I have witnessed over fifty infants and toddlers learn baby sign language first hand. Some would say that makes me an expert, I say it has simply fine tuned the ear of my heart and made me realize that babies are different, unique and precious.
Contrary to popular belief the most common question that comes to my desk is not how to start BSL. The most common and most difficult question comes from wonderful dedicated mamas and daddies who have graduated along with their child from stage 1. Milk, more and doggie have become part of the day-to-day but now they are stuck. You have tried every trick in the book. Your walls are plastered with flash cards and you have surrounded your baby with many songs and rhymes of your own invention dreaming of the day they add a few more signs to their repertoire.
As an educator and a mama I don’t give advice lightly. I do this for a number of reasons but primarily because I don’t want to set false expectations or suggest futile exercises.
Before I share a little about the science behind language acquisition I would like to step back a little and remind the reader something that we tend to forget as parents and caregivers. At the heart of BSL we find the needs of our infant or toddlers as the first priority. BSL will do the following:
- It will allow the preverbal child to convey needs.
- It will reduce frustration.
- It will enhance the parental bond
As we walk in our Baby Sign Language Journey we need remind ourselves often of a few facts that will put this effort into perspective.
- Language acquisition is influenced by genetics not every baby learns at the same speed.
- Our needs & interests dictate the way our brain prioritizes learning.
- We have innate preferences in our discovery process.
My baby won’t sign Flamingo!
Replace flamingo with that pesky sign you have been trying to teach your child for the last ten thousand days (O.K, it is only a month but it surely feels like forever).
Before you give up I want to talk to you about butterflies and wiggly worms. I have nothing against worms but until now I had never considered it a candidate for the top 10 baby sign language words. That is until I had the opportunity to witness how true it is that language is acquired in alignment with our needs & interests.
Baby J does not care for flamingos. Particularly the flat printed Flamingo on the flash cards. She is equally indifferent to bears, tigers and monkeys. The fact is her world with the exception of a few trips to the zoo is devoid of these creatures. Five weeks of repetition led to nothing. No bear, no tiger and no flamingo. Baby J kept signing her favorite and most recently acquired sign. Outside. Spring is a great time for outside and outside we went. We found monarchs, crickets and wigglers. We signed butterfly and worm. (Mama did not know the sign for cricket). To my surprise on day three or four of our backyard safaris I had a signer eager to sign for butterfly and worm. Not perfect signs but enough to persuade mama to go “outside” to see the “butterfly.”
My signer will sign to convey her needs and wants. My job as a parent is to guide her in a season of discovery.
My signer will not sign for the things that are readily available or within reach. Why sign if you can grab?
My signer is learning to sign to enhance her quality of life and give me a sneak preview of her mind and soul. It is about her.
As we walk together in the wonderful journey of parenting let’s celebrate the uniqueness of our babies, the perfect cadence of their learning song and the marvelous little victories that reward our efforts in such a special way.