A good friend of my sister's is a Sign Language Teacher at a public High School in Maryland. She is always looking for ways to motivate her students so she recruited us to help her out. She sent me a bunch of questions that I answered on paper and she also asked us to video tape the answers and Hartly.
Below is the videos we made in response to her request (and the email is also included because it has more detail than the videos... Keep in mind we only did one take and Hart was due a nap).
1.) How did you hear about using sign language with your baby?
--- it is pretty popular these days to do 5-10 signs with babies so I just kinda knew about it. In addition, my sister is fluent in sign language so she did a little with her oldest when he was small. My sister is where I first became aware of Signing as an option.
2.) What made you want to teach sign language to your baby?
--- My husband and I believe very strongly that babies, even newborns, are much more aware of what is going on around them than adults acknowledge. Any chance for communication and connection with our son was very appealing to us.
3.) Did you know any sign language before you started signing with him?
--- No. Not really. Maybe 5 or 6 signs?...
4.) What resources have you used to help you sign with him?
--- We actually hired a lady to come and give a class at our house with a few friends. She actually was not that great but a few things she said stuck out ---> there is a delayed reaction so keep doing sign. Don't give up. She also said to work off of his interests. We bought a few baby sign books but, honestly, once Hart started signing and showing interest (he would point to a picture in a book and then turn and look at me... Waiting for me to tell him sign. If I didn't he would point/jab excitedly repeatedly at picture and turn back to me) the easiest was to just look up on my phone online.
5.) How old was he when you started signing to him?
--- we probably started fairly consistently using 4-5 signs (a sign we made up for potty, more, eat, bottle, all done...) when he was around 4 or 5 months old.
6.) What and when was his first sign?
--- just shy of 9 months he signed fan.
7.) What kinds of words do you choose to sign with him?
--- As previously stated, mainly we have followed his lead (with exception of manners; please, thank you, wait, sorry...)
8.) Do you think signing has made a difference in him (linguistically) already or will it in the future?
--- Hart is 19 months and, I'm told, the average 19 month old speaks 10-50 words a stranger could recognize. Hart has, at least, 75 spoken words a stranger could understand. I probably understand well over 100 of his spoken words. ( when I don't understand him I ask him if there is a sign for it and he will sign, clearing up confusion if it's a sign he knows). In addition, my husband speaks Spanish to him. We were told bilingual households usually mean a child speaking later. Not true at all in our case.
9.) Does anyone else in your family sign with him?
--- Not really besides my husband and myself. My mom understands a few. My sister, who is fluent, I had thought would a lot but, interestingly enough she doesn't. I think it is bc he has a lot of baby signs and he has made up quite a few of his own (before he could sign his name he made up his own sign for it, he made up a sign for bat and swing and a few others as well) so she doesn't know them. We don't care about them being correct. We just wanted/want to communicate with him.
10.) Will you use sign with your other children?
--- Absolutely. If anything, even more and earlier. No pressure but understanding that he understood well before he could demonstrate.
11.) When do you think you will stop signing with your baby?
--- At 16 months, when he started verbalizing a lot, signing slowed down a lot. At one point he was learning 2-3 signs a day. Now maybe we add 1 a week. Especially if there is a word he has trouble saying or we have trouble understanding (most recently iguana). I would imagine we will still be using sign language for a while. Often if he's drinking his bottle or playing he will sign rather than speak. And as soon as we have another child we will be using all the time so it will probably be for years to come.
12.) What is your favorite thing about using sign language with your baby?
--- But the very best thing that has come out of all of this occured when... (this is from an excerpt in my blog... when story occurred, Hartly was 11 months old)
Little Man was going through a rough patch with his teething. He was just not his usually self and his hand was in his mouth pressing up on his gums one morning with silent tears rolling down his face. Our boy rarely cries so this was a rare and such a sad sight to see. I tried giving him teething toys and every trick I knew. I even put baby homeremedy medicine on his gum but he was not feeling any better. I finally, in desperation more than actually expecting and answer, said, "Hart, what do you need? What will make you feel better?" Without missing a beat, he signed, "bath!"
It was not our usually bath time but who am I to argue with a sad baby in pain asking for a bath. I didn't know if it would help but I decided to try. As I started filling the tub he become more frantic, madly signing "bath" over and over as his quiet tears now became sobs.
I hurried up and we climbed in. His sobs started to subside. He snuggled close to me and sunk low in the warm water. Minutes later he was smiling again.
It was amazing!
As I was sitting in the tub with my sweet teething baby a conversation with his pediatrician (Dr. Razi - she is the BEST!) came rushing back to me!! At around 6 months when Hart got his first (and so far only) fever and was crying nonstop, I (new mother here) called his Doctor in a panic, wondering if I needed to bring him to see her. She told me a bunch of different things to do for him. She said, if those didn't work, to climb into the tub with him. She said that it helps with aches and pains and can soothe a miserable baby. I only now, as we sat in the bath, was reminded of this conversation. How Hartly knew that this is what he needed to help make him feel better, I will never know.
What I do know is this: Without sign language I don't know how long he would have been in pain and sad and crying. He was able to communicate his needs to me - a need that had not even crossed my mind as helping his teething. This alone makes me grateful we sign. But, as I stated before, on a daily bases I communicate and talk with my son and we all three (husband is definitely on board too) have so much fun and joy talking together!!