A Guest Post co-written by Emily Patterson and Kathleen Thomas:
Communicating With Your Baby
Possessing the ability to speak and communicate in more than one language in today's society is priceless. This type of study usually begins in middle school, or high school for many kids in America. However, these days bilingual education is being taught at a younger age, before kids attend preschool, before they take their
first step, and even before they say their first word, through sign language.
The ability to communicate articulately in a variety of ways and languages to the widest possible audience is a great way to stay ahead and ensure a decent standard of living in our suffering economic state. This is not limited to speaking different languages but also non-verbal communication: signing.
As a result of the shortage of American Sign Language interpreters the job opportunities in this field have really opened up, and if current trends continue, it is likely that why will stay this way.
The toddler years and beyond – ages 2 to five –are an ample time to educate children in different modes of communication and language because of their brain development course. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well.
American Indian nations have used sign language for centuries to facilitate communication with other tribes with whom they do not share a language. Some paleontologists and anthropologists theorize that Neanderthals – who apparently lacked the vocal mechanism to produce many spoken words – depended a great deal upon hand gestures to communicate. Therefore it is not as strange as one would think.
In fact, recent research suggests that sign language is innate. An article published in the Boulder Daily Camera in 2003 presented strong evidence that babies as young as six months old communicate with their hands:
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development are also referred to by the author, demonstrating that young children who are taught sign language at an early age whether at day care or at home, actually develop better verbal skills as they get older. The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that "using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration...[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music" (Glarion, 2003).
The benefits of early childhood education through signing are endless. In addition to giving kids a way to communicate, it also provides them with an opportunity to form a bond with their parent(s). The hope is that eventually it will become know as one of the "firsts" that no parent wants to miss, such as the first time they walked or their first tooth. Signing is likely to allow communication much earlier than verbally. It creates a closeness that will allow parents to be more in sync with their child's thoughts and needs.
Emily and Kathleen are Communications Coordinators for the network of Austin day care facilities belonging to the AdvancED® accredited family of Primrose day care schools. Primrose Schools are located in 16 states throughout the U.S. and are dedicated to delivering progressive, early childhood, Balanced Learning® curriculum throughout their preschools.
--Mama's Note: I started using sign language with Delilah when she was a newborn, and was thrilled to see this article appear in my inbox as a contribution to Fine and Fair. To get started with using sign language with your baby or toddler, I recommend The Baby Signing Book.
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