Baby Sign Language - Yes or No?

02/10/2015 10:55 | Updated 01 October 2016

Like most new mums I've been to loads of different baby classes; baby massage, Rhythm Time, baby sensory, swimming, a variety of free play groups and more recently Gymboree . You name it, we've done it.

There are so many classes available, all a great way to socialise your baby and meet other mums. However, after plodding along to musical and sensory groups week after week, I was looking for something different, something, dare I say it... more beneficial.

I started chatting to other mums about baby signing, it really appealed to me as I listened to stories of how they communicate with their babies/ toddlers. The idea of being able to understand (even on a very basic level) what my daughter needs/ wants excited me.

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Experts claim helping your child to sign can stop them getting frustrated and therefore avoid tantrums. Sounds like a winner to me! Research says babies as young as six months can share their basic needs through sign language letting you know when they are hungry, need a drink, want more or want their favourite toy. Sounds too good to be true, right?

I found a class near my home in Solihull run by Tiny Talk (www.tinytalk.co.uk, £50 a 12 week term) and booked two sessions. My husband was skeptical (major understatement) when I told him about babies using sign language but I went along with an open mind (small lie. I was already convinced Alannah would be signing in no time!!)

We started the class with a welcome song, sitting on chairs in a circle, using signs to sing 'hello' and the first letter of each baby's name. We then moved onto the floor to learn a collection of signs for today's theme 'In The Garden'. Quite a few regular babies recognized the hand gestures for bird, butterfly and caterpillar. I quickly learnt signs for garden, sunshine and hedgehog (which has a really quirky one.)

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Next we got up on our feet to dance and sing-along to I Went To School One Morning, finishing with every babies favourite - The Hokey Cokey, including the signs for arms, legs and shaking.

Our teacher Charlie then began reading from a book, doing signs for each animal, the weather and different times of the day. Looking around the class it was inspiring to see how engaged the babies were, seemingly understanding some of the signs and smiling excitedly as their mums repeated them. Normally by this point in most classes children are more interested in pulling each others socks off or crawling across the room after spotting something shiny/ more fascinating. However, the babies seemed pretty transfixed.

The lesson finished after 40 minutes and I was offered tea and cakes (always a bonus). The mums sat around chatting about their progress since last week, to a chorus of "well done" and "how exciting" as they proudly revealed what their child had signed for the first time. They were all at different stages, some babies, who'd been attending for months, knew 15-20 signs, others were newbies just grasping the basic signs for milk, food, want more and dog.

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A mum, whose son learnt the sign for milk at 11 weeks old, told me, "he totally understood what he was asking for and uses it everyday now." Another mum, with a 13-month-old daughter, told me: "She knows 12 signs so far, the first she learnt was 'food', then 'more' and 'all gone'. Her favourite are the animal signs, but now she can tell me when she's thirsty and in pain, usually pointing at where hurts too."

The teacher told me to start practicing basic signs at home with Alannah, saying it may take a few weeks, but the more I encouraged her the quicker she would learn. Most children start communicating with gestures/ sounds between six and 18 months, so anytime around this age is a great time to start signing.

My husband was really impressed when I told him some babies knew 20 signs. After watching a few signing videos together on YouTube, he started to get as excited about it as me! The moving horn sign for cow is particularly amusing.

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After a week of practising at home with Alannah we went back for our second lesson. Since the second class she's learnt the sign for "all gone" and 'where?'. She also understands, although hasn't yet copied, the sign for 'food' and 'hot'.

One thing I've definitely noticed since attending is how I'm far more aware of things she's trying to say/ show me. Before going to baby signing I would have probably overlooked these hidden signs/ gestures.

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So, would I recommend it? Yes, definitely, if you're looking for a fun activity, which will also help you communicate better with your baby. Just be prepared to spend time practicing at home too!

Five tips I was told:

Watch a few YouTube videos before your first class to familiarize yourself with some of the basic signs.
Find a class that fits into your baby's sleep/ food routine, when they're the most responsive and not tired or hungry.
Encourage other adults/ children who have regular contact with your baby to use the signs too, this will help them learn quicker.
It's important to speak at the same time as showing the sign, using lots of facial expression and body language
You can sign to your baby from birth but they'll only sign back around six months old. Begin with basic signs like milk, food and a favourite toy or pet.

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