NERTCL presents “Signing For Babies”

This past spring, I was fortunate to meet a patron who was teaching her 8-month-old sign language. Through this family I saw first hand how powerful this form of communication could be for both the parent and the child. Her daughter has mastered a range of the signs including “more,” “help,” “eat” and even “thank you.” Imagine having a baby sign “thank you” to you at the circulation desk after checking out her board books! I’m thrilled that NERTCL brought this session on signing for babies to this years conference.

American Sign Language (ASL) is the third most used language in the United States. With its own unique syntax and grammar ASL is its own language – distinct from spoken English. Presenter Mary Buckley delivered a fantastic program on the benefits of incorporating ASL in our baby and toddler programs. The benefits of teaching a baby sign language are huge. Not only does it allow parents an opportunity to find out what their baby wants before they are able to speak – it can actually reinforce a child’s language development. Exposure to a second language at a young age helps children learn other languages later in life. Research has found that children exposed to signs during their pre-talking stages have a larger vocabulary (~50 words greater) by the age of two. Children benefit from this active exposure to language and it is a great way for parents to bond with their children.

It’s easy for librarians to incorporate signing into our existing programming. Try using one or two signs to reinforce what is happening in a picture book. Many books for young children have repetition – use this to your advantage! One sign can go a long way in a repetitive story and it gives you plenty of chances to practice using the sign. Repetition can help give children a chance to see the pictures in the book, hear the words, and learn the signs. We try to bring a book to life through our voices and inflection – sign language gives you another opportunity to bring the story to life. If you are reading Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the sign for caterpillar can help make that story jump right out of the book! Using signs with books can also help children grasp vocabulary more quickly and help them to distinguish words. Buckley gave the example of how a sign can help children visually remember the difference between words that sound alike such as “red” (signed by pointing to the lips) and read (signed by using a finger to trace words on the opposite palm). Songs and fingerplays are also a natural way to introduce a sign. During the session Buckley taught us the correct ASL sign for spider – which is a lot easier for children (and adults) to form with their hands and use while singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”

Recommended Titles
Sign with your Baby by Joseph Garcia
Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy by Marilyn Daniels
Teach your Tot to Sign: The Parents’ Guide to American Sign Language by Stacy A. Thompson
“Signing Time” Board Book Series by Rachel Coleman & Emilie Brown

Top Books for Easy Signing
Does my Kangaroo have a Mother Too? By Eric Carle
Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Excuse Me! A Little Book of Manners by Karen Katz
Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
The Little Old Lady that Swallowed a Fly by Simms Taback
Say it, Sign It by Elaine Epstein

Mary Buckley’s Signs & Smiles has a wealth of information and links.
Michigan State University’s American Sign Language Browser is an online ASL dictionary.


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