We began teaching Matthew American Sign Language (ASL) when he was 7 or 8 months old. We started with "milk" and "more", signing and saying the word at the same time. At the time, we didn't know if he would be interested in signing at all but it didn't hurt to try to teach him. It would be one way for us to communicate pre-speech if he took off with it.
I took a sign language class last year and came home with hand-outs. Inevitably, I forgot some of the signs that I learned from the class. Instead of looking up a sign on paper, I prefer to look at online video sign language dictionaries. A few good ones I have found are:
Baby Sign Language on Babystrology - Not a complete dictionary of signs but this site has a cute 3D animated baby signing everyday words.
Matthew can sign 24 words as of today. They aren't perfectly executed but we're not looking for perfection. We just want to equip him with a tool to communicate with us. His signs are fairly consistent and a close approximation of the proper sign. Also, his signs are always paired with verbal attempts (even if it's a simple "aaaa"), which is what we are encouraging when we sign and say the word simultaneously.
He has his own variation of sign for some of the words making it seem like a game of Charades sometimes. He giggles when we finally guess the word he is signing. He can spontaneously sign as well as sign the words he recognizes when he hears us say them.
Put your finger tips together to sign more. Matthew's first version of the sign was putting his thumbs together. It was his first sign early this year. He was signing 6 words by April.
Matthew is usually up by 6:30 or 7 in the morning. He plays with his Fisher Price Ocean Wonders Aquarium. I point to the fish, "Look at the fish!" His right hand sways wildly from side to side like a fish swimming through the water (for fish).
Eat, Milk, Cereal, All Done
Breakfast time. I ask him if he's hungry. He smiles and brings his fingers to his mouth (for eat). "We will have milk too." He squeezes both hands as if milking a cow (for milk). "Want some cheerios?" He giggles and scoots his right index finger across his chin (for cereal). When he's done with breakfast, he starts to turn his head away or fuss that he doesn't want anymore food. I ask, "Are you all done?" He stops fussing and repeatedly waves his hands, palms down, in front of him like he's wiping his tray clean (for all done).
Play, Ball, Hurt, Cat, Music
All done with breakfast. "It's time to play." He rotates both hands at the wrist (for play). The proper way to sign 'play' is rotate your hands at the wrist with your hands formed like a 'Y' with the thumb and pinky extended. Matthew cannot isolate his fingers yet but his version works just the same.
He walks to his ball pool then puts his hands close together like he's holding a ball (for ball). He dives into his ball pool and tosses the balls out. After emptying the ball pool, he finds a push toy and happily pushes it from the kitchen to the bedrooms and back. The push toy has gotten away from him once or twice while he was pushing it. His lower lip stuck out as he put the tips of his index fingers together (for hurt). I wrote about the first time he signed hurt in Baby Signing Time - "Hurt".
Yuri, our cat, loves to hang out with us most of the day. Sometimes Matthew taps his cheek with either his left or right hand like he's touching imaginary whiskers (for cat) when he sees Yuri. Usually though, he's too busy trying to grab Yuri's fur. To redirect his attention, I ask him if wants to listen to music. He enthusiastically sweeps both arms up to one side as if he threw something over his shoulder using both hands (for music). The proper way to sign 'music' is to have your left arm up in front of you, palm facing you, then sweep over your left arm with your right hand. We listen to the CD from the Kindermusik class or his songs on our iPod.
When I have errands to run (and even when I don't), he'll look at me and act like he's holding a steering wheel and driving a car (for car). He loves to ride in the car. "We need shoes," I say. He taps his fists together on the thumb side (for shoes) and finds them by the front door.
Baby Signing Time Vol. 1 & 2 are the only DVD's he'll watch. When we are in the living room, he sees the TV, looks at me and places his arms in front of his chest, swaying from side to side as if rocking a baby (for baby). It's his way of telling me that he wants to watch Baby Signing Time. He giggles and smiles when I agree to play the DVD.
Wash Hands, Cracker
Closing in on snack time in the afternoon, I say, "Time to wash hands." He puts his hands together like he's washing his hands (for wash hands). I tell him that we're having yogurt and crackers for a snack. He touches his right hand on his left forearm close to his elbow (for cracker). The proper way to sign 'cracker' is to knock your right hand on your left elbow.
Daddy, Walk, Dog
In the evening, Bill gets home from work and as he walks through the kitchen door, I say, "Daddy's home". Matthew touches his index finger to the side of his head (for Daddy). The proper way to sign 'Daddy' is to touch your thumb to your forehead.
After dinner, Matthew usually sways his open hands, palms down, in front of him (for walk). The proper way to sign 'walk' is to imitate walking with your hands, moving each hand forward alternately. Walking around our hilly neighborhood really means he gets to ride in his red wagon while we do the walking.
Along the way, we hear and see dogs barking from our neighbors' houses. Matthew can't snap his fingers as if calling a dog to come so instead, he taps his hand on his thigh as if calling a dog to come (for dog).
Bath, Shirt, Thank You
After our walk, it's time for a bath. Matthew scrubs his hands on his chest as if washing himself (for bath). He grabs my shirt while I'm carrying him to the bathroom. I ask him where his shirt is and he grabs his shirt at his chest (for shirt).
While in the tub, he plays with cups, a rubber duck, and a few other toys. He finds it very interesting to toss the toys out of the tub one by one. I've learned to intercept and have him give the toys to me instead. Every time he gives me a toy, I put my hand on my chin and extend it downward in an arc (for thank you). He imitates me each time.
Brush Teeth, Book
Matthew brings his fingers to his mouth and acts like he's brushing his teeth (for brush teeth). Right before bedtime, I say, "It's time to read a..." Matthew completes my sentence by holding his palms together as if they were a book (for book). We read a few books then I tuck him into bed with his little lion blanky.
We love the fact that Matthew can communicate with us using sign language. It's our stepping stone for building his vocabulary before he is able to express himself with words.
It seems like many parents are signing with their kids these days. If you are signing, we'd love to hear your signing stories.
Baby Signing Time - "Hurt"
Biting and Signing