The natural language of babies and activities associated with it- Part 1

What is one of the tough jobs in bringing up babies? Understanding what they say- as R’s mom I can perfectly understand what he says though it is still baby talk with some clear words.But there are times when I feel wish I could interpret what he is trying to say. If I cannot understand what he wants he will take me to that place and point it out but it is a frustration for the child. Think about it, if you are lost in a place where they do not speak the language you are used to, how would you feel?

I found a simple solution for this issue, though I started late in implementing this, it is such a wonderful bridge in the language barrier between grown ups and babies. And this is the natural language of babies-the sign language! Forget about teaching them English or the language you speak, start listening to what they convey to you though signs and you will be amazed as to how much information they take in and talk back through signs.

My son understands both English and Tamil very well, and when he started talking around 11 months, he spoke couple of words in both languages like hi,bye, catch, nana(banana),kanumae(peek a boo), innumae(more),nanname(enough/no). But I started signing just before he started talking as my main reason in learning the baby sign language is to understand/interpret what he was signing to me. But originally it is used so that babies can sign to their parents from around 6 months on what they need. I missed that age as I was traveling with R in India and I could not do teach what I wanted to. But now my son and I talk(!!)in all three languages, English, Tamil and Sign language.

Is it a crazy idea for a perfectly hearing/talking baby? Not at all. I have seen the positive outcome of it- let me just give one example. Whenever we take R to the malls/crowded areas he would tap on his head or pat it or keep touching it. I thought probably the noise is giving him a headache. But from the sign language books I read I realized that he was signaling crazy. Obviously, with so many grown ups moving so fast, not bothering to look around, talking, walking- it is too much for a little one to observe and absorb and what he saw was one crazy world!

Much easier signs for the babies/toddlers to learn and sign(and you can see this if you observe the child as some are natural and spontaneous) are: All done, More, Please, Hug, Water, Teddy Bear(or the doll they are close to,) Milk(or bottle), eat(or food), book,ball and flower. The universal sign that everyone can see is when babies put their arms up and ask to be lifted up. Isn’t that a good example that babies can sign?

The book featured here is one the first ones I read, called Baby sign language for Hearing Babies by Karyn Warburton, a Montessori teacher and from then on with references from books and websites, I could make out what he was saying through signs and we created couple of signs of our own for things we use at home. Naturally as you read this you may wonder- what if they do not talk because you sign to him? Well talking will come on its own and this is only going to help him talk more.

To teach the baby sign language you will need lots of patience and you may have to repeat it couple of times for them to understand it. It does not matter to the child if we are way too educated or have 10 different professional titles behind our names. Even if you are a scientist, you will have to simplify what you are saying to the child and repeat it with the same enthusiasm the first time, 10 times or even 100 times for them to connect to it. We are not learning it to show off to the baby how educated we are. Do not rush it, start with one word at a time and see how it goes. Babies can totally sense what is going on even if they do not communicate in words so if you hate what you are doing, they will too.

Signing is natural when we play with the child. Don’t we sign in and out, up and down, jump or fall when we sing rhymes and songs? For starter’s let’s see how we can play a game with signs and rhymes :)

With songs : Song 1: Head shoulders knees and toes. Do not just sing the song, take your time, stand up and make sure that the child can see you. I first say the words and point- say eyes and show where my eyes are and touch R’s eyes and repeat eyes. Then I start acting out the entire song slowly, giving enough time for him to see and understand. These days he joins in mimicking for the entire first paragraph. You can play it any way- sing and ask your baby to show where eyes are or stop at a point and let them lead the way.

Song 2: Thumbkin Thumbkin where are you? This is one of my favorite songs as I remember doing it with my mom and it teaches about fingers with a fun game as you take the hand back and front, point and for the child it is a combination of hide and seek and learning.

Song 3: Teddy bear teddy bear turn around. Again, you turn around, point to shoes, act like you are putting it on, touch the ground and sign as you say the word.

These are just examples, but if you want to count numbers you can say five little monkeys or five little ducks-I don’t bother about anything when I am playing with my son- I just act like a duck, say quack quack and it is useful as he can understand ducks make the sound quack quack when we repeat the same word and same sign in Old Mac Donald or the animal sounds song. The surprising and rewarding part is that,for the past couple of days every time we sing old mac donald, he joins to sing the E I E I O too.

With books: When you read a book, get into the character and act it out, make the sounds that character will make. I always pick books with minimum number of pages, easy to hold and turn the pages, easy to understand, not too cluttered with pictures(so that his attention is focused) and has words that I can sign and we use everyday.

His favorite books these days are the sesame street collection, I got all of it for a good deal(just a dollar) at Target when a sale was going on. With the bubbles book we make signs like everywhere, float on top(he blows as though bubbles are flying up) and then comes the favorite part of bubble time-popping them- then I introduced counting 1-2-3 with signs as we pop the bubbles.

With nighty night book, he started signaling sleep when he is feeling sleepy and gives me a hug before going to bed!

With eyes, nose, fingers and toes- we learnt signing body parts, movements like wiggling and shaking. We also repeat it at bath time- asking questions like can you show me your right hand? Your left hand?

What next? I always tend to stop when we do a bit of singing and signing before he gets bored. Likewise, before it gets too much, I will stop with this part and continue with the rest in another article.

For a change from posting recipes I wanted to post about activities for babies and I did not find the time to sit and write it. This weekend was my birthday and N took over all the chores(best gift ever!!) and so thanks to him, I was able to share this article. This has been a truly wonderful year for our little family, starting from the New Year we have been celebrating every occasion with something special.

And so, part two of this article will be posted in a week. I will share about making books/flash cards at home and about other useful books with links to websites for activities, songs, signs etc.,
For a dictionary on baby signs and resources for parents this link is one website I often check as there are videos and printable charts.

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One Comment to “The natural language of babies and activities associated with it- Part 1”

  1. Nithu Bala says:

    Thanks Sowje, This is a very useful post..will wait for the next part.

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