LOOK WHO'S TALKING; Teach Your Baby Sign Language like Our Archie

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), May 2, 2001 | Go to article overview

LOOK WHO'S TALKING; Teach Your Baby Sign Language like Our Archie


Byline: RACHEL MURPHY

WHEN it comes to baby milestones, the first babbled words are right up there in the top three.

But, in fact, you can communicate with babies much earlier, using sign language.

From about eight months old, tots can learn how to tell you if they are hungry, in pain or want a cuddle.

And that information is worth a thousand words for anxious parents who can see that their babies are upset, but don't know why.

Most parents take it for granted when tiny tots clap hands, shake their heads or wave bye-bye.

In fact, according to child psychologists, we should be celebrating these early signs as a breakthrough in communication and encouraging our babies to learn more signs.

Dr Joseph Garcia, an American childhood development expert, is the pioneer behind the groundbreaking programme 'Sign With Your Baby'.

He hit on the concept after seeing a 10-month-old deaf boy using sign language with his parents. Dr Garcia realised that the boy's communication skills were much more sophisticated than those of a typical hearing baby of the same age.

He says: "Infants are born with abundant intelligence, but they have a limited means to let you know what their thoughts and needs are. Their undeveloped vocal chords restrict them from participating in the verbal language around them.

"The time between birth and when your infants utter their first recognisable words can be a time of miscommunication - but this doesn't have to be the case.

"These precious months can be rich in meaningful and effective interaction between parent and child. Using sign language with your baby can help build a solid foundation for mutual understanding and can dramatically contribute to the bonding process."

Dr Garcia's extensive studies on the subject have challenged traditional thinking that children can't mentally represent symbols until they are two.

Even though babies lack the fine motor skills needed to produce spoken language, they do have the ability to understand and use non-verbal language.

His research has also shown that signing children start to speak earlier than non-signing children and have a better understanding of language and grammar.

Other studies have shown that signing babies score higher in intelligence tests, understand more words, have larger vocabularies, engage in more sophisticated play and show more interest in books.

It's impressive stuff, particularly if you're determined to raise a baby Einstein, but as a mother of three I was more interested in the practical benefits of having a baby who could actually tell me what he wanted.

I remember only too well the frustration endured by my two older children - Henry, now five, and Molly, four, when I failed to identify which moan or wail meant pain, thirst, hunger or sleep.

My baby, Archie, was eight months old in January when we first heard about this signing scheme - it would be ages before he could tell me what he wanted, unless we put signing to the test. When I announced my plans, friends thought I was some kind of supermum who had taught herself British Sign Language overnight.

In fact, the system is a very simplified version of both American and British Sign Language, and for the first two months you only need to learn a handful of words.

For a baby of eight months, you are advised to stick to just three simple words - eat, more and milk. After all, if your baby can tell you which of these three he wants, you're half-way to a happy home.

For eat, you press your fingertips together and pretend you are putting a small piece of food in you mouth. For milk you clench and unclench your fist as if you are milking a cow, and for more you make a half fist and tap your knuckles or fingertips together several times.Dr Garcia is full of practical tips and simplified psychobabble about how to teach sign language effectively. …

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