When my boy was 5 months old I heard a radio interview about baby signing. A month later I started back at work and my first contract was evaluating a project with artists and therapists working in nurseries to try and improve communication with children. One of them was a baby signer.
There are different baby signing 'languages'. Britain follows British Sign Language, unlike the origins of baby signing with the American version. Makaton, used by Mr Tumble, is different again, a simplified version with some crossovers.
My first question was: if I'm signing with my baby won't that get in the way of his spoken language? Actually baby signing relies also on close eye to eye contact and spoken language, so in many cases babies learn spoken language faster too.
We aimed to learn 6 words a day, me, my husband, our boy, and Grandma. The more people who can practise it with baby the better.
Baby signing can be taught through songs and nursery rhymes in workshops so it's great for all the family to learn together. Books and DVDs are also available so you can learn at home as we did.
My evaluation contract revealed wonderful stories. Parents reported siblings getting along better because they had a fun, shared language. One baby had been crying and couldn't be settled, until he made the sign for water. His mother wouldn't have though of trying it, but brought him a drink, he drank it and settled straight away. A father couldn't acknowledge his child had hearing problems. Because the workshops were for hearing and hearing impaired children together, it removed any stigma. It was the first time, ever, he had been able to talk to his 2 and a half year old child.
And us? When my boy was 11 months, playing in the garden with daddy, I looked out of the window, he looked straight at me and signed for food. Such stories are common, it comes out of the blue and a floodgate opens.
If you try and it and don't see progress straight away, don't give up. Some children sign back soon, others take a few months, and what a feeling it is when they do. First word – check; first step – check; first sign – check.