Infants, toddlers speak out (see photos)
Sign language launches communication, minimizes frustration
|Video by Matt Haugen, WSU News|
PULLMAN, Wash. - Infant/young toddler communication is often a challenge for everyone involved. It can include hand waving, indistinguishable noises, crying, screaming and tantrums. On the other side of the equation, parents, siblings and babysitters are trying to figure out what the little tikes want.
The result: frustration X 2 or more.
Rose Jackson, assistant director of Washington State University’s Children’s Center, said she and her staff believe that "children who are old enough to wave their hands and grab things are often ready to start tackling sign language. First-time parents are often surprised when we tell them that we begin teaching sign language when children are infants.”
The WSU Child Care Center, which oversees about 140 children daily, begins the process as soon as an infant or toddler arrives. However, results usually are not seen until the child is about 6-8 months old.
Mimicking gestures is usually the first step. From there, vocabularies generally expand until the children are older toddlers and their verbal skills develop. At that point, noted Jackson, use of signing often declines.
"It's really helpful in working with students,” said Jackson. "It allows them to communicate with teachers and other children and make friends. It can be especially helpful for those who aren't as verbal, as it helps them to communicate and express their needs and frustrations.”
"It helps them tell you what they want, instead of having to guess,” said Gjelaine Glenn, a teacher at the center.
As for who catches on the fastest, Jackson noted it is often determined by parent interaction. When parents interact consistently and reinforce the signs being taught in the classroom, children tend to learn faster.
Start with basic needs
The WSU Children’s Center uses standard American Sign Language. Initial words taught relate to the child’s basic needs and wants – milk, more, eat, all done.
As those are mastered, the words become a bit more specific – cheese, please, thank you, sleep, read, share, tickle. And much later, multiple words are used – more cheese please.
For toddlers, signing with music is introduced, allowing students to sing, dance and sign together. At the WSU Children’s Center, two favorite tunes are "Slippery Fish” and "The More We Get Together.”
As expected, the combination of signing with music and other activities can accelerate a child’s vocabulary and enjoyment of communicating.
Overall, the good news for children and adults is that using sign language can jump start the communication process, help children express their needs and wants and decrease the frustration level for everyone.
Rose Jackson, assistant director, WSU Children's Center, 509-335-8847, firstname.lastname@example.org