The main purpose of teaching any child to sign is to provide them with a means of communication before they are able to speak. However, evidence has shown that signing with children actually has many more benefits, especially if they start learning at a young age. Here are just a few ways in which you and your baby could benefit from learning to sign…
Signing boosts early communication skills
Babies naturally want to communicate. They are far more intelligent than most of us give them credit for, and can remember and understand far more than they are able to express. This is because receptive language skills (what they can understand) develop earlier than expressive language skills (what they can say). The motor skills and auditory perceptual skills needed to speak even single words are simply not developed enough to do so until 10 months old at the earliest, and then they continue to develop for years. However, fine motor skills develop much earlier, and parents will find that their child starts to clap, wave and point by around 6 months old. These natural gestures can be used to help children to communicate by signing much earlier than they learn to speak.
2. Signing supports speech development
Contrary to some parents’ concerns that learning to sign will cause a delay in babies’ speech, several different research studies have shown that in fact the opposite is true. Signing is not a substitute for speech, but an addition to it: when used correctly, signing actually helps to promote babies’ overall language development and can help them to speak earlier and with a wider vocabulary than babies who have not been introduced to signing (visit http://www.child-psych.org/2009/04/will-teaching-my-baby-to-sign-delay-his-speech.html for more information on some of these research studies).
3. Signing boosts self-esteem and confidence
Imagine being unable to speak, unable to do anything for yourself, and everyone who could help you can’t speak a word of your language. You would become miserable and demoralised very quickly! Being able to communicate our needs and having them met is a huge part of our wellbeing and self-esteem. With signing, your baby learns to communicate their needs and observations long before they can speak, so you can easily respond to them. Understanding what their baby wants, rather than having to play constant guessing games, makes many parents feel like they know their child better, consequently bringing them closer to each other.
4. Signing reduces frustration
Various research studies have shown that signing may be able to help reduce the number of tantrums your child has before and while learning to speak. Many early tantrums in babies and toddlers are often a result of their inability to communicate their wants and needs effectively (hence the term “the terrible twos” which often actually start at around 15 months…). By giving your child the gift of sign language as an early communication tool, you may see a decrease in tantrum behaviour as they will be able to communicate with you more effectively.
5. Signing can boost your child's intellectual development and give them a head start at school
School may feel like a very long way off right now, but it will come around frighteningly quickly! There are lots of ways that baby signing has been shown to help children to get a flying start on their intellectual development, ready for learning at school. ‘When we sign, we connect the spoken word to a visual sign, which helps your baby to remember and learn the word more quickly,’ says Katja O’Neill from Signing Babies. ‘Children who sign have also been found to have a significantly larger “word bank” than non-signing children. The more words a child knows and uses by the age of five, the better they are thought to do academically, too.’
Using and understanding sign language requires a child to utilize their visual and joint attention skills, both of which are very important skills in both learning and social interactions. There is plenty of research to support the claim that hearing children who are taught sign language from an early age have significantly better reading and spelling skills, better behaviour, improved phonics knowledge, improved focus, engagement and concentration and even higher IQ scores further down the road.
Sounds too good to be true? Read the independent scientific evidence for yourself here: http://www.signsforsuccess.co.uk/evidence/
6. Learning to sign can help your child to develop their fine motor skills and creativity
Teaching your child to sign allows for more fine motor practice as your child signs back to you! Fine motor skills allow us to do ‘fiddly’ and detailed movements, such as doing up buttons and shoelaces, making things, holding a pencil and using a knife and fork. They are also important for developing creative skills such as playing musical instruments, drawing and painting. Children who have had practice with using fine motor skills through signing have been shown to find writing much easier and have far neater handwriting when they go to school than those who have not had such practice developing their fine motor skills at an early age. Signing is great practice for developing these important skills and movements.
7. Signing with your child is great for bonding
Teaching your infant or toddler sign language can really be a fantastic bonding experience. When you teach your baby to sign, you must get down at their level and look at them. You must interact with your child, sing, talk, make eye contact and demonstrate the sign. You also will often show your child how to make the sign hand-over-hand. All of these interactions can help increase the bond you have with your child.
8. Learning to sign is FUN!
Seriously. It is so much fun teaching sign language to a baby! In our classes, we use singing, music, games, toys and books to help babies to learn in a fun and engaging way for an exciting and multi-sensory experience. Little Angels classes are based around what the parents find most useful, and each week we focus on a different relevant topic, such as food, bathtime, family, animals and more, with requests always welcome. Parents are also given useful strategies for remembering signs and teaching them to their babies, allowing the fun to continue at home!