Baby Signs
By Amber Leigh
Inspired by "Baby Signs" written by Linda Acredolo

Sarah is greeted at the door of the toddlers room by her 15 month old daughter, Peyton. "I love you," Peyton says.

Sarah replies "I love you."

"Hungry," says Peyton. "

"We will eat when we get home."

Just after finishing her Cheerios, Peyton says "more" to her mother.

"You want more Cheerios, Peyton."

Peyton nods her head yes. Then tells her mom she would like a drink.

Amazingly, a very realistic scenario for any 15 month old child. At the age of 18 months, my son had a vocabulary of over 40 words. Some of his most common words were "I love you", "light", "hungry", "drink" and "more". So are you asking yourself "How is this possible?" Two words "Baby Signs". Honestly, this was the best book I ever read as a new mother.

Baby signs, not to be confused with sign language, is a form of non-verbal communication that develops between a young child and the people who care for that child. Many young children master the "bye-bye" wave, yes and no nodding and blowing kisses. But, young children have a capacity for learning and communicating so much more. Because of the difficulty in mastering the use of the vocal chords, many children are hindered in their communication with the other people in their lives. Young toddlers are able to understand many concepts and words that they are not able to communicate verbally. By utilizing hand gestures and facial expressions, toddlers are enabled to express themselves.

So are you interested in getting started? My very first recommendation is: buy the book. But of coarse, for 90% of you (or more) that won't be your first step, and that is okay. Get started, see how it works, then buy the book. First you must realize that the communication between your child and you should first and foremost fulfill a need for them.

I usually start with "more" as my first sign. You can develop your own way of representing more with your child, use the ASL sign for more, or use the one I have developed. I have the child place their pointer finger in the palm of their hand. Keep in mind, the sign does not need to be perfect. This is an individualized communication between you and your child. Some of my day care children signed "more" with all of their fingers in their palm. I knew what they meant, and that is what is important.

So, using "more" as my example, I will walk through the steps I used to get my babies "talking". First you need to introduce the sign. For "more", I have usually done something fun for the child, a lift into the air, a spin while you hold them, something quick that they really like. Right after, make the sign for "more" and say "more?" Then do it again. Repeat a few times. Then take your child's hands and show them how to make the sign, while you say "more?". After a few minutes most toddlers (age 14 months and up) will make the sign on their own. If not, it is okay. Work with them they will pick it up.

Younger children with pick this up a little more slowly. A few sessions may be necessary before the child starts to sign on their own. After your child has successfully signed on their own, reinforce as much as possible. Tell other care givers what the sign means, so the child does not become frustrated. Slowly add new signs.

You may find that you develop many of the signs that your child uses, and that is okay. But keep your eyes open for your child to develop their own signs. This happened with my son who panted with his tongue out to say "dog", sniffed for "flower", put his hand in the air for"light" and put his hand in the air and turned it for "fan".

As a child care provider, this method can prove to be very useful. Parents are amazed that their child can now communicate with them, after one day. "I love you" is a parent's favorite. My son signed "I love you" by placing both of his pointer fingers together.

Some parent may express concerns that using signs may stunt their verbal communication skills. On the contrary, in my experience, and sited in the "Baby Signs" book, signing actually helps the child's verbal communication skills. My son, a third grade student, is currently reading at a sixth grade level and many people comment on his verbal abilities and his word choices. Many of the children I have cared for, and used baby signs with, have had advanced verbal communication skills for their age.

Baby signs is great way to enable children to communicate in a non-verbal way and is currently being used in many child care program, special needs programs and by parents. For more detailed information please read "Baby Signs" written by Linda Acredolo.

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