If you’ve decided to take the plunge and use sign language with your infant or toddler, trying to figure out how to start can be overwhelming. There is more than one program out there, plus books, videos, and DVDs, and finding the one that fits with your family can be daunting.
Before you start looking into the programs, first answer some questions:
1. Why do I want to do this?
This may seem like a silly question, but it really isn’t. There is actually more than one answer to this question.
a. I want my child to be able to communicate his/her needs before talking begins.
b. My child was born with a developmental delay, and I want him/her to have access to more than one form of communication.
c. My child was diagnosed at birth (or later) with a hearing loss.
d. A family member or friend uses sign language to communicate.
e. It sounds like a fun activity to do with my child.
All of these are valid reasons for wanting to learn sign language and teach it to your baby.
The program you choose can vary depending on how you answered the above question.
Before I give you a brief overview of what’s available, let me throw this out to you:
**Signs from a book alone ain’t gonna cut it. Why? Because sign language is a visual, three dimensional language. The meaning of a sign can change in ways a person new to signing may not realize. Pictures in a signing book may not show those differences clearly. I’m not saying this to scare people off from learning signs, just making you aware that book learning alone won’t work in this situation. If you are trying to learn only from a 2 dimensional picture in a book, you’re running the risk of teaching yourself the wrong way. Take a class if they’re offered in your area, or use a DVD/video if no classes are nearby.**
So with that out of the way, what’s out there to choose from? Here are three well-known programs:
Baby Signs: This program was developed by Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn, who are professionals in the fields of child development and child language development. Their book, Baby Signs: How to Talk to Your Baby Before Your Baby can Talk, was published in 1996. While some of their signs are taken from American Sign Language, not all are ASL. Their decision to modify or “create” signs for babies to use came from their fear that “parents of hearing babies would find ASL too overwhelming to learn in the short time their baby would use signs as a bridge to speech. We also knew that young babies, with their limited motor coordination, are not able to master many of the complex “hand shapes” of ASL.” (https://www.babysigns.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/institute.faq/faq.cfm)
More information about this program and the research behind it can be found at http://www.babysigns.com.
Signing Smart: Michelle Anthony. M.A., PhD., and Reyna Lindert, PhD. developed this program while working on their doctorates in Developmental Psychology. They were looking for a program to use with their own children, and weren’t finding anything that fit their needs. Their program is ASL based, as both are certified ASL users. They’ve also both done research in the Sign Language Acquisition Lab and the Child Language Lab at the Institute for Human Development at UC Berkeley (http://www.signingsmart.com/ourpeople.html). Information on their programs can be found at http://www.signingsmart.com/index.html.
Sign2Me: This program first became available in 1999. Dr. Joseph Garcia developed the program after extensive research beginning in 1987. Dr. Garcia’s program utilizes American Sign Language, the language used by culturally Deaf people in the United States and English speaking parts of Canada. As for modifying ASL signs for young ones, Dr. Garcia noticed that infants or toddlers that could not make the signs exactly as they were presented would come up with their own modifications that fit with their abilities. Parents just need to continue to model the sign correctly until the child is developmentally able to produce it that way. Like parents already do when they talk to their child. You might say “dog,” but Junior might not be capable of using his muscles in the same way, so he says, “gog.” Do you rename the family pet? No, you just keep using the word “dog” until Junior says it too.
You can check out Dr. Garcia’s information and the Sign2Me program at www.sign2me.com.
These programs are the three that most people mention when asked about signing with little ones. I listed them here because they are the ones I am most familiar with as well. As I said before, there are also numerous books, flash cards, videos and DVDs that can get you started as well.
If you’re really interested in signing with your baby or toddler, knowing your goal is half the battle of choosing which programs or resources to use.
If you think that you’ll only use signs until your child begins to talk, and only with a specific group of people (family, friends and caregivers) then Baby Signs may be the fit for you.
If you want your child to:
1. Be exposed to a second language that he or she may be using beyond toddler-hood,and
2. Later be able to take as a second language, or
3. Use later to communicate with classmates who use ASL…
…Then an ASL based program might be the better fit for you.
It’s really a matter of personal preference. Know your goals for using sign, research the different programs, and you will make a decision that fits your family.
And happy signing!