Step Three: Encourage All Effort
With all your repetition, you will start to notice that your baby starts signing back after a couple of months. Congratulations! The next step is to reward any effort to sign back with lots of encouragement. You want to reward your baby for signing so that she will be motivated to keep developing her signing skills. At first, learning to sign is challenging for a baby, and little encouragement from you is needed to keep them engaged.
We being this section by discussing approximation and how to recognize the initial signs. Next we look the three stages of signing, as a child progresses from merely imitating your gestures to actual understanding, and then active communication. We then show you some techniques for providing the calm encouragement that is most effective.
At first the signs your baby makes will only be an approximation of the proper baby signs. Babies don’t have the motor skills to do the signs perfectly, so they will make approximations. These approximations are usually a less detailed version of the full sign. At first they will be barely recognizable, and parents often miss these first attempts at signing if they aren’t on the look out.
Approximations tend to involve the gross motor muscles, but will be missing a lot of the fine detail. For example, the sign for daddy is properly performed be tapping the thumb on the forehead. Your baby’s first approximations will usually look more like they are just flailing their arms up and down. The baby may also use both hands instead of just one hand.
Timing of the initial signs is often delayed. The baby will often sign back as much as 60 seconds after you initiated signing. It takes a lot of effort for baby to control their arms and hands, and so you will often see a look of intense concentration as the baby thinks about signing, followed by a burst of hand movements.
In the video above, note how Kennedy signs more (at the 0:30 mark), she uses only one hand instead of both. The movement is much too big and uses the gross motor muscles in the arm, and not the fine muscles in the fingers. And, Kennedy’s signing is a few seconds delayed. But, it is still quite clearly an attempt to do the sign for more, which her mom is rewarding by acknowledging the attempt and giving her what she wants.
These approximations and delays are perfectly normal. They are the way that all babies start to sign. With practice signing will become more precise and more prompt as their fine motor skills develop. You encourage your baby to improve their signing by recognizing and rewarding their approximations.
3. Three Stages of Signing
You will usually see three stages of progression when starting with baby sign language:
Stage One: Imitation
The first step toward signing is that your baby will start copying your signs. A normal part of a baby’s development is to copy the gestures of the people around her. So when you are regularly performing the signs, your baby will naturally copy you and make the signs right back. While she does not understand what her signs means at this stage, she is learning how to perform the signs making this a useful first step.
Your baby will think this is grand fun.
Stage Two: Association
In the second stage, your baby will start to associate the sign with some concept. She may start making the right sign when something triggers the association. For example, she will sign dog whenever the dog is nearby. At this stage your baby has made the connection between the word and the concept.
Stage Three: Communication
The last stage is when your baby starts using the signs to communicate something to you. For example, if she is hungry, she may sign milk. In this last step, your baby has learned that she can use the signs to communicate her needs and feelings to you. This is the stage where signing really starts to get useful.
4. Motivating Signing
When you see baby signing, particularly those initial attempts to sign, you want to encourage their effort. There are many ways you can reward the signing as follows:
The most powerful thing you can do to reward your baby for signing is to acknowledge their attempt to communicate. Knowing that you understood what they are saying is a tremendously rewarding experience for a young child. So if your baby attempts the sign for cat, give them your full attention and repeat back to them the word cat as well as the sign cat.
Respond to baby with enthusiasm, showing that you are excited about their signing. Show emotions, and make exaggerated sounds and gestures to show that you are happy. You want to project a calm positive energy to show baby that they are doing something important. In much the same way you work hard to get a giggle out of your baby, your baby will want to work hard to keep getting this emotional reaction from you.
Where possible, if baby makes a request via sign language, you want to gratify the request. So if baby signs water, get baby some water. This will not always be practical – but where it is possible give baby what she wants.
When you can’t get baby what she wants, still provide acknowledgement and emotion as positive reinforcement – it is rarely a good idea to ever ignore an attempt to sign. This creates more frustration for baby, because not only are they not getting what they want, but they are also not feeling understood
Next Page: Step Four – Expand Vocabulary
Previous Page: Step Three – Encourage
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Learn the best techniques for effectively teaching baby sign language. Including:
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52 high quality flash cards (4 x 6″). Featuring:
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