My First Approach
When Chelsea was little, I didn't start trying to get her to sign until she was about 18 months, and then learned a bunch of signs and tried to introduce them all at once.
I would also forget to do hand over hand and modeling for a day or two, then try to squash a lot of learning into one day to "make up" for the forgotten days.
She did catch on after about a year, but many of the signs were jumbled together or not clear. I knew what she meant, but many people who could understand sign didn't know.
Chelsea does use many signs- she had 800 at one point! So my first method DID work, and has helped her communication tremendously. But I still hoped for a quicker, more efficient method to teach babies earlier on.
My Second Approach
With Lily, I started very slow. Starting at about 8 or 9 months old, I started signing "book" a couple times a day when I was about to read to her.
At a year old, I bumped it up to modeling 3 times and doing hand over hand once or twice PER BOOK every day. We usually aim for 20-30 minutes of reading each day, so that is a LOT of repetitions!
And it worked! She started signing book consistently at 13 months (her age now).
I chose the word "book" for several reasons:
1. It doesn't require much fine motor skill
2. It is easy for anyone to understand, those fluent in ASL or not at all.
3. She LOVES books and it was very motivating to her
4. It is a concrete noun. I didn't want to teach more abstract concepts (please, thank you, more) yet. You sign book, you get 1 book. Done.
5. I can reinforce that sign every single time she says it. Some motivating words can't be reinforced every time (like ice cream or swim or Daddy)
Why This Method?
The key for the first couple words isn't to teach those words specifically. The important thing is that the baby is learning to communicate. They are learning that if they do a certain action, they get rewarded right away with awesome stuff.
The first day that Lily understood that if she signed book, I would stop everything else and read her a book, she signed that on repeat for about 5 hours. Every time we would finish, we would sign it again. And by golly I sat and read non-stop all that time! Thank goodness Daddy came home after 4 hours and took the last hour!
|100% consistency!!! Dinner, bath time, anytime!|
Your child is learning that they have power. That they can manipulate the world around them. They can make things happen and get what they want!
The longer I wait to introduce sign when my child wants to communicate a word/ want/ need, the more likely that my child would develop some sort of less desirable compensatory behavior to get what they desire (screaming, pulling things down, etc.)
Right now, Lily just knows the one sign- book. She uses it constantly, and she is clearly thrilled that she can get us to drop anything and everything to rush over and read her a book. She is getting her needs met!
We will continue to reinforce this sign 100% of the time for a couple weeks, then add in a sign that is TOTALLY different (but still easy to carry out and has a concrete meaning). We are thinking of adding on:
Up (we pick her up every single time she signs this)
Dog (give her a little stuffed dog and make the dog bark and pretend to lick her when she signs dog)
Water (we will slightly modify this to compensate for baby fingers not being as dexterous, but she will get to splash water or take a drink when she signs water. She loves it!)
Song (sing a song every time she signs song)
Eat (slightly more abstract, but she gets a snack every time she signs eat. We will probably have 2 or 3 options out for her to choose from at any time, then will eventually begin transitioning into 2 word phrases like Eat cookie or eat cheese)
The first 10 words are the most difficult and time-consuming to teach, because you aren't so much teaching the physical sign as you are the concept of communication, and reinforcing those signs every time.
Dishes will get left undone, dinners will be PBJs for a while, but your child will be able to communicate!