Sign language: how to communicate with a child before he speaks

It is not necessary to wait until the child begins to speak in order to fully communicate with him. Children learn to understand the speech of adults much earlier than they pronounce their first words. In addition, they love to imitate and are happy to repeat various signs. Therefore, the first way to communicate can be sign language. He will bring communication with the baby to a new level. How to use sign language correctly and where to start?
sign language

Sign language basics for kids

The first conscious and understandable words the child begins to pronounce by about 1 year. But at the same time, his active vocabulary is still quite poor. He understands many words from the speech of adults, but cannot yet answer or tell something. The kid is angry that he is not understood, and most of his requests are “voiced” by crying.

American scientists (in particular, Joseph Garcia) observed the development of speech in children born to deaf parents. Surprisingly, they began to talk earlier than the children of healthy parents. This was facilitated by “communication” in sign language. It improves the communication skills of toddlers and also instills confidence in them. It’s so nice that parents understand him!

In order to teach a child to communicate using signs and gestures, you need to be patient. The younger the baby, the longer he will remember this or that gesture and will repeat it much later. The ideal age to start training is 4-5 months. It is at this time that children look closely at gestures and begin to perceive them. They will be able to repeat most of the signs, starting from 7-8 months, as coordination of movements develops.

What rules should be followed when communicating with the baby with gestures:

  1. Make learning an enjoyable experience for everyone involved. If mom or dad treats this as learning and imposes it on the baby, then he will very soon refuse such communication. It must be in the form of a game.
  2. Don’t forget the words. The main purpose of communicating with signs is not to replace speech with them. And to help the child communicate something important to his relatives before he learns to talk. Therefore, each gesture must always be accompanied by the corresponding word. This is how the baby will replenish his passive vocabulary, which will come in handy very soon.
  3. Use only simple gestures. No need to come up with and show too complex combinations. Only those that the child is able to repeat and remember.
  4. Less is better. For the first time, it is enough to introduce 5-8 gestures into your communication with the child. After their consolidation and active use, you can gradually expand the “vocabulary”.
  5. Praise your child for success. This is perhaps the most important rule. Positive reinforcement will instill confidence in the child and give real pleasure from communication.

Most parents who use sign language with their children are advised to start by demonstrating pleasant and familiar actions or objects. For example, it could be a “more!” sign. The easiest way to show it is with your index finger raised up. It will mean repeating something over and over again – another cookie, another fairy tale, another game of peek-a-boo.

Benefits of gesture communication

Many parents are afraid that if they teach a child to communicate with signs, then he will begin to “get lazy” and speak later. After all, they already understand him, why talk about it ?! This is not true. On the contrary, children who have mastered sign communication quickly switch to verbal communication. Sign language serves as a transitional stage – it can be compared to crawling before the baby can walk.

If you teach a child to show with gestures that he wants to eat and drink, then you can avoid dissatisfied “hungry” crying. The “eat / eat” sign is the fingers of one hand folded into a “pinch”, which are brought to the mouth. The sign “drink” – the fingers are folded into a fist, the big one looks up and points to the mouth.

The main advantage of sign communication is the opportunity for the child to show what he wants. This gives him confidence and reduces the discontent that arises in situations of misunderstanding. But there are other advantages of such communication:

  • early dialogue – the baby will be able to “answer” questions from adults with signs;
  • development of fine motor skills and coordination of fingers;
  • a closer connection with parents – understanding each other leads to a desire to communicate more;
  • memory development – the child remembers not only words, but also gestures-associations to them.

The most important thing for parents is the opportunity to find out and understand what their child is thinking about, what he wants to talk about. A little time will pass, and he will begin to show with gestures what is imperceptible to adults and is so important to him. For example, a dog that interested him on a walk or a beautiful flower “hidden” in the bushes.

How to start communication with signs

The key to success is patience and lack of irritation. Not a single kid can immediately repeat a gesture after an adult and associate it with the desired action or object. Therefore, moms and dads need to be patient. At first it will seem that the child does not react at all to the signs, does not remember them and does not understand how to use them. But after a while, he will definitely begin to gesticulate.

For the training to be successful, you need to act step by step:

  1. Choose the very first gesture you want to teach your child. It should denote familiar objects or habitual actions – a book, a ball, eat, drink, sleep, swim.
  2. Grab the baby’s attention. Choose the moment when he is full, cheerful and ready to communicate. Catch your child’s eye and show him or her the chosen item or act.
  3. Say the word and show the sign that corresponds to it. Do this every time your baby sees the object or performs the chosen action.
  4. Repeat these steps until the child starts using the shown gesture.

Let’s analyze the procedure using the example of a flower. The first time you can portray him for a walk. Take a flower, let a child smell it, smell it yourself. And then connect your fingers into a “pinch” and bring them to your nose, pretending to inhale the floral scent. At the same time say the word “flower”. Repeat this every time you see real or painted flowers.

Depending on the age of the child and his interest in a particular object / action, he will be able to remember and repeat the shown gesture in a few days or weeks. If you consistently teach him various signs, then soon his “dictionary” will be replenished, and gestures will begin to take shape in phrases. So, many kids can show signs that a plane has flown in the sky or a cat is sitting behind a fence.

Lessons for the development of speech of babies

Joseph Garcia, in his system of teaching children signs, suggests using the official sign language adopted in America for the communication of the deaf and dumb. And other scientists, Susan Goodwin and Linda Accredolo, recommend that parents come up with their own signs in order to establish a process of communication and understanding with the baby. You can start learning sign language with the simple signs below:

  • “sleep” – put your palms folded to each other under your cheek and tilt your head to the side;
  • “read / book” – open your palms, depicting how a book opens;
  • “car” – pick up an imaginary steering wheel and turn it in different directions;
  • “bird” – wave your arms like wings;
  • “ball” – squeeze an imaginary ball in your hands;
  • “Swim” – with clenched fists, make circular movements on the chest or stomach;
  • “thank you” – you can depict an air kiss or put your hand on your chest with a smile.

As the baby masters this language, he will want to learn more and more gestures. Therefore, be prepared for the fact that you will have to come up with new signs regularly. Gradually, they will be replaced by real words, but many children use their favorite gestures for a long time. This is normal, and over time, speech will completely replace gestures.