Hand Jive: Baby Sign Language at Home

For most kids, summertime is an excuse for intellectual sloth. Not for Bennett: He has been learning all summer long. Neuroscience tells us that young children are natural-born learners. In fact, something like 90% of our brain development occurs from birth to age five. School-aged children, by contrast, have to work at learning, which explains why they love summer break.

Right now, Bennett’s brain is developing at break-neck speed. It seems like he’s doing something new every day. Case in point: I’m changing Bennett while his bottle is heating. Naturally, he’s not terribly enthused. It’s hard to say which he dislikes more—getting his clothes changed or waiting for his bottle to heat. I’m debating this in my mind when, all of a sudden, Bennett’s infantile flailing catches my eye. He’s doing something odd with his hands, over and over.

When I demonstrated the gesture to my wife, she suggested that Bennett could be doing some of the baby sign language they’ve been working on at Primrose. It turns out that Bennett was making the sign for “milk.” At barely six months old, this would have been remarkable (him asking for milk via sign language), if it wasn’t the only sign he knew.

A kind of sign-language mania has taken hold of my house ever since. Even our extended family got in on the fun. My father-in-law spent a full two weeks working on the milk sign with Bennett. Under his Pepe’s tutelage, Bennett has become a proficient little signer of “milk.” It’s hit-or-miss, as far as getting the context right. We do get some false positives, but it’s increasingly hard to tell random gestures from fake outs. Personally, I think Bennett occasionally signs “milk” for no reason at all, or maybe just to see what will happen.

There’s a cool factor to Bennett’s signing for sure. There’s also an important developmental component to baby sign language. Bennett is learning how to communicate in a different, more structured way. Signing isn’t going to replace body language, babbling, or crying in his communicative repertoire anytime soon. This isn’t the point of baby signing. It’s really just another way for Bennett to convey his basic wants and needs to me. Bennett isn’t going to explain his inscrutable preference for butternut squash over peaches, but he will let me know when he’s hungry or all done. The net result is fewer hunger-inspired outbursts on his part and less confusion on my part, and, for us, that’s progress.

 

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