Parents jumping on baby-sign bandwagon
Arizona Republic
Oct. 14, 2006

Preverbal tots learn to communicate sooner

Brooke Romney

Last year, when Ben and Erin Porter moved to Gilbert from New York City, their 1-year-old, Julie, was signing lots of words.

Usually, one associates signing with the hearing impaired, but many parents are using sign language to help develop their infants' communication skills.

The Porters say that was the case with Julie.

And the signing training helped Julie communicate.

"We started signing with Julie at about 7 months," Erin said. "We introduced three signs at a time, until she was signing those.

"Later, a friend introduced us to the Signing Time videos, and Julie ate them up. We had fewer tantrums, and she understood a lot more a lot earlier because of sign language."

Julie is now 2 and talks up a storm.

Most of her sign language has fizzled out, but the Porters will begin a new round of sign language with William, who is 3 months old.

Many are skeptical that such a young child can communicate.

But Jenny Hodges of Chandler says her daughter, Molly, signed "milk" at 4 months. Now 2, she knows more than 400 signs.

Hodges found baby sign language when she was doing a project for her master's degree.

"I loved what I was studying and immediately started signing with my son, Nathaniel," she said.

Hodges is now the Arizona district manager for the Certified Baby Signs Institute, which teaches sign language to hearing babies.

"Twenty years of research shows that signing with babies reduces frustration, strengthens the parent-child bond, promotes positive emotional
development and jump-starts intellectual development," Hodges said.

The signs in the Baby Signs program are actual American Sign Language with some modifications to make them easier for little hands and smaller fingers. Some parents are wary that teaching their baby sign language will delay actual speech, but research allays those fears, Hodges said.

"This is a common question, but actually, signing encourages language development," she said. "The signs children use are very commonly the first words the children say. Research shows that signing children speak sooner and have a larger vocabulary than that of their unsigning peers."

Some parents, like the Porters, learn enough through books and videos to teach their children sign. Other parents are looking for more hands-on instruction, such as Baby Signs.

"Our classes include songs and activities to practice the signs taught," Hodges said. "We read books, eat Cheerios and have bubble time." Tiffany Kashima-Brown of Chandler attends Hodges' Sign, Say & Play Class.

"The Baby Signs Program has provided my family with a fun, easy way to communicate with our 1-year-old," she said.

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