs with him. Apparently, she was able to recognize the loose signs Eli was making and call them what they were: his attempt to talk to us. We renewed our efforts and were rewarded with a dozen signs during his pre-verbal and early verbal days.
I can’t tell you the amount of frustration his ability to sign cut down. Many times when he was tired, a sign would ease the way to compromise. We didn’t do the endless pointing and asking, “Is this what you want? No? How about this?” And it gave him some power. Even without vocalized words he could still let us know what he needed. We also got an excellent start on good manners. To this day, he will still sometimes make the sign for ‘please’ when he says it out loud. I was continually amazed at him making signs for stuff and me for understanding what he wanted.
I’ve often wondered if sign language is the reason he talked so early and so well. Of course, there’s no way to verify that. Many times I’ve had people approach me and comment on how articulate and well mannered he is. I think it was the sign language.
So, of course, we’re signing with Liza. I have a different book this time, it’s Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers. My sister-in-law, Joy, recommended it and I find it to be better than the Garcia book. The new book said to start earlier and be ready to see very loose signs at first. It also suggested to do two groups of signs. “See a Lot/Do a Lot” signs are things like ‘bath,’ ‘milk,’ ‘where,’ and a made-up sign for Eli. “Highly Motivating” signs are things she likes: ‘Eli’ again, ‘water,’ ‘mom’ and ‘dad.’ These two groups of signs are a much better system, I can already tell. Also, knowing what to look for is very, very helpful.
Liza has made the signs for bath, milk, and water. Right now she is only doing them in response to us doing them. I haven’t yet seen her make them on her own as a request, but I’m sure that day is right around the corner. I never thought I’d be communicating with my five month old. It is awe-inspiring and proves the drive we have to communicate, even from birth.