You can start baby signing from birth, but babies of 6 months plus will benefit most as this coincides with him reaching key developmental milestones. Baby signing classes are best placed for children up to 2 years old at which point you may find that your child’s vocabulary is going through a boom as they become more and more eager to communicate with you through words.
What your child will do
Classes are taught by linking the relationship between an object or action, a hand shape or gesture, and a sound. Following the teacher’s lead, you will perform signs to your baby whilst simultaneously repeating the word slowly and clearly. You will then help him to form the correct hand gestures to make the signs themselves.
The aim to help him realise that a message is communicated when he makes the hand shape himself, at this point more signs can be introduced. Although you may learn several signs during a class it may take around 4-6 weeks – depending on age and individual development – before your baby is able to confidently communicate back to you as they become aware of their ability to understand and sign back.
You will be closely involved in the classes as you also learn and repeat the gestures being taught to your baby. The signs taught are for useful everyday phrases that your baby would use in their first year of life and beyond to communicate their needs and observations. These include ‘more’, ‘milk’, ‘food’, ‘all gone’. Baby signing, classes will generally follow either the British Sign Language (BSL) or Makaton systems of hand gestures and symbols.
Singing can also be included in some classes, which can also help to develop the range of your baby’s vocabulary. Popular songs are usually sung (e.g. Old MacDonald) and may involve some type of action or response that can be played out using hand or body gestures. Free play time for babies and time for parents to socialise is normally included at the end of the class.
Classes can start and finish with hello and goodbye songs, which lend themselves well to signing (waving). Classes usually run for a block of several weeks, which allows your baby’s signing vocabulary to develop. Attending a regular course over a period of time can also aid concentration and confidence as your baby begins to master the signs.
To really gain the most out of a baby signing class you will need to be prepared to work on regularly teaching your baby some of the signs at home.
How will my baby benefit?
Baby signing is a great way to introduce language to your child and will get him communicating with you long before he can talk. This can really help in understanding your baby’s needs, feelings and thoughts before he can verbalise these.
As you learn the various signs and gestures with your baby and your communication widens you will find that you are better able to tune into and understand your baby, which can ease frustration for both parties. Your baby’s social skills and relationships with others will also benefit as they become able to express themselves and develop confidence.
Maintaining eye contact, noticing intonation as the names for objects and actions are repeated and watching for facial expressions will also encourage their communication skills. The older your child is when they start classes, then the more likely it is that they will pick up the signs more quickly, though every child develops at a different and unique rate.
The benefits of baby signing can be found right through to the toddler years as signing provides a foundation in speech and language, which in turn can boost your baby’s intellectual development.
Varies from free to approximately £5-10 per class, depending on your location. Some Children’s Centres offer free courses and many private teachers offer free taster sessions for you to try out before committing to a course of weekly classes.