An Antidote to Helplessness—Melissa’s Baby Sign Language Story
Melissa works full-time outside the home as a clinical psychologist with a focus on trauma. She is a first-time mama to her son Max (13 months), who she is absolutely crazy about and falls more in love with each day. Melissa is extremely grateful for Max and his ebullient, loving, resilient and generous spirit; he inspires her to approach life with more awe, humor, and kindness every day.
How We Started Baby Sign Language
I have always been fascinated by the use of sign language, and baby sign language was one of the early ways I communicated with Max.
We started communicating when he was in utero. The first time I heard Max’s heartbeat, it was like he was telling me, “Don’t worry mama. . . . I may not move that much, but I’m doing just fine in here.” Every time he moved, it felt like communication.
When Max was around 6 or 7 weeks old, he would coo and pause. I would talk back, and then he would coo in response. It felt like a conversation.
Then we started signing. The first sign we recognized in Max was fan at the age of 10 months. In retrospect, I realize he had been signing all done even before that. There were times we thought he was swatting us away (especially when we were giving him medications), when he was actually signing and articulating his desire to be all done.
Baby Signing Success
I was excited at first about signing. As time went on with him not responding, I worried I would have the first baby who never signed back. That worry was tied to my concerns about his cognitive development secondary to feeding issues and slow weight gain. Despite that worry, signing turned out to be a saving grace.
When Max was just a few months old he would regularly be in intense pain, and each week he continued to decrease percentiles in weight and height. Eventually, his GI distress got so intense that his discomfort was undeniable.
In the hospital
Several specialists, medical procedures, feeding therapy appointments, and inpatient hospitalizations later, we ended up with a feeding tube. It helped our child grow but it felt so unnatural. I was on a strict allergen-free elimination diet, I was pumping 7–8 times per day so that my breast milk could be put into the tube, we were dosing him with several meds several times per day, and we were waking up throughout the night to tend to his distress and issues with the pump.
Practicing signing with Max gave us a respite from all of that—something fun and positive to focus on that continued cultivating our relationship and that had nothing to do with feeding issues. And when Max finally did start signing back, we felt pride, success, and accomplishment in what had been such a long road of confusion, questions, and mistakes.
Once Max picked up a few signs, it wasn’t long until there was a sign language explosion! I went from thinking Max would never sign to feeling like I can hardly keep up with learning new signs to teach him. I am telling others about his signs and making videos of signs and his approximations so others can support him.
Signing was something we did together in the midst of something chaotic and terrible, so it helped us to see how resilient we truly are as a family. Max’s signing reassured me that we were all going to be okay.
Signing has helped Max understand what we are saying more fully, in both English and Spanish, even if he doesn’t have the signing or verbal vocabulary to respond. At 13 months he’s signing fan, all done, light, book, more, dog, orange, stick,milk, and up, and verbally he says hi, bye-bye, up, ball, and book. We’re constantly trying to figure out more that he’ll be motivated to use. It’s such a thrill to see him beam with pride and excitement as he communicates and is understood.
Max Signs “fan!”
Baby Signing Challenges and Surprises
I’ve been surprised by abstract signs like more. That was one he signed very quickly. I thought he was confusing it with cherries because the first time he signed it was in the presence of cherries. But he actually understood what it meant and had generalized it to other contexts.
Learning about recognizing early signs has helped me recognize early verbal words in a way that I wouldn’t have without Lane’s instruction. So many of the tips for recognizing early approximations of signs parallel ways to recognize approximations of verbal words.
What We Love about Baby Sign Language
Max is such a social baby and has always been that way, and so I think baby sign language really meshed well with his natural predilections and strengths.
Splashing in slime
Baby sign language makes life so much easier and less frustrating when you are able to understand one another. But mostly, it has given me a source of mastery and accomplishment. Baby sign language has been an antidote to the helplessness I’ve felt throughout the feeding issues. To be able to know what he needed or wanted, and to meet that need if we could, has helped me feel competent, effective, and attuned. So many times I have thought, “What do parents with babies who CAN’T sign do?”
How Tiny Signs Online Helped
Tiny Signs has without a doubt been the foundation of our success.
The Tiny Signs class is presented in digestible chunks that are accessible and easy for busy family. Nothing is repetitive or extraneous. The tips are useful and not necessarily something you would find elsewhere. But really, the key is Lane.
Lane is so inspiring! She helps you stay connected to the fun. Lane’s spirit and passion is contagious. You feel gratitude that your paths crossed and that what she is doing is a calling.
Lane is so responsive and encouraging in a genuine and heartfelt way—and that is hard to convey via electronic means! Every time Max signs a new sign, I want to show her a video to share in the excitement. We wouldn’t be here without her.
Lane, you are amazing, and we’re so thrilled to have had your help. We can’t thank you enough.
From Milk to Fireworks—Yael’s Baby Sign Language Story
Rowan is a 13-month old firecracker with two working moms: Birgitte, who is an engineer, and Yael, who works at a university. Living in beautiful Bergen, Norway, Rowan has been lucky to have one of his moms at home on parental leave up until he was a year old, and for now he is at a nanny’s three days a week. Yael speaks English to Rowan, and Birgitte speaks a mixture of English and Norwegian. Both of them use baby sign language to help facilitate Rowan’s early communication and to provide a bridge between his two languages.
How We Started Baby Sign Language
Birgitte and I knew other families that used signs with their babies, and I had studied ASL for a year when I was in college. I started using the sign for milk when I offered to nurse Rowan beginning when he was about five months old. We had looked at books on signing with your baby, but we didn’t really get serious about using other signs until Rowan signed “milk” back one night at bedtime.
Rowan signs “bear”
That first sign came in early August when Rowan was 9.5 months. He got a lot of positive feedback!
“You want milk? You signed milk! Of course you can get milk!”
I gave him the opportunity to nurse right away. After that he used the sign for milk every time he wanted to nurse, until about 12 months.
We were excited by that first sign. Then for a long while there was only one sign at a time. Rowan would learn a new sign, and the previous sign he had been using would disappear. Right around when he turned 13 months, he started adding signs, and very quickly, sometimes after seeing the sign only two times.
My advice for other parents: Be very patient! I signed milk to Rowan for several months every time he nursed before he signed anything back.
What We Love about Baby Sign Language
The most wonderful benefit of using baby sign language is seeing Rowan’s excitement at his ability to communicate with us about what he needs or wants, what he is seeing and thinking. It’s also exciting for us to have a little peek into Rowan’s world before he is able to express himself with spoken language. Birgitte and I are constantly thinking about what new signs to introduce.
At almost 14 months, Rowan can (and regularly does) sign: light, all done, dog, more, music, book, ball, car, food, bird (which he also uses for duck), bear, cheese, egg, mobile (he uses the sign for fan, since we don’t have any ceiling fans at home).
He also understands a good many other signs that we sign to him.
Baby Signing Success
When Rowan was 13 months, the family went into town for the annual Christmas tree lighting event and concert that ends with a big fireworks display. Rowan hadn’t seen fireworks before, and he was fascinated. (Yes, he had ear protection on).
Later, while having dinner at home, Yael, Birgitte and a visiting friend were talking about the fireworks. Suddenly Rowan raised both hands, signed “light” all over the place, waved his arms around. Then leaned his head far back looking up, as if looking at the sky. Then he looked at the adults and blew raspberries, making little explosive noises. He was talking about the fireworks! It was amazing!
Watch Rowan sign…
How Tiny Signs Online Helped
Tiny Signs Online was critical to our family’s success with early communication. We were already using the sign for milk and had long wanted to start baby sign language with Rowan. We had even bought a book, but it wasn’t until we made the commitment to the online course and watched the videos that we really started using signs in earnest.
Lane’s videos offered many important tips, especially about choosing which signs to use and how to recognize your baby’s early signs. Lane is enthusiastic and her suggestions are always helpful and to the point.
Through the members-only Facebook group, Lane has answered our questions almost right away, including quick videos to show particular signs by request, which kept up our motivation to keep signing. We also enjoyed sharing stories and successes.
Even though we had a baby sign book at home that we thought was quite good, the course really motivated us to use sign language actively, and to seek out and introduce new signs based on Rowan’s interests.
Today I’m talking about the REAL reasons I’m so passionate about signing with babies. If you’d like to learn more about baby sign language, make sure you are signed up for my free week-long e-course starting October 1st. You can register HERE.
There are so many wonderful things about using sign language with babies – in fact, you’ve probably heard of a few of them. But in case you haven’t, here’s a quick recap of the extensive research that’s been done on this topic…
Benefits of signing with babies:
Expanded spoken vocabulary
Increased interest in books
shall I go on??
And hey, that’s all great. I mean, who DOESN’T want a smart, content baby, right?
But let’s get real for a second…
Because if we always did the things that researchers told us to do, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t have eaten 3 [Update: 4] blueberry mini-muffins today.
Research is great for helping us know if something is a good idea or a bad one, but at the end of the day, most of us can’t stay motivated to do something simply because it’s “good for us.”
So what motivated me to stick with signing with my first baby, and ultimately become the baby sign language zealot I am today?
Here are my personal TWO favorite things about signing with babies…
1. Babies are smart. As we say here in Boston…wicked smaht…
Most people grossly underestimate what babies understand. And it is SO FUN to see things through their eyes and realize just how much they do grasp about the world around them. Signing gives you the tool to peek inside and actually SEE what your baby is thinking. It truly is amazing.
2. Parenting is hard. Like, really hard…
Unless you lucked out with a dream baby, most new parents would agree that taking care of an infant is a lot of work. Baby sign language makes a tough job so much easier! When your baby can let you know he’s hungry or tired, or wants water, not milk – well, all I can say is hallelujah and amen to that.
So yeah, I might have started signing for all those good-for-baby reasons in the first place, but the reason I stuck with it is because it made my life as a mom more fun, interesting and easy. And who doesn’t want that!?
So what do YOU love about baby sign language? Let me know in the comments below.
Today I’m super excited to announce my brand new Tiny Signs Online class. You can get all the details regarding a free preview of the class HERE and then keep on reading below for the story of how Tiny Signs came to be!
I knew becoming a mom would change things, but I never expected things would change as dramatically as they did.
When I was expecting my first baby, I planned to take a three-month maternity leave. I thought I’d take some time off, then head back to the career where I’d invested many years and where they anxiously awaited my return. We researched daycare options and picked one that suited our needs. We put a deposit down to hold a spot in the infant room. Done and done.
But as the weeks of my maternity leave ticked by, it became harder and harder for me to imagine dropping my new baby off at 7:30am and picking her back up at 6 or 6:30pm at night. My husband and I both worked long hours with significant commutes. With no family nearby, there was no way to avoid our new baby spending 10+ hours a day at daycare. And I just couldn’t wrap my brain around that.
Then I did something I never thought I’d do. I quit my job and became a stay-at-home mom – walking away from my career (and half of our household income!) in the process.
Let’s just say that becoming a SAHM was an adjustment! I’ve always been very career-oriented and am NOT a domestic goddess. I struggled with feeling like I wasn’t accomplishing anything.
What should we do today?
I also wrestled with boredom. While caring for a baby certainly keeps you busy, it’s not the most stimulating way to spend a day. So I did what I could to keep things interesting. We took classes, I did some volunteering, and I read…a LOT…
One of the books I read was about baby sign language, a topic I was curious about. I dove in and gave it a try. Despite my lack of experience, within a week or two my daughter was signing back to me and it was amazing! Sure, I made a few mistakes, but I was blown away by this ability for my 8-month old to “talk” to me. It made parenting so much easier and a heck of a lot more FUN.
I started learning all I could about baby sign language – reading books, watching DVDs, and eventually taking American Sign Language classes too.
I fell in love with the language AND using it with babies. Before long, other moms started asking me how to get started signing and next thing I knew, I was hosting informal classes in my home – sharing what I had learned and enjoying connecting with other moms.
When my daughter started preschool and I was going to have a few mornings a week to myself, I decided to officially start Tiny Signs.
I rented space in a local church and started to spread the word. I was in business! I loved connecting with new parents and offering them support and guidance. It never gets old for me when a parent tells me of their baby signing for the first time! It’s SO exciting and I get to experience it over and over through my work.
Having way too much fun to call it work!
That was more than 5 years ago and since then my program has grown and changed and I’ve had the opportunity to work with hundreds and hundreds of new parents and early childhood educators throughout the Boston area. I LOVE what I do and never would have imagined that walking away from my career eight years ago would create this amazing opportunity. I couldn’t have imagined this back then if I tried!
This summer, I did something I’ve been wanting to do for two years now… I offered my first online Tiny Signs class to a small group of new moms.
Teaching online was very different from my in-person classes, but still so much fun! I enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, and I really loved helping moms who might not have the time or proximity to take a class with me in person.
And I’m super excited to be doing it again this fall! Tiny Signs Online starts again next month and I’m offering a FREE mini-course starting October 1st so you can check it out for yourself.
I’d love to have you join us. To register just click the image below!
Baby Sign Language Quick Start Guide
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