Friday, February 11, 2011

baby signs: the parenting technique that will never go out of style

We all want what's best for our children. We want to give them every opportunity to excel, and are constantly bombarded with tips, techniques and tricks for doing so. Let's call them parenting fads {{insert "Your Baby Can Read" infomercial}}. This is not an article about creating a super baby.

It's about communicating with your child. Through sign language.

Why? We chatted with Kathy MacMillan of Stories By Hand, a local mom who is passionate about giving children tools to communicate - - even before they can speak.

"Babies as young as 6 or 7 months can sign," says Kathy. "Some won't choose to sign until they're 14 months old. The moral of the story? They'll sign when they're ready and you can't force it."

Why consider teaching your infant or toddler sign language? Not to raise their IQ or future test scores. But for a much more practical reason.

To make your life easier.

Teaching your child sign language gives them a mode of communication before they become verbal. It reduces frustration. It allows you to bond and have a conversation with them. It tells your child that you care what they think.

"You're sending your child a message: I'm going to give you the tools the communicate because I value what you have to say. What a self esteem booster!" said Kathy.

{{Side note: of course we care what our children think! But do we always communicate that?}}

I asked Kathy which signs she encourages parents to start the process of teaching their child - -a nd themselves - - sign language. Her response? Another dose of practicality.

"Whatever is going to make your life easier. Think about which signs will be most useful and can be used in a variety of situations," said Kathy. The usual suspects? Signs for more, eat and all done. All done can mean "are you all finished?" and "knock it off."

She encourages parents to think about what signs will motivate their children when trying to teach signs, since parental frustration (not a child's inability to learn signs) frequently leads to a parent giving up the practice altogether. Try teaching the sign when your child is a captive audience - - say, in his or her high chair.

When we first started teaching the Bug sign language, some questioned if teaching her signs would delay her verbal abilities since she wouldn't be motivated to 'use her words.' Kathy immediately dismissed the myth, adding that there are benefits to using signs even after your child has acquired verbal language. The toddler-speak you're always trying to decipher? It's not always so clear. Signing gives your child an ability to communicate effectively while developing (er- practicing) their oral speech.

Want to give sign language a try in a non-threatening, fun way? Join Kathy for one of her free Stories By Hand events at a local library -- she has a full schedule all around the area! Stories, music, puppets, costumes and signing wrapped up into one rollicking good time. Check out Kathy's website for class opportunities or to book a Stories by Hand birthday party, too.

(cool) tip: Can't make a Stories by Hand program but still want to try signing? Kathy recommends Sign with Your Baby by Dr. Joseph Garcia and the Signing Time DVD series. "Like" Stories by Hand on Facebook to keep up with Kathy's appearances and latest research on American Sign Language.