Sunday, November 27, 2011

How One Child Started a World-Wide Movement!

Not too long ago I did an interview with a PARENTS Magazine writer about the origins of the baby sign language movement. She was surprised to hear what a personal story it was. That made me realize that others might be similarly interested in how it all got started. So here goes!

Most everyone reading this blog is familiar with our company, Baby Signs, Inc. and the fact that we produce signing resources for families. Many of you also know that we have a network of instructors who teach our Baby Signs® workshops and classes. (By the way, there’s a rumor going around via social media that we have a “multi-level” sales model. Not true! It’s just the those of us here at the Home Office in Vacaville , CA and our dedicated team of nearly 900 Baby Signs® Independent Certified Instructors, each one only answerable to his/herself.)

What many of you may not know is that the Baby Signs idea started on one specific day in 1982 when one individual baby (my 12-month-old daughter--see photo above) made up a sign for “flower.” We were out in the garden when she pointed across the yard to a rose bush, turned to me, and sniffed repeatedly. Now, as I’m fond of saying, it doesn’t take a nuclear scientist to understand what she was trying to convey! I said, “Oh do you want to see the flowers?” and took her over to smell them. What I then noticed was that she continued to use the same sniffing gesture all day to label flowers wherever she saw them—on the wall paper, her pajamas, the dining table—and that night I wrote in my journal that she had “done the cutest thing today.”

After that I started watching her more closely and noticed her making up other “signs”—like blowing for “hot” and rubbing index fingers together for “spider” (from “Itsy Bitsy Spider”). I told my colleague and best friend Susan Goodwyn about what she was doing and together we began modeling other common sense signs for things and recording both her signing behavior and her verbal development. All this data gathering resulted in our first academic journal article in 1985 (it takes a long time to get things published!): “Symbolic gesturing in language development: A case study. Human Development, 28, 40-49. (This article, as well as many of our other pivotal research reports, is available in its entirety on our website ( Just click on PARENTS and then RESEARCH.)

That was the beginning of Susan’s and my 25 years of research on the subject of signing with babies, culminating in a longitudinal study, supported by the National Institutes of Health, of the effects of signing on verbal development. With the positive results of this study in hand, we finally went public in 1996 with the first edition of Baby Signs: How to Talk With Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk and the avalanche of other books and programs began. Believe it or not, if you search for “baby sign language books” today, you’ll get 561 entries!

Who said a single child can’t change the world?!

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
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