Saturday, July 24, 2010

Book Review: Teach Your Baby to Sign by Monica Beyer

I had considered teaching Rowan ASL or a modified version of it even before he was born. I had read articles talking about the benefits and was more than a little intrigued; there are studies that show it boosts IQ, helps with further language acquisition, and alleviates frustration in pre-verbal children (they can make their needs clearer and actually get them met.)

To me, it seemed like the perfect companion to my attachment parenting philosophy: if the child deserves to be listened to and have his cries responded to, then doesn't it make sense to give the child a way to express herself if they are able? Babies reach motor skills long before verbal ones. It just makes sense to teach sign alongside language, so that your child can tell you about his wants and needs.

From the book: "Signing has many benefits. For instance, your child will not only be able to tell you when he is hungry, cold, or suffering from an earache, but when he sees a bird in a tree or needs help getting his favorite toy from a shelf. Signing helped my children feel that they could come to me with their ideas, needs, and wants, and they knew that I would more than likely be able to understand and help them- all without saying a word."

Language is language. You can teach a personal family form for signing, or you can teach ASL, the language used by deaf people in the US. (Other countries deaf populations have signed languages as well.) Recently, there was a study involving two groups of children -- one group that was taught baby signing and another group that was not. The researchers found that eight-year-olds who had learned a simple form of baby sign language using invented signs did better on IQ tests than comparable children who had not learned baby sign language.

The advantages for teaching actual ASL rather than a personal form, though are numerous:  there are so many resources available, many of them free or low cost, for teaching ASL. There are between 500,000 and 2 million people who use ASL in the United States and you are opening a door to communicating with them for your child. And learning languages while the brain is still forming is the best time to learn, and it creates pathways in the brain that assists with further language acquisition later. There are great websites that can assist:
  •, has videos for all ages (and the website offers video samples).
  • ASL Pro has an ASL for Babies dictionary online, with video clips of adults signing. 
  •, the website of this book's author. 

I found the websites very helpful for learning myself, but I am "old school" and like to have a book at my disposal, when I am offline and wanting to learn a new sign to teach my son. So the quest for a good book began! There are a lot of guides, but I quickly became frustrated with many of them. A common complaint I had was that the illustrations, photos, or descriptions of how to make the sign were unclear. Another complaint I had was how the material was organized. Sometimes, I found it very hard to find the sign that I wanted to teach!

That changed when I found this book. It is organized in a way that makes sense for a parent of a small child: Routines and Needs, Animals, Fun and Nature, Let's Eat!, On the Move, People and Places, Advanced Concepts (mostly adjectives like big and small, etc), Teaching the Rainbow (colors), and Signing the Alphabet. The Sign Index was excellent as well, allowing me to find what I needed pretty quickly. The illustrations are the clearest that I've seen, and are accompanied by a paragraph describing how to make the sign as well.

I would recommend this book for anyone interested in the idea of signing with their child (the first chapter is all about the how and why and anyone interested in taking the plunge).

Formal Rating:
Title: Teach Your Baby to Sign, An Illustrated Guide to Simple Sign Language for Babies
Author: Monica Beyer
Publisher: Fair Winds
Price: $17.95 USD , $22.95 CAN, 10.99 UK
ISBN: 1-59233-273-0

Topics Covered: Non-Verbal Communication, Signing, ASL, Adapted ASL

Target Audience: Parents and Caregivers of Pre-Verbal Children
Witch Mom Rating: Three Hats:
 Excellent guide to an often complicated topic. Very handily arranged by topic, with a good index in the back to help you find what you are looking for. Illustrated well, and also photographs of common signs.


  1. Hi!

    I really like your style. My wife and I are starting signing with our wee one.

    I have to take issue with the videos listed, though. More and more research is emerging that young children cannot learn *anything* from staring at a screen, no matter how 'educationally' it's marketed. Even the very conservative AAP recommends "no screen time for children under 2," so baby sign vids, even the ones with songs and flash cards, are at best useless. More progressive folks suggest no passive screen time at all (ie. kill your TV) and waiting until children are able to handle interaction for other forms of screen time (like VoIP at around 4-5 years).

    I'm glad you make the point that most signing can be learned for free, rather than paying $750 for DVDs. The book looks good, too.

  2. Hi Tommy!

    Thanks for the compliment. Glad that you are enjoying the blog.

    I completely agree with you about the videos!

    In re-reading my post, I guess it could be interpreted that I was recommending that children watch the videos to learn sign. But I listed them as a resource for *the adults* trying to learn signs (to then teach their children). Sorry for the lack of clarity.

    I'm not a big fan of "plop your kid in front of the screen to learn something"- and studies show, as Tommy points out, that that strategy doesn't work, anyway! (Just ask the gullible parents who successfully sued Baby Einstein recently.)

    For those of you who aren't aware, there are numerous studies that indicate children under the age of 2 should not get ANY TV/Video time at all, as Tommy points out. It affects IQ, ability to focus, and academic performance later on.
    (The findings site specific tangible things that can be measured in studies, like test results. I often wonder what less tangible affects it has on our kids- all this passive activity and lack of imagination at such an early age.)

    Here at my house, we have no TV. The adults watch TV programming and/or movies on hulu or DVD and the kidlet is screen-free.

  3. We're movie nuts here, and I actually use movies for some of of my homeschooling activities, just to "spice it up" (as the kids love them). Personally, I'm for anything that gets them excited about learning something new, and facilitates an opportunity to "visit" places that we aren't able to go or learn something new.

    Having said that, I appreciate and applaud your choice not to allow your kiddos (especially little ones) to watch TV/movies. I think we all know our children best, and the fact that you've made that decision shows that you're thoughtful parents who weigh your decisions carefully. We may not arrive at the same choice, but we're both doing what we feel is best for our children.

    My youngest children have become very excited about learning to sign through the Signing Time videos (twin boys, almost 6... I really wish I'd started them earlier). They watched one at their grandmother's one weekend when she kept them for me, and came home very excited to show me all that they'd learned. That was in June, and every time we go to the library, they beg us to rent another (so we do). They've learned many signs through the videos, and use them frequently.

    I'm a pagan/witchy mom still finding my path and still somewhat in the broom closet. :) I'm finding myself more and more "out" every day, but in deep South Texas, with a family that's avidly Christian, it's not as easy as I'd like it to be. I'm really glad I happened upon your blog, and I look forward to reading more of it!


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