Part 2: The Four Principles of Teaching BSL

I spent a semester abroad in Italy and it ended up being my best experience I had in college, but after a week I was ready to go home. The problem was that I didn’t know anybody, and I couldn’t speak a word of Italian. Even simple things like telling my landlord to turn the heat up, or interacting with a grocery store clerk were impossible.

So I was cold and hungry and not in the mood for making friends. Does that sound familiar?

I was in tears and ready to go home, when my dad insisted I take an intensive one day Italian Class. I had already used most of my savings from years of baby sitting to pay for the program and didn’t have a spare Euro, and besides what was a one day class going to do. I didn’t know a word of Italian, I suck at languages, what difference would a few words make.

I was right and I was wrong. I am indeed terrible at languages, and I learned just a handful of words that day. But, it turns out, you don’t need to know a lot of words to get by. A few words like hello, yes, no, and thank you can get you through most situations. That isn’t to say that I was making a lot of friends in the first few days, but I could get by. And that made me a lot happier, and a lot more confident, and so every day I would pick up a few new words. And by the end of the semester, when my family came to visits, I could order us dinner.

That is the difference that just a few words makes. For you and your baby 5 words is the difference between cold, hungry, and grumpy and being snug, content, and happy. If you know just a handful of words like milk, more, and all-done your baby will be able to communicate so much and you will both have a much more enjoyable tour of baby land.

And once you land the first few words, adding new words is easy. So how do you learn the first few words?

Today, we are going to dig deeper into the four core principles of teaching baby sign language: Fun, Repetition, Encouragement, and Expansion. These four principles hold the key to helping baby develop a faster and deeper understanding of signing. Check out the day two video:

Part Two: Fun, Repetition, Encouragement, & Expansion (F.R.E.E.)

The key to teaching baby sign language to a baby is to incorporate the signing into your daily activities. Babies are experiential learners. Babies do most of their learning through observing the people around them, imitating, and experimenting. Babies haven’t developed the attention span for formal lessons, so you want to integrate signing into your lives, rather than have signing be an event you do only at specific times.

Sign when you see something that catches your eye. If you see the cat, sign cat. Sign when you are going through your daily routines. At mealtime make use of more, and all done. Weave signing into story time and song time. When Old McDonald has a horse, sign horse.

Lindsay Signing Cat
Lindsay signing cat

Contextual signing keeps signing fun and interesting for baby and provides the repetition that babies need to absorb the signs into their consciousness.

As baby starts making the signs back to you, give them some gentle encouragement. The best form of encouragement is to show that you understood what they are trying to communicate by giving them your full attention and repeating the word and sign back to baby. If baby makes a request, and it is practical, show you understand by giving them what they want. More than praise, being able to communicate with you is the most powerful reward for a baby.

As baby masters the basic signs, start to gradually expand your signing universe by adding new signs and combining signs into phrases (covered in greater depth in Part 5) .

We covered a lot of new signs in today’s video. If you want to get some practice with these new signs, take a look here: Mom, Dad, Eat, Milk, Water, Hungry, Up, Dog, Cat, Fish, Light.

Tomorrow we are going to cover the five stages of signing. We will show you how babies progress in their learning so you can know what to expect and help them along.

We leave you with Molly. Her monkey sign is particularly cute.

Video: Molly signing at 12 months

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