We have done some signing with The Toddler. We didn’t go to any of the various signing classes that are around, but Silly Mummy took a course and we have a couple of DVDs. We used signs for basic words (‘milk’, ‘bath’, ‘more’, ‘nappy’) from a very young age, though The Toddler showed little interest until she was around a year old. At that point, she started watching the DVDs and she became obsessed.
Of course, Silly Mummy heard the usual mix of contradictory views when it came to the benefits of signing with babies and toddlers. Those who love it and maintain it helps babies communicate, those who believe it is a silly fad, those who are adamant it can actually delay the development of spoken language. Silly Mummy dismissed the latter objections as unlikely, in her opinion. Silly Mummy took the view that the way sign language is used for babies is a very basic form of Makaton, which is designed to help people to communicate and aid speech development. Therefore, Silly Mummy considered it unlikely to be harmful. Silly Mummy thought that at worst it would have no impact at all, at best it would be fun and might help The Toddler communicate. We gave it a go.
Our experience of signing with The Toddler has been positive. The Toddler loved her signing DVDs, even when she had shown no interest in watching any other TV programmes. She learnt a lot of signs very quickly, and merrily started to use them to communicate what she wanted. ‘More food’, mostly. As her spoken language started to develop, she used signs and speech. Some words she would only say, some she would only sign, many she both spoke and signed.
The signs seemed to help The Toddler to learn to enjoy language, and why not? She got to wave her arms around. Toddlers like to wave their arms around. The signs seemed to give The Toddler confidence. She had learnt signs for words, successfully communicated that way, been praised. She happily progressed to trying to say the words. The signs provided her with an additional method of communicating. If she could not say the word properly, she would use the sign too and we would usually understand her. She continued to succeed; her confidence continued to grow.
The example that comes to mind is the hippos. The Toddler had a hippo phase. Hippos are funny. She wanted to talk about hippos. Now, hippos are not the most ubiquitous of animals around these parts. Hippos do not play as big a part in daily life as The Toddler briefly believed they did. During that bath at the start of The Toddler’s Hippo Phase, Silly Mummy is not sure hippo would ever have come to mind when she began insistently shouting, ‘Hip! Hip! Hip!’ Silly Mummy looked confused. Silly Mummy made some suggestions. These were wrong. The Toddler tried again, this time with signs. ‘Ah! Hippo?’
‘Yes! Hip! Hip!’ (It turned out The Toddler believed her turtle was a hippo. That took a little longer to resolve.)
This Silly Mummy would therefore respectfully suggest that the benefits of signing with babies and toddlers can be summarised as follows. If you find yourself talking to a toddler about hippos, it is really helpful to know you are talking about hippos. Baby signing can help you to know when you are talking about hippos.
The Toddler, at nearly two, has a very large vocabulary. She talks in simple sentences. She still uses some of the signs she particularly likes. She is a good communicator. She can usually make herself understood. The Toddler understands that signs, gestures and context can be used to make your meaning clearer. Like any toddler, she has tantrums sometimes when she does not get her way, or when she is overwhelmed. However, her tantrums are never because she is frustrated at not being understood, or because she feels unable to communicate what she wants. The Toddler is a confident, relaxed and prolific speaker. Some of that is probably her natural personality, but Silly Mummy thinks the signs helped. They have certainly been fun for her.