Shortly after Alex was born, I learned that babies can learn sign language even before they can talk. It was an intriguing idea, especially since it was supposed to reduce the frustration caused by a baby’s inability to communicate that drives both babies and parents crazy. There were some signing classes offered near my home, but none of them fit my schedule. After some online research, I found this DVD: My Baby Can Talk: First Signs.
I’m not sure how old Alex was the first time I played it for him, but my guess is between four and six months. Since I knew no sign language myself, I would watch it with him – in fact, I probably watched it more than he did, since he didn’t show much interest in the DVD until he was at least a year old. As I picked up the signs, I tried to use them at appropriate times when talking to him, although it didn’t come naturally for quite some time.
I think Alex was about a year old when he finally began using some of the signs. He started talking at about the same time, but the signs have been marvelous because he uses them for actions and things that he doesn’t have words for yet. Most significantly, he uses signs to tell us he’s hungry or thirsty, and to ask for “more” of something. These signs have allowed us to avoid countless meltdowns and made me a huge fan of infant signing.
As a generally practical person, at first I was annoyed that there were so many animals depicted. I would rather have learned the signs for “please” and “help” than the signs for “horse” and “bear.” Over the last few months, however, animals have become a substantial part of our dialogue with Alex, so it turns out the animal signs are kind of useful. I never would have guessed that would happen, but just this morning, Alex asked for his giant stuffed bear by doing the sign for bear.
We recently acquired My Baby Can Talk: Sharing Signs, the follow-up DVD to First Signs. This one has additional animals, as well as words like “help,” “thank you” and “share.” The segments are shorter than the segments on First Signs, so I’ve found it a little harder to learn the signs from this DVD (in fairness, I’m also less likely to sit and watch the DVD with Alex since most of the time it is on, I am using it to distract him from things like drying his hair and my back is to the television).
I highly recommend both of these DVDs to anyone interested in having their baby learn to communicate via sign language. You will obviously need to spend the time learning the signs yourself in order to understand what your baby is saying to you, and to reinforce the teaching of the signs. But as someone who knew and used no sign language at all before her baby was born, I can confidently say that if my child and I can learn to communicate in sign language, anyone can.