Illness with a toddler is no fun. Last week, we went to the doctor’s. E was sitting in the pram on the way back from toddler group, and she used the sign for “Ouch” Then she pointed at her ear. She’d been clingy and grumpy for a couple of days, so I figured it was time the doctor saw her. He said it was pretty red and inflamed, and prescribed antibiotics. Five days later it seems as though she’s finally on the mend, and we are all slowly getting back into the swing of things. Not for the first time am I glad that I took her along to baby signing classes.
While I don’t really subscribe to the belief that there are “talkers” and “walkers”,and that children are either one or the other, I do know that my daughter was desperate to talk from only a couple of months old. A few of my friends with older babies had had high praise for baby signing, and their enthusiasm encouraged me to put our name down for classes. I’d steered away from anything that I had to book in advance as money was tight, but based on their recommendation I saved up for the first term and went along. I remember being surprised by how much we both enjoyed the first session, and looked forward to the next.
It’s worth pointing out that we had been working on a few simple signs before we started classes, and that E had been highly motivated and enjoyed it immensely.
Before the end of the summer, she had become increasingly frustrated with our attempts to communicate and, at eight or nine months was often visibly upset because mummy and daddy didn’t understand her. She had started building a bank of words that had begun with “mama”, “dada” and “doggy” and the sounds in “Row, row, row your boat” but once we began signing classes, the words snowballed pretty swiftly, and it was only a matter of a week or so before we were getting key communication words and signs. That’s not the same for everybody.
E was putting all her efforts into being understood, and once she realised that was just what we were trying to do, she set the pace. Baby signing is as much about opening up the channels of communication between you and your baby, and helping you to tune in to what they are trying to tell you. It’s about repetition, and familiarity, and getting everyone at home to sign too. It’s about singing the same songs over and over, and (for us at least), watching endless episodes of Something Special with Mr Tumble, and it’s about signing as many words as you can. It’s a commitment that goes well beyond the weekly hour long session.
From that point on, things began to get easier, and it was fascinating how quickly E’s frustration began to lessen. The first time she signed for “more” and for “milk”, and then the awful month when she cut six teeth, and I could understand she was in pain because she finally signed “ouch”. By the time we had our Christmas tree up she only needed to hear the word “tree” once before she said, and remembered it, and used it repeatedly afterwards. Around the time of her birthday, I made a list of the words and signs she knew and used regularly, and there were something like thirty words and fifteen signs.
Now at fifteen months I’ve lost count of the number of words she can say. Numbers and colours are beginning to put in an appearance, and she is occasionally putting two words together. Recently she walked into the doctor’s surgery and said “Quack” because we’d been reading a book about ducks in the waiting room. (Fortunately he had a good laugh about it!) Our first conversation at the dinner table was about the fish in the fish tank and was accompanied by signs.
She still signs regularly, and often asks me to sign unfamiliar words for her, but now we use baby signing as a way of preparing her for doing things. Getting dressed, bath time, bedtime, going out, going home…these songs are all a huge part of her usual routine, and she’s just beginning to sing along with them now. For a toddler who is interesting in communicating with others, signing has been extremely successful, and has given E the opportunity to grasp the reins and make decisions herself. Pram or sling. Swing or slide. Trousers or dress. This t-shirt or that one.
So far, so good.
It was a few months ago that a friend of mine first started covering E’s ears whenever she said anything she didn’t think she should hear, because she was worried about her repeating things she shouldn’t. I think we’re almost there. When she heard one of us say the word “pig” she instantly did the sign for it. And then toddler group came around again yesterday, and we were there with a group of friends. E started setting the table with the play plates with my friend, and said “Plates!” I didn’t even know she knew that word and I’d never heard her use it before.
Perhaps I should make another list.
Jenny Smith – The Supply Teacher