I had heard about baby signs and often wondered about them, slightly skeptical and slightly curious. I knew a couple of friends who had used signs with their babies in the US – a friend and a cousin, but i had not really seen this in action. So when a pediatrician friend suggested that i try it with my boys i decided to give it a shot. This was when the boys were about 7 months old. One of my twins was babbling a lot less than the other and i had a feeling he may start speaking a little late too. However, he was a very social and independent boy with a mind of his own and i knew that although he may start talking a little late, he would definitely want to start communicating sooner.
I ordered my copy of Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn and spent the first couple of days just going through the book. One of the comments on the back of the book caught my eye : “Babies are a lot smarter about language than we thought, and long before they can talk they can speak in symbols and gestures” – Jane Pauley.
The approach looked rather simple. I had to start gradually introducing signs and consistently using them with the babies. The signs did not replace speech but accompanied it. And so we embarked on a new journey of signs.
I started with simple everyday words. Milk, food, bath….hot, cold…light, fan….hello, bye-bye…sun, moon and stars. These words were introduced over the first month and half. The boys would look at me and smile and the nanny found it pretty funny but went along with me. I made sure that Dad used the signs too…as did the grandparents when we saw them…which of course meant that i was teaching the signs to a lot more people than i had anticipated. I had no response from the twins in terms of them signing. But hey, i decided to keep at it a little longer. The,n one evening, when the twins were around 9 months old, we were sitting at my mum’s place reading a book. It was getting a little dark so mum walked into the room and turned on the light. Nishant suddenly looked up and then looked at me excitedly and signed the word light. just like that…out of the blue, with no prompting and when i least expected it. “Yup! that is the light, baby!” i said. And there you go …he did it again and again and again!! Within a week his brother picked it up too and then we were on a roll. It was as if they had been waiting and watching till they felt ready to start. Their fist few words were light, fan, bath, star and bubble. Then came the “more and all done”. The boys were soon pretty comfortable signing a lot of the basic every day stuff. My big wow moment came a few months later, a little before their first birthday. My older twin Siddhant actually came up with his own sign words for grandma and grandpa (my parents who in marathi – my mother tongue are called ajji and ajoba) They picked a sign my mom used to sing a little rhyme with them to call out to her and they would tap their forehead like my dad to indicate they were referring to him. That gave me such a high!!! Because they had realized what language was and were trying to create their own. Once Siddhant started with these two signs, Nishant picked them up too…just like everything else they keep picking up from each other.
Even when they started talking in one and two word sentences around 17 months, they continued to use the signs along with speech. Today at 23 months, they are more or less using only speech, though for some words like ‘more’ they use both.
i followed the book as much as i could but i also made up some signs of my own where i found them coming naturally to me. I guess that will depend on each parent or caregiver. Since i am the primary caregiver and my kids did not go to day care or play school it worked well for me to create my own signs where i felt the need to.
I feel that this is a book every parent should look at because i feel it empowers the child and gets the child and parent to communicate even before the baby can talk…and definitely cuts down on frustration for both the parents and the baby!