Monday, February 14, 2011

My views on sign language

This is a response that I wrote on the subject of sign language.  I have copied it here because it pretty well summarizes my views on sign language.
When we first heard of sign language for babies, my older daughters were already too verbal to bother, but we were able to sign with our typically developing 8 year old when she was a baby. We probably only taught her about 30 signs, but she realized that she could communicate at an earlier age. We always thought our oldest 2 talked a lot, & talked well for their ages ( & they probably did) but WOW! can my 8 year old talk! She was speaking in complete sentences by the time she was 19 months old & even at 3 or 4 years it was very noticeable that her language was quite advanced for her age. Now at 8, it is not quite as noticeable, but if you listen you can still tell that she has a really good grasp of language for her age.

4 years later when our dd was born with DS, we got started signing right away. From a few months of age we started doing neurodevelopmental type exercises, reading program etc with our dd. The neurodevelopmental view on signing is that if your child has the ability to be verbal, you should work on that, not sign language.  It is, however, one of the few things that I'm not sure if I agree with.  It is one of only a couple things I'm not sure I agree with, however, signing just seemed right & I really believe in following my instincts.

We were much more dedicated at teaching K sign language than we were with our older dd. We discovered & bought Signing Time DVDs & started frequenting the web site to supplement our knowledge. I did worry that we were teaching her too many words though because she had well over 300 signs at last count ( the rest of the family probably stalled out at only about 200). I was concerned that we were giving her too many signs so it wouldn't be necessary for her to speak verbally. Her verbal speech seemed to progress quite well though, so we continued to allow her to learn new signs. Thankfully our instinct was right for our dd & we saw the same gradual progression to language that we did with our older dd. She is now 3.5 & often uses 3 or 4 word sentences to communicate. I lost track of how many spoken words she had by 2.5 years of age. Shortly after, by age 3, she had pretty much quit signing.  It is rare to see signs now, & they only come out the odd time that we just can't understand a word she is saying. I give huge credit to Kassie's early reading program in teaching her to speak also, however that would be a whole new (long) post in itself! Oh, & that big sister who doesn't stop talking also had to be great speech therapy!

Update at age 4:  K does not use sign language at all to communicate now.  The only time she signs is if she is doing it for fun & even that is rare.  She has also recently decided that she doesn't care to even watch Signing Time DVD's baby is growing up!  I'm going to have find the DVD's a new home.

Sign language really went hand in hand with teaching my daughter to read as well as speak.  Although we tried very hard not to test when K was reading especially when she was very little, it was always wonderful when she would sign the word voluntarily.  Signing Time videos were great for reading help too.  I didn't even pay attention to the words myself, maybe because I was focusing on signing & at the time we were only doing homemade, laminated, flashcards, but I later realized that K knew all of the words on her Signing Times videos as well as the signs.  
If I were to do it over again, I would definitely sign. I don't think it is necessary to teach nearly as many signs as we did, but teaching the basics such as eat, drink, more, & all done can really open up communication. I can see how some kids could rely on sign & not speak, however I still think a few very basic signs would be helpful to a child who is not verbal at all yet. Not only that, most of us are already teaching our kids to sign whether we realize or not! How many of us don't teach our kids to wave bye bye or play "so big" or even learn actions to songs? Just another reason I don't think a handful of signs is harmful.

The 2 biggest reasons, I think sign is a great tool:

1. It gives children the ability to communicate before they are verbally able.

2. It teaches them that they have the ability to communicate

Sign language was a wonderful tool for us, but every parent needs to research & do what they think is best for their child. Mommy's instinct (& Daddy's) is almost always right!
Sign language links:

This site is an online sign language dictionary:

Signing Time videos:
or in Canada:

We also had a set of sign language flash cards - I don't remember who makes them, but they were very helpful too.  We would put them up around the house in appropriate location, such as putting the word eat on the fridge, diaper over the change table etc.


  1. I'm enjoying your new blog, wish I had time to comment on every post! We love Signing Time. Every time Goldie learns new signs she also begins speaking those words. It has really increased her vocab. She always speaks when she signs, so it hasn't become a replacement for speech at all. I have to agree with everything you wrote!

  2. Thanks Brandie! It's wonderful that Goldie speaks the new words she signs. That was our experience too - we really saw huge benefits to signing.

  3. Thanks for the confirmation that signing is a good thing!! Jacob is signing more and more all the time (at 2). I'm going to check out the web-site. He also has very vocal older sisters (LOL!)!