T-man joined our family when he was 10 months old. He was an active fella – pulling up and starting to cruise – and he had definite ideas about what he wanted. Like most littles, he also wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. There wasn’t always a lot of wiggle room for figuring out his demands before things got fussy.
And I don’t care very much for fussy. Even from cute, pudgy, Buddha babies.
I needed a parenting hack, and I needed it fast. That was when someone told me about Signing Time!.
“Signing Time!” is a sign language program for babies and children. It’s DVD based so you can watch them at your own convenience, and the shows are specifically designed to appeal to kids. The episodes are bright, colorful, and upbeat, and their short length held T-man’s interest for the entire viewing.
Please Note: I have not been compensated in any way by Signing Time!. This is a product I used with T-man that really made a difference in our lives.
Their DVDs are organized into categories. (For example: my first signs, playtime, family/feelings/and fun, ABCs, and the great outdoors.) This appealed to my teacher side; I felt like both T-man and I would retain the signs better if they were linked together in some way. The chances of retaining a random collection of signs? Not great. But the chance of remembering the signs for please, thank you, play, potty, car, ball, and my turn/your turn? Much, much better.
T-man was about 16 months old when I bought these DVDs and we began watching them together. I was beyond amazed at what started happening next.
Fair warning: Though I’ll do my best to avoid it, this may sound disgustingly like “Look how awesome my kid is!” That’s so not my point. Any child can learn basic signs. What I’m really hoping to convey here is what a lifesaver it was to be able to communicate with my baby/toddler.
Like most parents, I talked to T-man all the time. He’d smile, we’d play, I’d talk about the world around us and what we were doing with our day. But things were different once we started learning sign language together. The only way I can describe it is that T-man began talking to me.
The first sign he spontaneously used was “airplane.” One day we were playing in the front yard when a big plane flew overhead. T-man looked up, grinned, and made the sign for airplane over and over – he was excited to see the plane and wanted to make sure I didn’t miss it. It was fantastic that he could be so thrilled and tell me about it.
Early on we learned some basic signs that were extremely helpful. I could ask T-man if he wanted more to eat and, instead of having to guess by his demeanor, he actually answered me. When T-man wanted more Cheerios at snack time, he signed for them. He quickly learned the signs for banana, more, hungry, eat, and thirsty. We soon added signs for milk and water so T-man could tell us if he wanted one or the other.
The Miss Manners in me was thrilled to teach my little guy about being polite. We incorporated please and thank you into our conversations as much as possible. Other signs developed naturally from the world around T-man: dog (we used the easier “thigh pat”, as if you’re calling your dog to come to you), bird, baby, good, boy, mother, and father.
He also loved the sign for home. We’d be driving back to the house from an outing, and when our car reached the turn into our neighborhood I’d look in the rearview mirror to see him happily signing “home” from his car seat. It was adorable, yes, but it was also really neat to see him making those connections and telling me about it.
Okay, sure, there are lots of great developmental reasons for teaching your kid sign language. (I bet you can find plenty of research out there if, you know, you’re the kind of person who likes reading that sort of thing in their spare time.) But I have to admit that the biggest benefit by far was how it decreased the amount of crazy in my day.
Becoming a mom is hard. Suddenly becoming a mom to an active, intelligent, curious 10-month-old with needs he urgently wants met when you have no idea what they need? Well, that was a little overwhelming.
The fact that T-man could often straight up tell me what he wanted was awesome. It saved us both the headache of an endless stream of guesses. “This? Do you want this? No. Okay, how about that? Are you thirsty? Hungry? Tired? Want me to perform a Shakespearean sonnet? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CHILD, JUST TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT!!!”
Yeah. ‘Cause I’m patient like that.
So I guess “parenting hack” is misleading. Learning sign language isn’t exactly easy; it does take investing your time up front. But I’d say the hours T-man and I spent learning sign language together more than paid off in the sanity-saving department.