Thursday, April 5

Baby Signing

In the days pre-Wriggles I had little to no knowledge of "baby classes" and thought the likes of baby yoga and such like sounded ludicrous and waste of money. Fast-forward to actual mummyhood, and like most of my pre-child preconceptions, I think differently. Since, the days of my mum having me and my sister when your choices were the NCT and the local mother-and-toddler church group, there is a plethora of choice available to offer an escape from staring morosely at the pile of washing and grimacing through repeats of In the Night Garden.

I have tried out a few, namely those that come with a free cup of coffee and chocolate biscuit, and my favourite so far is Baby Signing classes.We started going purely because they were quite near and on one of my days off and not too expensive. I also had in the back of my head that speech delay in prems is very common, and if Wriggles picked it up well then it certainly wouldn't hurt to have some sign language under our belt.
As it turned out this hunch was correct; our Speech and Language therapist is keen to use sign language as much as possible.

Baby signing is adapted from British Sign Language but focuses on and around the face, rather than using the whole body to sign. Baby signing uses the face as a focus as this is what babies are naturally drawn to looking at and what generates the most contact. It also gives them a focus to your mouth moving to say the words at the same time, to encourage copycat behaviour. It has borrowed a very few signs from American Sign Language that are simpler for the motor skills to master, such as "milk" but are still apparent as to their meaning over here in Britain. British Sign Language (BSL) is a recognised sign language in this country and the first language of the British Deaf population. Makaton uses the South East regional signs of BSL from the early 1970’s. It is not varied across the country nor changed over time as it is a specific, specialised system of signs and graphic symbols that are used with children and adults with communication difficulties. Baby signing and Makaton always use speech alongside signs to encouarge spoken language too. At an early, childhood level of communication there are little to very slight differences between any of signing languages, so whichever you learn you can generally make yourself understood. The use of British Sign Language and Makaton for children differs in areas of the country; where I live there has been a city-wide initative to train using Makaton but where my mother works in pre-schools in Kent, Makaton has gone out of fashion and their LEA has encouraged use of British Sign Language instead. It is also a personal choice, and depends on whether it is to encourage or replace speech.

"The children get a taste for communicating and they just want to do it more and more. When children realise that they can continue to use their hands to play with their toys and are still able to tell you what they want with their mouths, the signs naturally fall away. Signs are still used when the children are tired or if they want to emphasise their message. The common myth is that signing may delay speech. The opposite is in fact true. Signing offers a way into language. Spoken language 'hooks' onto it. This is applicable for both hearing and deaf children." Tiny Talk

Baby signing classes use lots of familiar songs and also sign books, to interest children. I loved that it was essentially like a general baby group with some skills and learning thrown in! There is also a period at the end where toys are put out and the babies can play/poke each other's eyes out/steal other babies socks and the parents and carers can have a Jaffa Cake and compare lack of nights sleep. I found that after shying away from baby groups, having a structure for two thirds of the session really helped my confidence and gave all the parents a talking point. It is a small but very friendly group and by far the most welcoming I have been to yet. It is lovely to watch over a period of time the babies begin to pick signs up and learn new skills. Wriggles is the oldest, but not so obviously as in some groups, and is slowly picking things up. She has just began signing "all gone" and is showing some understanding of other signs, sounds and words. All babies are different, and some have picked it up very quickly while others have just one or two signs which they use sparingly or frequently.

I recently came across Signed Stories which is a resource from ITV, signing children's books using British Sign Language. It starts from babies books up the age of 8 and has a huge range of titles including lots of favourites. It is something I am keen to start using with Wriggles who adores books, and to pick up the signs myself to use when reading. I think books are so important to furthering language and understanding and also for teaching small children concepts, emotions and acceptance of the world. They are such an inviting way of communicating what you cannot always say as an adult.

I'm confident that in time, speech will come with Wriggles. Confusing the paediatric consultant says she has a delay whilst the SALT team say she doesn't. So who knows! She babbles and copies noises and definitely has some understanding of language, although it is hard to know how much. Like many babies, she understands far more visual clues and routine as well as body language or tone of voice. But signing can only be a good thing, whether long or short term. Anything that encouarges her development I will happily lap up; although I might not be so eager when she is gabbling my ears off with "W'asssss 'at??"!


  1. Yay, we go 2 sing and sign too. ( one of the better groups we go 2) smidge is on her second term now and still no signing!! Still, it's bought her comprehension on no end, and the DVD we got is a real gem for getting the house work done!

  2. Heidi and I did baby sign and found it completely invaluable, Heidi spent a lot of time going in and out of hospital and she was able to use the signs to tell the nurses what she wanted in the moments I wasn't there to tell them what her grunts meant. Even though now she (finally) is understandable to everyone (most of the time) she still uses occasional signs, and sings a lot of the songs to her little sister.
    It's great, and I hope you and wriggles carry on to enjoy it x

  3. This was a brilliant post, thank you. I've often considered investigating signing classes because of the confusion over Adam's hearing but was never really sure. This is because what he can hear is uncertain so with the blessing of his teacher for the deaf, we're trying to encourage spoken words. But reading this has made me think again. I like the idea of a class I could take Adam with me for, the ones I saw in my area were adult classes to learn BSL which I didn't want to do. I wonder if a similar play and learn group exists?

    1. Thanks Charlotte :) I'm sure such a class does exist! Most of the franchised signing classes do a baby then toddler signing class and Sure Start centres often offer something too which may be more play and learn. Our SALT told us where we live there are lots of opportunities for parents and/or children to go to various one off or continous classes/courses/drop in for BSL or Makaton so hopefully that would be similar everywhere!x