Sunday, September 8, 2013

Signing in Action: A Hair-Raising Experience

One of our research findings, in fact, the finding that surprised us the most, was a significant effect of signing on intellectual development. When we tested the children from our federally-funded study when they were 8 years old, we found significantly higher IQs among those who had signed as babies compared to those who had not.

Why might that be? Well, the fact that we know signing provides a jumpstart to verbal language development is certainly an important factor. Another contributor, we believe, is that the signing provides babies a way to ask questions and gain information about the world around them well without having to wait for words. The following story—which was emailed to us years ago from a mom in the Netherlands—provides a great example. See what you think.

As 14-month-old Sam sat next to his mother on the bus, a young man with his hair in dreadlocks sat down across the aisle. Obviously fascinated, Sam turned to his mother and patted his head, his sign for HAT. “Oh, honey I know it looks like a hat, but it’s really hair,” whispered his mom, simultaneously rubbing some of her hair between her fingers, the sign for HAIR. Sam turned back to the man, stared intently, and again caught his mother’s eye, this time patting his head with more vehemence. By now the young man had become curious enough to ask what was going on. “My son thinks you’re wearing a hat and doesn’t believe me when I tell him it’s really your hair,” Sam’s mom explained. In response, the young man invited Sam to feel his dreadlocks for himself. So Sam did, and no sooner had his fingers touched the young man’s hair than Sam raised his hand to his head and with eyes wide with surprise rubbed some strands of his own hair between his fingers. The message was as clear as if he had spoken the words: “It is hair!”

Imagine such mini lessons multiplied throughout the day and you’ll have a sense of what I’m talking about. Signs enable babies to gather information about things they are specifically interested in, thereby helping them start amassing knowledge without having to wait for words. The cumulative effect is more advanced intellectual performance down the line.

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


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