Sunday, March 3, 2013

Signs: A Window into the Infant Mind for Researchers Too

I spent last Tuesday with my twin, almost 4-year-old grandchildren—Nate and Olivia—because they were home sick from preschool. Both of them were great signers, so I decided to see if they remembered any of their signs. I mentioned that they used to use a sign for “more,” and Nathan quickly tapped his fists together, clearly remembering something from easily 18 months earlier. Then Olivia did the sign for “all done” and Nate asked me to remind him what the sign was for “drink.” Soon we were all into it with them remembering lots of signs—like book, bird, dog, and moon—and even a specific experience when they had used the bird sign to talk about a hawk out back. My conversation with them reminded me of one of my favorite signing stories where a 2-year-old little girl, who had switched from sign to words a whole year earlier, suddenly began to teach her doll the sign for “more!”

The doll story and my conversation with Nate and Olivia reminds me of one of the less obvious gifts signing with babies has given us. For a very long time, researchers (as well as parents) assumed that babies’ memory abilities were severely limited. And who was to tell us differently? After all, without words to share their thoughts, babies seem almost oblivious to the past and future. But now, with signs at their disposal, babies are sharing what they see, hear, feel, and even what they remember with both parents and researchers! Finally we’re getting proof that babies are a lot smarter than they look!

Let’s hear it for signing with babies!


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