Babies as young as six months old in child care can start communicating with those around them by learning to use American Sign Language (ASL). As parents, especially new parents, and caregivers, it can be challenging to figure out what your baby needs before you learn their habits. Sign language empowers your child to communicate his or her desires before they are able to verbally, as well as helping develop coordination skills.
1. Improves Early Communication
Because motor skills and auditory perceptual skills aren’t typically developed enough to produce words until 10-12 months old, sign language comes in handy when infants need to communicate. ASL assists these early communication desires and even increases communication skills later in life. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development analyzed the difference between children who learn sign language alongside spoken language and those that didn’t sign at an early age. They found that those with sign skills were more likely to speak sooner and have a larger vocabulary.
2. Strengthens Bonds
Because infants are unable to articulate through speech, interacting through sign language helps the baby communicate its needs to the caregiver, whether it’s needing something to eat or even just acknowledging your presence. Responding in the right way decreases frustration for both parties, and increases the bond developing between a signing infant and their parent. This child-parent connection may lead to a warmer and richer bond compared to non-signing infants.
3. Develops Geniuses
Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children's Literacy author, Marilyn Daniels, Ph.D., explains that sign language improves both vocabulary and spelling proficiency. As stated previously, signing improves early communication in those infants that understand sign language. Studies have also shown that infants with ASL abilities have higher test scores later in life. It’s incredible that you can start cultivating your child’s intelligence either at home or day care school as young as six months!
4. Boosts Self-esteem
Dr. Daniels also explains in her book that infants gain confidence as they learn and show correct signs for their needs. The certainty in signing grows while expressing their emotions! This confidence helps infants and growing toddlers to actively engage in social settings, and in turn, learn to have better play skills around others at a young age.
5. Benefits All Learning Types
Certified teacher and founder of My Smart Hands, Laura Berg, encourages all parents to have infants learn sign language as it bridges the left and right brain. "Signing is different than learning spoken languages," said Berg, "We take in language on the left side of our brain as a sound and we take in sign language on the right side of our brain as an image — something that spoken languages don't do." Using ASL with the spoken language meets the needs of all types of learners: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.
All day cares of The Gardner School teach ASL to our infants. We teach them important signs to communicate gratitude, hunger, thirst, and even fun signs that describe animals! It’s never too early for your children to start learning sign language.