The back-story of how I ended up doing sign language with my son goes all the way back to a dirty warehouse in 1998. That’s when I first met Melissa “Echo” Greenlee, a Deaf Seattleite. We used to rock out in front of the speaker stacks together (what, you’ve never heard of a deaf raver?), and she taught me how to finger spell using the American manual alphabet.
When Echo first started teaching sign language to hearing infants back in 2002 through her company Visually Speaking, I got all excited. It makes perfect sense, right? Before babies can speak, they can sign. A friend did sign language with her baby in 2004, and I was amazed at how calm her son was at expressing his needs.
“More,” he’d sign, with no need for shouting and pointing.
I spent years biding my time, waiting for a moment when I’d have my own baby to do sign language with … and then last year, it was finally my turn.
Lemme tell you the story of how we did baby sign language, and what I did wrong.
I was perhaps a little over-eager: Andreas and I took baby sign language classes from Echo when Tavi was just three months old. Echo had warned us that we likely wouldn’t see any results until at least six months old, but we couldn’t help ourselves — she was leading an in-home workshop a block from our house, and we couldn’t wait to sign up.
For six weeks, we met in a living room to work on our signs with Tavi. We learned basics like “milk” and “more” and “all done.” We learned the signs for different foods (cheese, crackers, strawberries) and toilet stuff (diaper, poop, change), and animals (cat, dog, fish), and tons more. Most of the other kids were closer to a year old and walking, while Tavi could barely sit up. But it didn’t matter! We were signing!
When the course was over, Dre and I committed ourselves to using signs with Tavi. I would prop Tavi up on the bed while I folded laundry and talk to him about the color of each garment. Every time I nursed him, I would sign “milk” and “all done.” Dre would sign to him about music and dancing.
Months went by. Nothing happened.
My commitment waned. Dre kept signing, but I could only remember to do “more” when Tavi started eating. Tavi stared at me blankly. “More,” I’d sign. “More!”
And then, finally, at 10 months old it happened. Inspired by cupcake frosting, Tavi finally got the “more” sign:
GRATIFICATION! Of course, then once he got this word down, he used it. A LOT. He was like a junkie, emphatically signing “MORE MORE MORE” even as food was going into his mouth. Then “more” became his sign for “HEY, I NEED SOMETHING HERE.” It was his one word for everything. He would sign what I called “Sad More” when I changed his diaper.
Success! We had a “more” sign!
And then he started talking.
And I got even lazier.
And then Tavi didn’t get any other signs.
Learn from me: I totally recommend baby signing. Highly. It’s amazing to give your baby the tools to communicate when they don’t yet have words.
But I recommend not being over-eager like me. Wait until your baby is at least six months old (and possibly even more like eight months old). You’ll get results quicker, and hopefully won’t get all slacker-y like I did.