October 17, 2012

Sign When You Play (More Quick Ideas for Getting Started with Signing)

Have you ever wondered, "Why isn't my baby signing back to me yet?" There are several possible reasons, but sometimes it's simply because you haven't yet introduced signs that are of interest to your baby. Another possibility is that the bulk of your signing has been in task mode. Do a quick self check: Do you predominantly sign "more" and "all done" during mealtime, and reserve the signs for "change" and "sleep" to diaper changes and nap times? If your answer is, "Yes," I'll encourage you to shift your attention a bit, so that the majority of your signing happens when you are singing and when you're playing.

The last several posts I've talked about the value of singing and signing. Equally effective is signing during playful times.  I find that parents and caregivers are more successful at signing with their babies if the majority of their contextual signing is introduced during play time. That doesn't mean you shouldn't sign during mealtime or during diaper changes and before nap time. It just means that ideally those aren't the only times (or even the majority of the times) you are signing about those topics.

When we're focused on a task (such as getting our baby fed, diapered or down for a nap), we are generally more hurried and focused on getting the task accomplished. Mealtime can be stressful when you're trying to get your baby fed and get a little morsel of food into your own mouth as well! Adding an additional "task," such as signing, requires a conscious effort to add an "extra" step to an already stressful process. As a result, it might feel like work, or like a technique we're trying out on our baby versus a way of communicating with our baby.

When signing is emphasized during playful times, your habits around signing will be established more deeply, and you will be able to more easily incorporate those signing habits into task activities as well. This is because when signing becomes a habit, it becomes routine and natural to join your words with a sign. Think about how you wave and point without giving it any thought. You body just naturally adds those gestures to your communication. When you build the foundation for signing through playful activities, your body will likewise more naturally gesture with signs when you use those same words during task activities.

Here are some examples of how you can incorporate signing into playtime:

*Bounce your baby on your lap. Stop every now and then and ask your baby if she wants MORE bounces.

*Tickle your baby or blow raspberries on your baby's belly. Stop every now and then and ask your baby if he wants MORE tickles or more kisses.

*Put your baby in the wind-up swing and say, "It's time to SWING."  When the swing stops, say, "would you like to swing some MORE?" When you can tell that your baby has grown tired of swinging you can say, "We're ALL DONE swinging."

*Blow some bubbles.  When the bubbles die down, ask your baby, "Do you want MORE bubbles?"

*Play some music.  Say, "Let's turn on the MUSIC." Once your baby starts movin and groovin, say, "Look at you DANCING!"

*Cover up a favorite object such as a ball or a book or a doll. Sing "WHERE is the BALL" to the tune of the "Farmer in the Dell" (i.e. "Where is the ball? Where is the ball? Hi Ho the Derry-O. There is the ball").

*Put a baby doll or teddy bear into the high chair or booster seat. Playfully interact with your child and the baby doll. When you feed the baby doll, you can say, "Do you want more BANANAS?" or "Oh look, the BABY likes her bananas," or, "Oh, it looks like the baby is ALL DONE," as you are cleaning up the baby doll and taking her out of the high chair.

*Use one of your old (clean!) diapers from when your baby was younger, and playfully interact with your child to give a teddy bear a diaper change. Say, "It's time for the teddy bear to get his DIAPER changed."  When the diaper change is over, say, "We're ALL DONE with your diaper change, Teddy."

*Get a box of bandages and examine your legs and your baby's legs to find some owies.  When you find a bruise or a shaving nick, or a scratch, say, "Uh Oh. Mommy has an owie," (and sign HURT). Toddlers love to help you cover your legs with bandages!

The more you sign during playtime, the more familiar you will become with a wide variety of signs, and this will help you become more comfortable incorporating signs during routine tasks. In addition, your baby will have more and more opportunities to notice you signing. Your baby will come to realize that your hands are full of meaning...and theirs can be, too!

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