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Benefits of baby signing

 
Baby sign language is primarily about bonding and communicating with your little one and comes with many benefits. Babies are born with a natural instinct to communicate and make themselves understood through gesturing, smiling, crying and making sounds. Baby sign language builds on their gesturing so you can begin to understand what they are saying to you. Find out more about some of the benefits.
Baby sign language is primarily about bonding and communicating with your little one and comes with many benefits.

Babies are born with a natural instinct to communicate and make themselves understood through gesturing, smiling, crying and making sounds. Baby sign language builds on their gesturing so you can understand what they are saying to you.

It works because hand-eye coordination develops sooner than verbal skills, meaning that babies can learn simple signs for common words such as ‘eat’, ‘dad’, ‘cat’ and ‘book’ before they can speak them.
 

History of baby signing


Sign language has been used by the deaf community as a means of communication since the 17th century, but about 25 years ago American researchers identified the many benefits of teaching signing to hearing children from an early age.

This led to the widespread development of baby sign language programmes in the US and UK and more recently in other countries including New Zealand.

In the mid-1980s Dr Joseph Garcia, an American researcher, noticed that children of his deaf friends were communicating with their parents as early as 6 months old and acquired substantial vocabularies as early as 9 months.

He began researching the use of American Sign Language with hearing babies of hearing parents and found similar results. Babies consistently exposed to sign from 6 months old began to respond around 9 months of age.
 

Benefits of baby signing


Researchers have identified many long-term benefits for signing babies, both from a language and a cognitive perspective.

Some of the benefits they found include:
 
  • Children who are exposed to sign language had larger English-language vocabularies than non-signing children.
 
  • Children who learn sign language are more able to recognise letters and words and are generally better at spelling when they are older.
 
  • Children who learn sign language are often more self-confident and have increased self-esteem.
 
  • Using sign language from infancy is likely to increase a child’s interest in books and results in improved literacy.
 
  • Using sign language with children stimulates their whole brain development and memory skills as it uses both the left and right side of their brain. Learning a spoken language uses only the left side of the brain and visual information uses the right side.
 
  • When sign language is incorporated into learning activities, children are learning visually, verbally and kinaesthetically (through movement) all at the same time.
 
  • Sign language can strengthen fine motor skills. When babies begin to use signs they are usually not precise, but with practice and repetition they begin to improve. This practice stimulates the parts of the brain responsible for fine motor skill development.
 

Teaching baby sign


You can either teach your baby sign language and research the most effective methods and resources online or join a specialised baby sign class near you.

Either way, patience and consistent signing are needed to succeed.

If you start signing at 6 months you may not see your baby’s first signing until 9 months.

Baby signing is also about teaching parents to be visually aware of their baby’s gestures and trying to sign. If you are not reading your baby’s cues, it will be very hard to be successful.
 

9 Baby signing tips


Here are 9 tips to help you on your way:

1. Start with just a few signs.

2. Always use the baby sign and spoken word together (repeat several times).

3. Point when possible.

4. When necessary, gently guide your child’s hands.

5. Make baby signing a regular part of your day.

6. Watch for opportunities to model the signs. Make eye contact before modelling the signs with the spoken word.

7. Be flexible and watch for your baby’s creations.

8. Be patient.

9. Remember to make learning fun.
 

Resources


Check out the NZ baby sign DVD available online free of charge - nzslbabysign.co.nz.

It's for parents, whânau, friends and teachers who want to start learning New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) to communicate with babies and toddlers. It shows the first signs and skills needed to communicate with children between 0 and 3 years old.

Find out what's happening in your area too. You might want to join a local sign language group such as the active coffee group in Wellington or Deaf Aotearoa in Lower Hutt which offers coffee once a month for people who want to learn basic signs for words.
 

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