Baby signing - the benefits for you and your baby
I spoke to Charly, the incredible founder of Ettie Betty Baby, about how she came to discover Baby signing and why she's so passionate about teaching it. (Oh and her daughter is also called Etta, so she is talking about her below not my little lady)
Baby sign language was a game-changer for me. I didn’t even know it existed until I was pregnant with my first and when I did discover it, I was so sceptical!
I have always known Sign Language. My sister, Amelia, was born profoundly deaf. I was three when my Mum and Dad started learning British Sign Language (BSL) so signing has always been a part of my life. As children, and even now, it is a ‘secret language’ that my sister and I have when we’re out and about together (in the life before lockdown of course!).
Whilst pregnant with my Etta, I began looking into how to teach a child to sign as I wanted her to grow up bilingual in spoken English and BSL. I expected to find that, maybe, 3 years old would be a good age to introduce BSL. It was only then that I discovered ‘baby sign language’ - a tool for all babies, from as young as 6 months, to enable them to communicate before they could talk. I wasn’t convinced…. but I read all the research and watched so many adorable videos of little signers. I loved signing and I knew I wanted Etta to sign so I was going to try it with her from day one.
I felt excited at the idea of it, again, being a ‘secret code’ I could use to communicate with Etta, as it had always been for me and Amelia.
From the off, it was so much fun signing with Etta. Seeing the joy, concentration and amazement on her face was incredible - adding signs to songs and stories held her attention much more when actions were added. Just think how much kids love the ‘wheels on the bus’ song and ‘incy-wincy spider’ because of the ACTIONS they have! That is all baby sign language is - adding gestures to the words you are saying.
It became something special that Etta & I would do together every day. It got me through a particularly low spot (lack of sleep is KILLER!) by helping us bond, it placated my (unnecessary) guilt if I hadn't taken Etta to any baby classes that week (getting out the house was impossible sometimes, although I now realise how lucky I was to have that option), and I felt like I was using my brain again to learn a new skill and, if nothing else, passed some time (as they say, time flies when you're having fun and those rainy days on your own with a baby can seem long, as so many of us have had to find out over the past 12 months).
At around 5 months, I noticed Etta would get excited if I did the ‘milk’ sign to her. I was sure she was understanding the sign and was wriggling her arms and legs in anticipation of what was to come!
At 5.5 months, Etta started doing the sign. It was pretty amazing to see but I could see she was just copying me...
At around 6 months she did the sign, without me prompting her, just before her afternoon feed was due and for the first time I knew she was directly asking for milk! I couldn’t believe it. 6 months old and she was able to communicate what she wanted without any tears or upset. The more she used it, the more it blew my mind and I thought... EVERYONE SHOULD BE DOING THIS!
So I set up an Instagram account in order to teach others a few basic signs for parents and Ettie Betty Baby Signs was born.
As she got older, Etta learnt more signs. The most helpful after ‘milk’ was the sign for ‘more’ which she’d use at mealtimes for more food but would also use to demand another (out of tune) rendition of ‘twinkle twinkle little star’ from me or for her 25,000 push on the swings that day! It was amazing.
Having now taught hundreds of babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers to sign, these are the wonderful benefits I’ve seen baby sign language can bring:
*Leads to less tears and tantrums as your baby can communicate their needs without frustration.
*It helps language development, Etta was an early talker!
*The research shows that baby signers tend to be better communicators in the long run (signing teaches important communication skills such as body language, facial expressions and eye contact).
*For Etta & I it was a new way of bonding and having fun. I am so grateful for how it connected us in those early months.
*I have seen first hand how it helps children growing up in bi-lingual households. Sometimes, children from multilingual households can take a little longer to say their first words - they can sign whilst they are working the languages out for themselves. It also helps a baby to understand that there are multiple languages in the house. For example, if you say the word ‘MILK’ in both English and Spanish but use the one sign for ‘milk’, it helps them to work out that those two words mean the same thing.
*British Sign Language (BSL) is a recognised language - if you continue to encourage your child to learn BSL even after they are chatting away, they would be bi-lingual! I can’t believe the number of parents I have taught who have loved baby sign language and so enrolled on a BSL course. That makes me SO proud.
*Finally, and very importantly, we all want a kinder and more inclusive society, learning sign language could be a way of teaching your child about a range of disabilities and communication needs. If one day it helps them to talk to someone who uses sign as their main communication method, then that is pretty amazing. Here’s to raising the next generation of signers!
So, the big question is ‘how do I start signing with my baby?’
Most people don't realise that a lot of signs are very intuitive. You probably already understand a lot of sign language without even realising it!
To get started, have a go at signing milk which you can see in the photo/video below and start introducing it into daily life. For example, before a feed, ask your baby “would you like MILK?” and sign MILK as you say the word. Then, during the feed say and use the sign a few times such as “You’re having your MILK...are you enjoying your MILK...” and so on - always making sure you say the word with the sign. Your baby will soon start to associate the sign with the feed and be able to sign it to you when they are hungry.
Songs are a lovely way to get them used to seeing you signing. I’ve discovered that the signed version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ is almost hypnotic for little ones!
Finally, enjoy it! Signing should be fun for everyone. It is a special thing to do together and hopefully a skill you can both have for life.
Happy Signing everyone!
Thank you so so much Charly, i have personally seen so many baby's flourish using baby sign language and I just love the drive and passion you have for it. You can find more on Ettie Betty Baby Signs on Instagram: @ettiebettybaby or on their website: www.ettiebettybabysigns.co.uk