As Speech and Language Therapists in Early Intervention, we know that introducing signing can have a positive impact on children’s communication skills. But some parents/caregivers may be reluctant to introduce baby signs with their child due to concerns about it stopping them talking. Today I’m sharing a guest blog post by Laura Black, a paediatric Speech and Language Therapist from the UK. Laura is sharing all about the benefits of baby signing, while also busting some common myths along the way. Now, over to Laura…
What is baby signing?
Baby signing has become increasingly popular over the past decade. Baby signing is the use of signs which have been adapted from a sign language. It is different to British Sign Language (BSL) and other sign languages across the world as we are using signs to support speaking, rather than replacing spoken language completely. Sign languages are as their name suggests, ‘languages’ which have their own grammatical systems and rules. In baby signing, we are simply teaching our little ones key vocabulary which will be useful in helping them to communicate in the early years while their verbal communication is still developing.
What are the benefits of baby signing?
Some signing companies claim that signing will ‘speed up’ children’s language development, however more recent scientific research suggests that this is not the case. There is some evidence that signing may support children who have ‘weaker communication skills’ (for example, ‘late talkers’) and can also help parents and caregivers to tune into their baby’s non-verbal language.
While there is no evidence for signing ‘speeding up’ development, it’s important to remember that there are still a number of benefits of baby signing. Signing can:
- Give children a way to express themselves before they are able to say words clearly
- Reduce communication frustrations and support children’s confidence in communicating
- Support children’s understanding of messages we are giving them.
- Help parents feel confident in supporting their children’s communication
Does baby signing stop a child from speaking?
No. While we know signing isn’t proven to ‘speed up’ language development, there is also no evidence to suggest that it can slow down, or discourage children from talking either!
Key messages to share with parents/caregivers about baby signing
Some parents/caregivers may be reluctant to introduce baby signing with their child for fear of it hindering spoken language, or believing they’re “too late” to introduce it. So here are some key messages to share with parents/caregivers when introducing the idea of baby signing in your Early Intervention sessions:
- Baby signs are not the same thing as a sign language
- Teaching baby signs may not ‘boost language development’ but can have a number of other benefits
- Teaching baby signs will not delay children’s speaking
- It’s important to continue to say words while signing
- You can start signing with a child at any age
- When teaching signs, be consistent and model signs in a range of contexts
Learn more about baby signing
As Speech and Language Therapists and mums who have used baby signing with our own children, we have seen the benefits signing can bring and are excited to be able to share this with other parents.
You can find a range of free videos on baby signing from our collaboration with BBC’s Tiny Happy People on our instagram highlights (@chatty_chops @bbctinyhappypeople)
If you would like to learn more about how to start signing with young children and learn 100 signs (based on BSL), then sign up to our FIRST 100 SIGNS online course here: https://aprilcottagetherapies-courses.thinkific.com/courses/signingfirst100
Laura Black is a paediatric Speech and Language Therapist and mum from the United Kingdom. She is a co-owner of a private therapy company April Cottage Therapies. You can find Laura on Instagram @chatty_chops and Facebook @chattychops, where she shares parent-friendly tips and ideas for supporting young children’s language skills. Laura is passionate about empowering others to support children’s communication skills and specialises in training parents and teaching staff.
Johnston, J. C., Durieux-Smith, A., & Bloom, K. (2005). Teaching gestural signs to infants to advance child development: A review of the evidence. First Language, 25(2), 235-251.
Kirk, E., Howlett, N., Pine, K. J., & Fletcher, B. C. (2012). To sign or not to sign? The impact of encouraging infants to gesture on infant language and maternal mind-mindedness. Child Development, 84(2), 574-590.)