I don’t pretend to be an expert in parenting or language development, but teaching babies some simple sign language has been a useful communication tool for many families of my acquaintance (and for my husband and I when we taught toddler Sunday school), and I decided that there was no harm in giving it a try with BoyChild. (We tried it with GirlChild, but she learned “more” and “please” in sign language, then she started to talk, rendering further teaching pointless. BoyChild just doesn’t have the advanced language skills that she displayed, so we’re giving him other ways of communicating than staring us down while screaming at us until we realize he means he wants to eat something we’re eating…)
I grabbed this book because the illustrations reminded me of Helen Oxenbury’s; cartoonish babies of various ethnicities with big heads and tiny feet demonstrate each sign and situation calling for the sign. This large (10.5″x10.5″) board book shows about eight American Sign Language based signs per spread. Each illustration shows a young child–for instance, a little red-haired girl sitting on the floor with various milk-bearing containers around her–showing the sign (with motion arrows as needed) for the featured word–milk, which is one hand opening and closing like it’s squeezing (the most cringe-worthy of signs, in my opinion, since it makes me feel like a cow!)–and is captioned with the word and, in smaller, plainer type, a brief description of how to do the sign. At the bottom of each page, in italics, are tips and pointers related to baby signing in general (“The first aim is for your child to make a connection between the sign and what it represents.“). The book focuses on approximately 40 of the more useful signs for nouns, verbs, adjectives, and brief statements that a baby is likely to encounter in day-to-day experience, from “milk” to “sleep” to “I love you!” I found the notes at the bottom of the page to be appropriate for the casual user of sign language for babies; they encourage “best practices” for teaching signs to babies (like introducing a few really useful signs at first and then expanding from there) and reminders that babies aren’t going to do the signs just like an adult would, and that’s okay. It’s clear that the book isn’t really to teach babies the signs (of course), but this is the kind of book you can look at with your infant that will hold his or her attention because of the illustrations and will allow you to study and practice the signs that you might want to use.
GirlChild and BoyChild’s Reactions: BoyChild seems to like the illustrations (if grabbing the book and banging his hands against the pictures is any indication). He’s already doing pretty well on the ever-important sign for “more,” and we’ve been adding “milk,” “drink,” “eat,” and “all done” signs recently as well. I’m going to take the book’s advice, however, and cut it down to just three or four total until he’s really good at using them consistently–probably adding just “milk,” “all done,” and possibly “please” to the mix. (He still resorts to screeching and staring during dinner if his tray isn’t fully-stocked, and we clearly need to work on some manners!) GirlChild didn’t bother reading this book with us, but she has been talking to BoyChild about his food and using the sign for “more” to him, so I think she’ll be interested in learning more of the signs to help teach him. (She dearly loves her baby brother!) Maybe I’ll try to find a book that teaches the sign for “sister”!