October 6th, 2009 by Dionna | 12 Comments
Posted in Eclectic Learning, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Respond with Sensitivity, Toddlers

We’ve been signing with Kieran since he was just a few months old. I’d guess he can sign almost 150 words and recognizes many more than that. Quick tip for anyone who signs with their baby – don’t stop signing just because they start speaking. You may think your toddler is going to be a verbal genius because she can say “mama,” “papa,” “nana”*, and “uh-uh-uh-uh!”**, but you will likely have to wait months or even years before you are graced with things like consonant blends or prepositions.

Signing has been a learning experience for all three of us. Neither Tom nor I knew much about sign language before Kieran, but after reading a little about it we knew we wanted to try it out with him. I really can’t say enough about the benefits of signing. Kieran started signing well before he could say a recognizable word (aside from “mama”). His first sign was “more” when he was about 8 or 9 months old, and as soon as he realized that putting his fingertips together brought about a specific response from us, he said “more” about everything.

By 10 months Kieran had a handful of signs: “more,” “mama,” “papa,” “fish,” “motorcycle,” “hat,” “dog,” “light,” “book,” “hot” . . . We learned signs for anything he took an interest in. He loved pulling the string to turn the kitchen ceiling fan light on and off; we learned the sign for light, and within days he was signing “light” when he wanted to pull the string. At 11 months, he signed his first sentence: “more food.” We patted ourselves on the back for nurturing the next great linguist.

We are entirely convinced that signing has staved off more tantrums than we can count. We learned signs for things Kieran liked, as he liked them. “Cracker” was an early (and frequent) sign. “Mama’s milk,” “water,” “food,” “book, “music”; all these words represented parts of our daily rhythm, and Kieran could ask for whatever he wanted. As his world expanded, so did our signing repertoire.

Interested in signing but not sure where to start? Think about the major activities in your baby’s day: nursing, eating, singing, family, toys. We started with “mama,” “papa,” “mama’s milk,” “more,” and “book.” Once you learn a few, the rest will come much easier. Just keep expanding as your baby’s (or toddler’s) interests branch out. We learned many of our signs because of books that Kieran liked (animals in particular). As Kieran got older, we added action words (“swing,” “slide,” “walk,” “play”) and less ordinary words that we might not talk about every day (“store,” “fire”). And we didn’t get any fancy programs to learn sign language, we just learned from the ASL site.

Now that he is working on his spoken language we rely on signing just as much, if not more. He really tries to say things, but he’s right in the middle of Toddlerese – that language unique to the three and under crowd that simultaneously warms your heart, makes you giggle, and frustrates the heck out of you. Because he’s learning things faster than he can make his vocal cords work, we are still introducing new signs. For example, he learned signs for the basic colors around 18 months (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black, white), but he’s just now saying the same words with his mouth in a recognizable way. Without sign language, it would have taken much more pointing and frustration for us to figure out he understood colors.

I find myself continuously asking Kieran to sign something when I’m having problems understanding his words. Most of the time that clears everything up, but there are still many things we don’t have signs for. I thought it would be amusing to have you all “guess that Kieran word.” If there’s any interest, I might make it a regular feature – Toddlerese Tuesdays or something fun like that.

So without further ado, here is the first installment:

Care to venture a guess? Here’s a hint: it’s one word, four syllables.

*That’s banana, but we all know the “ba” is optional.

**That’s dog. Ok, it’s the sound of a dog barking through the eyes and vocal cords of a 15 month old, but dang it we thought it was brilliant.

12 Responses to:

  1. Dionna

    Cracker? Alex made me play this video over and over again as he loved to watch Kieran laugh at the end. He laughed right along with him!

  2. Dionna

    That was adorable. And 150 signs? Whoa. I thought Lilly was awesome with her 30 or so signs! But when she hit her language explosion, it was a major explosion and she dropped signing for the most part. I didn't learn more than "millk" and a couple others until she was 20-some months and when we picked up the signs, her explosion hit. It was a big boon when she was learning to speak, then came the second burst and she lost interest in signing (although she's regaining interest).

    Naomi signs milk occassionally and I thought that was cool. But she's 9 months old and that's all she signs. She says "mama" "dada" "tickle" and "kitty" (which is the same as tickle, lol). She's fascinated with her hands, so I'm surprised she doesn't sign more. I probably don't sign enough, I dunno.

  3. Dionna

    Bah! I could get on a plane right this minute to come eat him up! I literally laughed and spit coffee out when he laughed at the end.

    Oh man, I'm the worst tía ever. Is it a word or a phrase? I'm going to go with a whole sentence and guess 'how now brown cow.' :)

  4. Dionna

    Heather – it really took a lot of effort on our part initially. I'm sure he would have signed earlier if we would have signed more often with him (but we didn't). He had a signing explosion around 15 months, then his spoken language just started exploding around 20 months..

    Tammy – it's one word, 4 syllables, care to take another shot? ;)

  5. Dionna

    I've noticed that it takes about 3 months of consistent signing for kids to start signing a lot. We're on the extreme end. My kids have all had about 350-400 signs by 18 months, but I did already know a lot of ASL and they seem to have a knack for picking this stuff up. While I don't have experience with a child who doesn't sign, I can't imagine the frustration they would have felt at not being able to adequately communicate their thoughts. I love those early days of talking, too – when they are saying half of the words while signing the other half at the same time to communicate faster. :)

  6. Dionna

    I love love love signing with babies. It is so cool to see what they are thinking, wanting, noticing. Anthony (7mos) is only doing one sign (nurse) so far, but we're getting back into doing them all the time so that he'll pick up more. Both of my big kids signed, and it was a HUGE help with CJ's speech delays. He was frustrated enough, I'd hate to have seen him without any means of communication!

    JoCo libraries have the Signing Times dvd's available; all of my kids love them (ok, the baby doesn't get much out of them, but he dances to the songs and enjoys the extra attention as the big kids try to teach him the signs.)

  7. Dionna

    I have always loved to watch Kieran signing…and you are right it is SO nice to be able to understand what he wants or what he is "talking" about…I am sure it has stopped endless bouts of frustration before they even got started!!!!

  8. Dionna

    dangit sis do you have another website for the answers?

  9. Pingback: Riders on the Tantrum Storm (Part 1) | Attachment Parenting International Blog

  10. Ella


  11. Helen   moshermama

    just surfed in following some of your back posts and laughed out loud because I immediately knew he was saying “avocado” in spite of it having been some 15 years since my own Kieran was a toddler! Guess I’ll be in good shape when Jesse hits that age.

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