Almost immediately after we looked at the positive pregnancy test, Karsten started to familiarise himself with the neurological and psychological development of children. Mainly because he is most fascinated by psychological experiments such as the marshmallow experiment by Mischel or the test with the red bobby car (not that the marshmallow would have ever lasted longer than two seconds with him*). And he can’t wait to try them out with the little one.
So after a few weeks, he bought a book about baby sign language. Using baby sign language means that you use both language and signs when you talk to the baby (a concept which is much more popular in Great Britain than in Germany). It is based on the fact that babies are capable of forming sign with their hands much earlier than articulating words, and that babies have a very good understanding of the world and its relations although they are not able to talk. Scientists first realised the impact of sign language on the baby’s development when they looked at children with deaf parents who seemed to do much better in communication than other babies. They were able to show/sign relations and already combine nouns with verbs although they couldn’t yet speak. And while you would automatically expect that children who learn to sign first might be delayed in their speech, research has shown the exact opposite. In most cases, the children of deaf parents had a much better sense of language than others and where not delayed in their speech development at all.
The implementation of sign language is quite simple: with nine or ten months, when the baby increasingly understands and explores his environment, you use signs to underline your speech. When you tell your baby that it’ time to eat, you form the sign for “to eat” while you are saying it. When you say that it’s time to sleep and you put him to bed, you form the sign for “sleep”. And so on. The signs in German are based on the official German sign language. With the little one we started with the signs “eat”, “drink”, “milk”, “sleep”, “where is”, “more”, “mama”, “papa” and “bye”. By now we use all kinds of signs for nouns…..lion, dog, cat, butterfly, lamp, window, grass, flower, tree, empty, garbage, bathing, diaper, phone, keys, ball…And it works. We first noticed it when we tried to sign things without saying anything. We signed “where is the lamp?” and she would point to the lamp. Same with the lion. She would get really excited when I did the sign for milk. And when I sign “food” she starts crawling to her chair at the table.
A few days ago I noticed that she starts to form signs as well. Three days ago she waved hello/good-bye for the first time. Which is, by the way, a sign that almost all children use even if the parents don’t believe in sign language. And one day later she signed “butterfly” and pointed to the butterflies at our window. It is sometimes a bit hard to understand which sign she is showing because of course she is just starting to form then and she is using a very simplified version. But it’s pretty cool to observe how she is learning and communicating.
What we want to get out of it? Nothing in particular. We just thought that the concept sounds interesting. There are many advantages which I won’t write down in detail. It is said that it supports the cognitive development etc. It is said that the babies cry less because they experience less frustration and they can communicate what is bothering them. It is also said that it makes it easier for other persons to communicate with the baby. Because while most mothers are able to tell what their baby wants, most other people aren’t. Especially older siblings will be able to “talk” to the baby. Well, if they know the signs of course…. We don’t do it for any particular reason. We just thought we try it and see what happens. We can always stop at any time. But as I said, it is kind of fun to interact with your baby like this, especially when you see that it responds to it.
In the spirit of this weekend, here’s the sign for rabbit (not by the little one, but anyway):
*note: Karsten asks to specify that he would just eat the marshmallow immediately because he was not one of the kids that needed more and more and more but he was happy with what he got!