There are several advantages for teaching Sign Language for Toddlers and Babies, and in some respect we do this naturally. When we say good-bye to a baby, we say “bye-bye” and wave. This is sign language. When we say “yes” we nod our head. When we say “no” we shake our head and maybe hold up a finger and shake it. This is the beginning of teaching sign language to our toddler or baby and it is part of teaching them to communicate. The challenge is to be more intentional and orgainsed in seeking to increase our communication at an earlier age than would naturally happen. Although most babies begin to speak words around 12 months, some cannot make words and sentences that we can understand until well after they have turned 2, which can cause a great deal of frustration – for both the parent and the child!
“The terrible two’s” can be a difficult time for some children (and parents), which often includes temper tantrums. However I would suggest that, if the child doesn’t have a good vocabulary and speech that can be understood, then a significant part of these tantrums is the frustration of not being able to get their message across. By taking a few simple steps it is possible to make this much easier.
We can naturally begin teaching sign language as early as possible, and research has shown that as soon as we can get good eye contact with them, they will start learning. Although all babies are different, most can start signing back to you around 7 months of age. Use your “play” time with your baby to teach signing, keeping it fun, and when they are able, they will return the gesture. There are no tricks or shortcuts – it is simply about discipline and consistency and keeping it fun.
Look for half a dozen words that would be helpful for the pre verbal child, so that when needed, he may be able to communicate his need to you. A good place to start is with a few basic things that are in their lives… ie milk, more food, all done, teddy, sleep, outside.
As your child grows and his communication improves, their will always be more words that can be included in his sign language. Even when he is old enough to do paintings and cardboard crafts, he may still enjoy using his sign language with you.