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What is Baby Sign Language?

You have heard it mentioned and many parents and experts swear by it. Where a child isn't able to speak for the first year or two, learning sign language can really help to build communication channels with your little ones.

We chat to Katie Jane Dubai's Chief Play Officer, Shonali Lihala, to learn more about what 'Baby Sign Language' really is and why it's important.

Let's start with what Baby Sign Language actually is?

Well actually, there is no such thing as baby sign language, it’s sign language that is used with babies. Sign language is a rich language that maintains its own grammar, and sentence structure, and each one even has its own regional dialect. American (ASL) and British (BSL) sign language are the most popular in formal sign language courses. Baby sign language teaches the basics of sign language with hearing children, to enhance their speech and language development.

Why use sign language?

Communication can be verbal or non-verbal. It is thought that up to 80% of communication is non-verbal – made through gesture, body language, and intonation. Gesture communication – or signing – with small children is naturally intuitive; we wave ‘bye bye’, encourage clapping, and point to draw attention to things that are of interest. By harnessing this natural inclination for gesturing, we can give children an indispensable tool to communicate – and by doing so, a voice much sooner than waiting for them to be able to speak.

Most children will start to say their first word by a year and about 5 - 10 words by 18 - 20 months. This is a big part of the early years of a child's life when they have no or limited means to communicate with you verbally. Baby Sign language fills in this void in communication with gestures that allow your child to communicate without tears and frustration.

When did sign language with babies start?

Sign Language has been around for years and pre-dates verbal language communication. In the 80’s Dr. Joseph Garcia explored using sign language with hearing children after William Dwight Whitney discovered children in deaf families outperforming hearing peers. Then in the 1990’s two pioneer researchers, Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn did path breaking research into the effect on verbal language development of purposefully encouraging hearing infants to use simple gestures as symbols for objects, requests, and conditions. Based on all this, sign language with babies started gaining popularity in the 2000’s.

What are some of the benefits of sign language with babies?

Babies have a way to communicate that doesn’t include crying, so there are fewer tantrums and crying. It leads to decreased stress levels in your child, as they don’t need to be frustrated with attempts at communication. Sign Language also leads to babies being more tuned in to language from their caregiver. Research shows that teaching sign language together with speech leads to bigger vocabulary and longer sentences at an earlier age. It gives the parents and caregivers a way to connect with the baby leading to a happier, better relationship. One major benefit, specifically in the UAE with most families being multilingual, sign language is a great way to teach babies to connect the same word in different languages as they have the same meaning (and hence the same sign).

To get started on your signing journey check out Katie Jane Dubai. They are licensed under the Little Signers Club, UK and the classes are truly unique in their structure and ability to adapt to you and your baby. Our course, Baby Signing Basics has proven very popular for many thousands of families. By the time you finish, you will be confident in your ability to use simple signs with your baby, know exactly what to expect from your baby as they start to sign, and take them through their signing day.

The classes are suitable from 4 months through 14 months. Covering key topics and signs, the term runs for 5 weeks, each class is around 45 minutes long.

Signing leads to respectful, responsive interactions between adults and children – where children know they matter and that their communication attempts are recognized and important.


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