Monday, February 27, 2012

Signing: A Priceless Window into the Infant Mind

Much to my delight, the good news about baby sign language has spread far and wide—especially in contrast to how few people knew anything about it when Dr. Susan Goodwyn and I published our first research article about babies and signing in 1985.

I do find, however, that many parents and child care providers focus almost exclusively on the signs around mealtime—like EAT, DRINK, MILK, MORE, ALL DONE. What a shame! Yes, babies want and need to communicate these things, but many of them are even more interested in communicating about the exciting things they see in the world around them.

Babies want to tell those they love that they see a doggie, a bird, a butterfly, or a truck. They want to request to read a book, blow bubbles, or go outside. Providing babies with signs for these things, as we do in the Baby Signs® Program, gives them a chance to share their worlds with adults—and gives adults an amazing window into the infant mind.

Here’s a story that illustrates just how signing helps babies tell us what’s on their minds. It’s a story that came to us via email from the Netherlands many years ago and is still one of our favorites:

When a man with dreadlocks sat down across from fourteen-month-old Sam and his mother on the bus, Sam turned to her an signed HAT. “Oh honey, I know it looks like a hat, but it’s really hair,” whispered his mother. Sam turned back to the man, stared intently, and very emphatically repeated the HAT sign. Catching on to the situation, the young man invited Sam to feel his dreadlocks for himself. No sooner had Sam’s fingers touched the man’s hair than Sam, his eyes wide with surprise, made the HAIR sign. The message was as clear as if he had spoken the words: “It is hair!”

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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