Thursday, September 18, 2008


If you had told me 2 years ago that I would (a) learn sign language or (b) teach it to my child, I would have said you were crazy. First of all, the days of actually sitting down and taking the time to learn something were long over, as I had declared around the time I took the bar exam. Second, why teach a baby sign language - shouldn't you teach them English?

Well, as Lilly has been known to do, she has again turned my thinking upside down. Of course she was eager to learn sign language, because it was the "cool, trendy" thing to do with kids these days. Even her daycare was teaching it to all the babies. And we realized, as we looked into sign language, that it wasn't about *not* teaching your kid how to talk, but it's about giving your baby another way to communicate before they are ready to say spoken words. It's about saying and signing at the same time, so they understand the concept, and say the word when they're ready. It's been proven that teaching sign language does not delay speech, but instead it increases vocabulary and awareness.

It's also about reducing frustration, as a child who can express themself, in any manner, can tell her mom or dad what she wants and needs. In Lilly's case, as always one to take advantage of situations, she saw our excitement over her signing certain things and extorted it - she knew if she signed "please" with whatever she wanted (cookie, elmo, music, etc), then we would want to encourage the signing and give in to what she wanted. She's no fool. (And of course now, she knows to sign "potty" means to eat m&m's. 'Cause mommy's a sucker.)

Yet at the beginning, we still approached signing with Lilly, at about 8 months, with hesitation. We knew a few other families who signed, and they strongly encouraged us to start. We decided we had nothing to lose, why not? Still thinking that it wouldn't really work, though. The first two signs we taught were "more" and "all done." We did them with meals, and eventually she caught on - about 10 months I think. Then it was "milk," and then we started watching "Baby Signing Time," and then did Baby Signing classes, from Kindermusik. She went into the first signing class knowing about 5 signs, and by the end of the first month she truly understood that it was communication. And her memory is outstanding - many times we do the sign once, and without reinforcing it, she can remember it a month later. And at this point in time, she can sign over 100 signs, and uses most regularly. (A few on the list are her own variation, but most are American Sign Language.)

  1. mom
  2. dad
  3. grandma
  4. grandpa
  5. eat
  6. drink
  7. milk
  8. water
  9. all done
  10. again
  11. apple
  12. fruit
  13. fish
  14. dog
  15. cat
  16. frog
  17. horse
  18. little
  19. big
  20. duck
  21. bird
  22. spider
  23. up
  24. down
  25. rain
  26. wind
  27. hot
  28. quiet/shhh
  29. boat
  30. baby
  31. sign
  32. time
  33. potty
  34. wash hands
  35. soap
  36. hat
  37. coat
  38. shoes
  39. socks
  40. please
  41. thank you
  42. sorry
  43. bread
  44. ice cream
  45. bath
  46. one
  47. two
  48. five
  49. ten
  50. cracker
  51. clothes
  52. sleep
  53. bed
  54. brush teeth
  55. teeth
  56. eyes
  57. nose
  58. mouth
  59. tongue
  60. Lilly
  61. phone
  62. hi/bye
  63. love
  64. kiss
  65. no
  66. yes
  67. bear
  68. cereal
  69. banana
  70. pat
  71. book
  72. read
  73. diaper
  74. change
  75. hurt
  76. where
  77. ball
  78. play
  79. sad
  80. happy
  81. car
  82. bus
  83. plane
  84. bike/tricycle
  85. jump
  86. stand
  87. bubble
  88. train
  89. music
  90. point
  91. light
  92. star
  93. what
  94. diamond
  95. beep/horn
  96. wheel
  97. head
  98. smile/laugh
  99. bell
  100. cheese
  101. boy
  102. girl
  103. cookie/cookie monster
  104. elmo
  105. tickle
  106. hooray
  107. uh oh
  108. doll
  109. stop
  110. go
  111. flower
  112. dance
  113. key
  114. silly
  115. monkey
  116. elephant
  117. lion
  118. gorilla
  119. wipe
  120. loud

Lilly is also speaking, but she has more freedom accompanying her communication with signing; for some reason it comes more easily to her. Yet once she learns how to say the word for something, she doesn't sign it as much; so she's converting what she knows. Or she says and signs the word at the same time.

The coolest part for us, is that we know that she understands so many concepts - she easily signs "sorry" when she does something bad (although, without sincerity!), or she sweetly signs "please" when she wants that cookie. I can't tell you how proud I was a year ago, after she had learned the sign for "water" (like water that she drinks), and then we walked past a fountain and she signed "water" - I was shocked she understood the concept on her own what was shooting out of the fountain. Or when we first moved here, and Jon was working all the time, and Lilly started signing "Where's daddy?" I am super impressed by my little lady's ability to be bilingual at her young age, and she's inspiring her parents to learn something new as well.

Here's Lilly signing "daddy" last month.

(By the way, the only sign that Lilly absolutely refuses to learn, is "Help." Typical 2 year old.)

1 comment:

Robyn said...

She is amazing...
And I'd do just about anything for M&M's too, so she's my kinda girl!

I love your stories...keep 'em coming.