Monday, May 21, 2012
Baby Sign Language and Books: A Wonderful Partnership
As most of you know by now, Dr. Susan Goodwyn and I discovered through our federally funded research
that signing actually speeds up rather than slows down the process of learning to talk.
There are a number of reasons why. The one I’m going to focus on here is the fact that signing makes book-reading more fun. And how does that help language development? Think about the books you read with your children. First of all, the pages themselves provide lots of things with names—both in the text and in the pictures. For babies just learning to talk, these names are often novel. That means they are getting exposed to new vocabulary items—and every time you read the same book again (which we know babies demand), they get the repetition needed to add these names to their repertoires.
The second reason books help language development is through what psychologists call “Dialogic Reading.” This is a fancy term for something very simple. It means engaging the baby in a conversation (i.e., dialogue) about the things on the pages, conversations that include questions for the baby to answer, even if in very simple terms. (“What’s the doggie doing?” “What do you think the baby owl is feeling?”) Research by Dr. Grover Whitehurst has shown that this “eliciting” of words from the baby during book-reading does promote language development.
So, there you have two reasons why book-reading with young children is good for language development. But, back to the initial assertion--that signing increases a child’s interest in books. The reason is because signs provide a baby with a way to actively participate in book reading at much younger ages. Instead of merely listening to Mom or Dad name things in a book, the baby can name them him/herself—with signs. And they do! Click here for an adorable example on YouTube (title "Baby Signs Julia"")—and notice how Baby Julia can point out things she thinks are interesting that her mother hadn’t really noticed, things she wanted to talk about. That really makes reading books more fun for babies! (By the way, the mom is Bonita from our home office and the videographer is Noah, Julia's 12-year-old brother.)
Happy Signing (and don’t forget to visit us on Facebook)!
Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program