Children start talking around 15-18 months. However, from a cognitive point of view, they’re already able to communicate by 6-9 months of age! It’s just that the fine motor skills associated with speech are not sufficiently developed until later. Using sign language with your baby can help bridge this gap and gain an insight in how they experience the world.
From around 6 months of age, children become increasingly aware of their surroundings and able to focus and sustain attention. They can now make connections between a word or sign and the associated object or action. For example, they can see and recognise a plane in the air or a duck swimming in the pond. They know what’s about to happen if you say you’re going to ‘eat’ or ‘sleep’. You can tell from their movements, eye gaze and gestures (pointing!) that the understanding is there and that they want to share their experiences and needs with you. With baby sign, you can give a very young child a way to talk to you which goes way beyond pointing and babbling. This strengthens the bond between you, reduces tantrums, and is also simply a lot of fun.
Parents who sign with their toddlers find it helps in understanding their kids’ verbal utterances (let’s face it, articulation at this age is often far from clear!), reducing tantrums, expanding vocabulary and enriching the language level. Older toddlers often really enjoy signing in addition to their speech and can be real sponges, asking for more and more signs for animals, vehicles, seasonal items, etc. They also love using sign with their younger siblings and helping to ‘teach’ them.
Signing does not slow down the development of verbal language; on the contrary, research has shown that signing children acquire spoken language earlier and faster than non-signing children; they have a wider vocabulary even up to age 5. Afterwards, there’s still an advantage when it comes to learning to read and write. For children with a language delay, adding sign can be very freeing in giving them another way to understand you and express themselves. Multilingual families also really benefit from using signs with their children; the signs aren’t ‘yet another language’, but rather serve as a bridge between the different languages in the family.
The Baby Sign course suits parents, grandparents, childminders, educators, and anyone else interested who communicate with children age 0-4. The regular course consists of 3 two-hour meetings (€80 per child, not adult), but there are also options for bespoke courses (e.g. introductory workshop, course at your own home, workshops around a specific theme – teaching in either English or Dutch) so if you’re interested, please just send me an e-mail!
For further information (in Dutch), also see https://www.gebarenstem.nl.