Monday, September 29, 2008

Baby Sign Language Clarifies Meaning of Words That Sound the Same

The English language is difficult. Many words sound the same, but mean different things. For example, "The farm was used to produce produce." For more examples in English and Tagalog, visit Filipino Deaf.

American Sign Language (ASL) has signs that are the same, but mean different things: FLAVOR and FAVORITE, ALL DONE and FINISHED.

Since language is so nuanced, I've found using two languages to be helpful since the 2nd language can clarify the first. For example, my two-year-old daughter said something funny. I said to her, "You won!" without signing.

She laughed, pointed at me and said, "You two!"

After I stopped laughing, I explained myself, reinforcing the concepts with ASL.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Rude Comments About ASL and Baby Signs

Smart Baby Sign Language reader, Monica, asked:

How do you handle people who are negative about signing with your child? I have gotten a rude comment implying that I was looking for attention or sympathy by treating my child as disabled. I was floored.
Wow! I'm a little amazed, too. I had one or two people in my life who were a little concerned that signing with my daughter would delay her speech. But they were never rude or pushy about it. My daughter doesn't understand that when she talks with people on the phone, they can't see her. She often signs and talks while on the phone, which forces me to "translate" to the other person. At times like this I have gotten little comments, like "That's because you teach her sign language." But seriously, that's the worst.

I'm sorry people have been rude to you. I tried to come up with a rude phrase you could sign to the person. The best I could come up with was FOOL. It kind of looks like flicking snot out of your nose at the person. Look it up on IGNORANT is just not as fun to sign.

Now that I've let my vindictive side shine through (or is that more passive-aggressive?), I have a few real-life scenarios that may help you out, depending upon how well you know Ms. Rudeness:

  1. Explain that you want your child to be bilingual and American Sign Language is the fourth most used language in the United States (NICD).
  2. Mention that babies who sign often develop a larger vocabulary and longer sentence length (Baby Signs).
  3. Invite the individual over to your house and let them see first hand how cool baby sign is. Then ask them to babysit!
  4. Tell Ms. Rudeness a cute story about how baby sign has improved your interaction with your child.
  5. Say, "I'm sorry you feel that way," and leave it at that.
  6. No matter what you say to Ms. Rudeness, vent about it to your baby sign language loving friends (online or off).

Hmm...after reading that list again, I think I might need to go look up some more choice words in baby sign language (ASL).

Monday, September 22, 2008

When are babies able to use Baby Sign Language? Is it normal to start signing and then stop?

Smart Baby Sign Language reader Makaela asked the following question:

I've been signing to my LO for the past 5 months - I think that she understands when I sign eat, milk, bathtime. When are they able to sign back? I thought that she was signing eat a few months back, but stopped. Is that normal?
I've heard of babies signing their first sign as young as four month old. But don't be discouraged! That's not the norm. Between 5 and 12 months is more average, and many groups consider between 8 and 12 months to be normal. (Don't take that to mean signing later is abnormal!)

Signing Time: Children can begin signing back at 5 or 6 months.
Signing Smart: The average child who uses Signing Smart has 5 signs by 8 months old.
My Smart Hands: Babies generally start signing back between 8 and 12 months.
Baby Signs: "The answer varies enormously from baby to baby depending on a child's interest in communicating (some babies prefer climbing bookshelves to reading books), development of related skills (e.g., memory, imitation, attention), and the frequency with which parents model the signs. The most typical age range for first signs is between 10 and 14 months."

When your child begins signing back in American Sign Language or baby sign language is going to be affected by many different factors. How often you sign, your comfort level with signing, how fun and interesting signing is to your baby, how interested your baby is in the signs you choose to teach her, how many people sign with her, how long you've been signing, etc.

I started signing with my daughter when she was 5 months old. She signed back for the first time at 7.5 months old. She wanted my attention when I was distracted by lots of relatives. Wow! Did she get attention. But like Makaela's daughter, she didn't sign again for about a month. She learned to walk instead. But then she steadily picked up more and more signs and used them more often throughout the day.

She has periodically reduced the amount she signs. When she started speaking more, she decreased her signing. But I continued signing, and soon she was signing even more words to me. It almost seems that when a more challenging tasks comes along, the sign language is put on hold or reduced while the next task is mastered. (Just my thoughts.)

Now that my daughter is two, she sometimes tells me to stop signing (especially if I'm not talking). But then, a week or two later, she discovered the benefits of signing while we're playing hide-and-seek from Dad.

Just keep on signing and she will, too.

Toddler Thanks God in Baby Sign Language

Before supper, my daughter usually thanks God for her meal. We pray in sign language and in English because when we started teaching her to pray, she was more proficient in ASL than in speaking. She prays for the normal things, thanks for a fun day, thank you for Mom and Dad, thanks for my hot dogs, etc. Tonight, I gave my daughter a cup with a tiny bit of rice milk in it. I wanted her to finish it before I gave her anything else to drink.

Her prayer went something like this, "Thank you, God, for food. Thank you for the little bit of milk." In ASL, "THANK YOU GOD. FOOD. LITTLE MILK." And when she signed LITTLE, it was very little.

I love how ASL expresses somethings so visually and in a way, more accurately, than English.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

My Child Has Difficulty with Handshapes of Sign Language

Kristine, a Smart Baby Sign Language reader, asked:

My son does not seem to be able to use his fingers very dextrously yet. He is 14 months but I hear about these babies signing at 7 or 8 months. He has a hard time with any signs that involve more than a pointing finger, an open hand, or a fist. So my question is, is that normal, and how can I help him refine his fingers? He can't differentiate between many signs because of this limitation...
Don't worry if your child can't make the exact handshape yet. He is still young and doesn't have the physical dexterity. As your baby grows his sign movements and handshapes will become more precise. For now, when your child signs PLAY, it may look like two twisting fists instead of of twisting Ys. Eventually, your child will be able to extend his thumbs and then the pinky fingers to make the Y handshape.

My daughter began to become very interested in putting her fingers in the right position around the time she turned two. She'll pry her fingers into place with her other hand. It's funny when they pop right back to where they were originally. But she's improving and she's really enjoying it. When she masters a handshape or another letter of the manual alphabet, she gets excited and cheers for her accomplishment.

When I started baby sign language with her, I had no idea how many opportunities it would give her to develop perserverence and experience a sense of accomplishment. I hope she is also learning to avoid her mother's perfectionist tendencies. Her dad and I help her make the sign, but we laugh with her about her fingers' inability to cooperate. Now, when she struggles, she'll say, "Tricky!" and laugh or ask for my help. And isn't that how we should handle our attempts to master new things?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Teaching Blind Babies to Communicate with Sign Language or Baby Signs

Ivan Bobnar, a blind baby, signs for his BIB.

While I was looking for information on how sign language improves finger dexterity, I discovered this article. The article, Teaching Your Blind Baby Sign Language! is written by parents who taught their blind child to sign. These parents wanted to offer their child the benefits of sign language that seeing babies received. They found additional benefits for blind children. According to Amber Bobnar, for the visually impaired baby, the benefits are even greater:
  1. Blind children often have problems identifying body parts. Since signs are dependent on the body, they can increase body awareness.
  2. Similarly, signs can help blind children understand that gestures and movements, otherwise known as body language, can be a form of communication. This can make it easier to teach a blind child that other people can see them.
  3. Many blind children also have speech delays. Teaching them signs early on can help prevent any speech delays.
  4. Another problem signs can help you avoid are fine motor delays. Signs can improve finger dexterity.

How to Post a Tweet to Twitter

Now, I know this is not sign language related, but I have been asked how to post a tweet to Twitter for the Free Baby Signing Time DVD contest. It's simple.

  1. Go to
  2. Set up an account.
  3. Search for HollyTriedIt.
  4. Click the Follow button.
  5. Go to the Home screen. Type a short message about the contest and include the address for Smart Baby Sign Language.
Hope this helps!

Friday, September 12, 2008

How Many Baby Signs Should I Start with when Teaching My Infant Sign Language?

While the number of signs you use when you begin teaching your infant sign language, ASL, or baby sign doesn't seem that important, it is. According to Signing Smart with Infants and Toddlers by Anthony and Lindert, the ideal number of signs to begin with is 6-12. When you use less then six, it takes longer for the child to understand that the movement means something and that it is a form of communication. Seeing a variety of signs throughout the day in a variety of contexts helps them understand and begin to sign sooner.

Interestingly, Anthony and Lindert have found that if you use more than 12 signs in the beginning, infants don't sign back as soon. According to Signing Smart,

Using too many signs initially will actually slow your child's signing back in that, instead of signing supplementing and highlighting English, it becomes a new code system to decipher in addition to English.
Once your infant shows that he understands what the signs mean, or begins to sign back, add more signs to your vocabulary.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Win a Baby Signing Time Volumes 1 - 4 Gift Set

Signing Time is sending me a Baby Signing Time Gift Set valued at $99. Unfortunately, it's not for me. It's for you, or some other lucky Smart Baby Sign Language reader. It will include the Baby Signing Time Videos 1-4 and the accompanying CDs.

The contest winner will be drawn from a hat, because I will want to give everyone the gift set. You can enter multiple times to increase your chances of winning. To earn one entry do one of the following. You can earn up to five entries - one for each item on this list:

  1. Post the Smart Baby Sign Language Blog on your Blog Roll and then comment on this post with your blog address.
  2. Twitter the address for Smart Baby Sign Language to your friends and add HollyTriedIt to the people you are "following."
  3. Comment on this post with a story about your signing child, or the reason you want to sign with your child.
  4. Comment on this post with a question you have about sign language.
  5. Join the Facebook group by clicking on the Facebook tab at the top of the page.
Remember, more entries equals more chances to win.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Toddler Teaches Dolls to Communicate in Sign Language

The other night, my 2-year-old daughter couldn't fall asleep, so she started playing with her doll. When I peaked in at her, she was teaching her doll sign language.

The next day my husband was pretending her stuffed frog was reading a book and signing to her. I asked her if Froggie could talk. She thought that was silly. Of course they can't talk! I asked her if he could use sign language. She said, "Yes." And then she taught him a few signs: MOM, DAD, MORE, POTTY. Then she taught him to use the potty. More about that another day.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Signing Time Blogging Competition - Win Baby Signing Time Set

Signing Time is having a competition for a Baby Signing Time set worth $99. Find the rules and enter here. I already have.

Elementary School Teaches Sign Language to All Students

Lakeland, Florida's Winston Elementary School is teaching sign language to all of their students. The project was initiated by the school's reading coach, Susan Meynell. The teachers and students are taught one new thing a day by Meynell. The younger students focus on fingerspelling to improve their spelling and reading skills. This works. My two-year-old is learning fingerspelling and it helps her focus on the sounds in the word, which in turn helps her with reading. The older students are also working to increase their vocabulary.

Winston school is struggling with several areas of language testing, so they are counting on this program to move the school and students forward. Since sign language incorporates multiple learning styles (visual and kinesthetic), it helps students learn and retain information. I'm excited to see how their scores improve.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Use YouTube for Free Baby Sign Language Videos

Before you decide to purchase a sign language video, see if you can watch a clip on YouTube. Then look for the following things:

  1. Do you enjoy it? After all, you'll be watching it alot with your child. If the music or host or style annoys you, find something else.
  2. How often is the sign repeated? The more the sign is modeled, the more quickly your child will be able to pick up its meaning.
  3. Does your child enjoy it? Some children are frightened of puppets, others enjoy them. Does your child like to move and dance? Look for DVDs with catchy music. My daughter would dance for 20 minutes at a time while learning sign language from a DVD.
Here are some Baby Sign Programs on YouTube:
Baby Signing Time and Signing Time - Great music and high-quality production
My Smart Hands
My Baby Can Talk

I'm sure there are more. Let me know which ones I'm missing and I'll post them.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Baby Signs Creator Linda Acredolo Interviewed by NAEYC

Linda Acredolo and her partner, Susan Goodwyn, were two of the first people to research the impacts of signing with babies. They also created one of the first baby signing programs, Baby Signs.

The National Associaton for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) interviewed Linda for their radio program. Linda discusses the benefits of sign language beyond reduced frustration, and also explains why signing is so beneficial. She also addresses the concern some have raised about "flawed research."

This is a great interview that summarizes the basics of how she became interested in baby sign language, her views on teaching American Sign Language (ASL) versus made-up or home sign, and the reasons why babies who sign have improved verbal abilities.

July 2008

“Improving your Baby’s Communication Skills,” with Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.

Dr. Linda AcredoloDr. Linda Acredolo is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California at Davis and an internationally recognized scholar in the field of child development with a special focus on the effects of encouraging hearing babies to use signs to communicate before they can speak. With Dr. Susan Goodwyn she co-authored the best-selling book for parents entitled BABY SIGNS: How to Talk With Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk.

Baby Signing Time! Volumes 3 & 4 Previews Available

I love Signing Time DVDs. My 13-month-old daughter was thrilled by these videos when I discovered them. She still requests Baby Signing Time songs several times a week, even though we have Series 1 and Series 2 DVDs.

Baby Signing Time Volumes 3 & 4 will be coming out soon. Watch these previews and enjoy!

Volume 3: A New Day

Volume 4: Let's Be Friends

Thursday, September 4, 2008

When to Start Signing with Your Baby

When is the best time to start signing with your baby? The day they are born? When they can wave goodbye? There are many suggestions. I personally believe it depends upon the parent, not the child. The earlier you start signing, the longer you will have to sign before your child signs back. That's fine, if you can stick with it. Starting to sign earlier will give you and your child time to become familiar with and used to many more signs before he/she starts signing back. But, if you wait until they are showing physical capability of signing back, you will have a much shorter "frustration period" before they sign back (the frustration is the parents' not the baby's).

Andrea Ploehn, founder of Signing 4 Baby, also believes that the time to start is based on the parents, not the baby.

I started signing with my daughter when she was 5.5 months old. She signed back at 7.5 months. That was 2 months of having faith that she would sign eventually. Still, if we have another child, I plan to start signing right away.

What did you do? Or what do you plan to do?

Quick Baby Sign Language Reference Chart

Here's a quick and free way to start teaching your baby sign language. Print out several copies of this reference chart. Post one on the fridge and one above the changing table. Put two inside page protectors (for 3-ring-binders) and place one in your diaper bag and use one as a placemat and "book" for your child. You, your child, and other family members will have the signs memorized in no time.

What Do I Need to Start Teaching Sign Language to My Baby?

You really don't need anything other than a sign language dictionary to start teaching your child American Sign Language vocabulary. And I'm using the term "dictionary" very loosely. Your dictionary could be an ASL storybook checked out from the public library, or an online video dictionary, or it could simply be a friend.

I've made access to several of the best online dictionaries easily accessible from this blog. Just click the ASL Dictionary tab at the top of the page. Type in the word you are looking for, and the site searches about five online American Sign Language Dictionaries and returns the results. This really simplifies things when you are looking for obscure words, like ARMIDILLO.

That's it. You don't need anything else. Of course, there are lots of extras that make learning to sign easier for you and your child. Flash cards, Signing Time DVDs, sign language story books, and a baby sign language dictionary to help you easily identify the easier signs (when I first started I would look up words like BLENDER and find out that it was a complex combination of signs. It was too much for me to remember at the beginning.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Video of Baby Signing Progress

This is a video of my daughter from several months ago.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

How to Find a Sign Language Group

When you first start teaching your child sign language, it can be a little overwhelming. You need to learn the signs, figure out how to teach your infant effectively, and remember to use the signs throughout the day. And if you don't know anyone else who is signing with their child, it can feel a little lonely.

If you can, find a sign language group to join. You find a support group that will enthusiastically support your choice and will help you learn more signs. And their is a good chance your child will start signing when he sees that other kids sign.

I started my own sign language group, but it ended up being a lot of work to teach other's to sign on top of teaching myself and my family members. It was fun, and if you have the time I recommend it. It gives you control of the format and the lessons taught. But, there are easier ways.

Free or Low-Cost Groups
Meetup - allows you to search for groups with like interests by ZIP code. I felt comfortable meeting people this way (even though it was through the Internet) because the meeting location was at a public place. I didn't have to go to somebody's home that I didn't know, and I didn't have to reveal my address and personal information. Try searching for ASL, Signing with Baby, American Sign Language , British Sign Language, or Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Public Libraries - Check your local library to see if they offer baby signing. It's similar to story time for older children.

Baby Signing Classes
There has been an explosion in the number of baby signing classes and programs available in recent years. Visit the website of the program of your choice and find a class in your area. I didn't attend a class, but here are a few companies to look into:
Signing Smart
Baby Signs
My Smart Hands

There are many other programs out there. I'll discuss them in more detail in another post.

Monday, September 1, 2008

How Do I Use Sign Language with a Toddler?

While learning how to teach a baby sign language was challenging, there were plenty of resources. But as my daughter grew and expanded her American Sign Language (ASL) vocabulary there were fewer and fewer sources to help me teach her more. As her spoken vocabulary expanded, was it worth it the time and effort to continue teaching her more sign language? I didn't know how ASL sentences were formed or how to move her from vocabulary to actual language. ASL requires finger spelling. Was she too young to learn spelling?

I will share the information I discovered in future posts.

Why I Decided to Sign with My Baby

I decided to sign with my future child before baby sign was popular. I was babysitting my friend, who happened to be an occupational therapist. Because of her profession, she daughter her daughter a few signs, like MORE, EAT, and THANK YOU. Babysitting was a breeze because I knew what her daughter wanted, even though I hadn't spent a lot of time with her.

Babysitting was fun. It wasn't a constant guessing game filled with tears when I guessed wrong. The experience made such an impact on me that even though I didn't have my daughter for several years, I still learned sign language and taught it to her.

It is one of the best "extra" things I've done for our family.

What Can Smart Baby Sign Language Blog do for You?

How can Smart Baby Sign Language help you sign with your baby or child? Feel free to ask me any questions. If I can't find a reliable source, I'll poll those who know. What else would help you: activities to teach sign language, ways to use sign language to teach reading, reviews of sign language products, etc.?

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