The period between 6 and 12 months is full of developmental milestones, as you know. By 6 months or so, most babies are learning to sit up and starting to eat some solid food. These accomplishments create wonderful opportunities for introducing and reinforcing signs.
If you have a child who is sitting in a high chair, you can easily face them with two hands free and sign food vocabulary in as real a context as they come. And, of course, food is one of the biggest motivators you can offer at this stage. You can use the signs often – with each bite and with each new meal and new day, clicking into repetition, one of the simplest and most important techniques for assisting learning. As you slowly increase the kinds of food you are offering your baby, so can you add to his/her signing vocabulary. Food is that very tangible thing that baby is experiencing through multiple senses and can quickly attach a sign to.
As your baby reaches the latter part of this period, 10-12 months, you can also heighten the stakes by giving him or her the choice of two foods without having them in front of you. “Would you like banana or avocado?” – Do the signs for each of the two foods and wait for which sign comes back.
During this very teachable time, you are capitalizing on cognitive development and growing connections in the brain, by providing outlets for all Baby is experiencing at such a rapid pace, internally and externally. This is, after all, the time in which you are most likely to see them begin signing back to you.
And then there are feelings. Your wee one is a bundle of changing moods! Beginning at this time with basic feeling words/signs (“You are a happy,laughing baby!” “Did that make you sad?” “I see you feel angry!”), it lays the groundwork for your children to be able to express to you abstract ideas such as these, as well as more complicated feelings later on, whether in sign or in speech. Think of it as a springboard. If they begin to see signs like surprised, happy, excited, sad, or scared now, they will easily be able to propel themselves to higher levels of expression as they grow. If they are simply standing flat-footed on the ground without any head start, all that takes longer and arrives in more basic forms.
Families who are working on teaching the signs, will likely be more apt to hone in and talk about these feelings in the first place – why waste an opportunity to repeat a sign you’ve been trying to get across, right? It’s a win-win situation: your child gets to think about what s/he is feeling (something many adults have trouble with!) as well as acquiring the means to communicate it.
By 6 months, Baby’s vision has also expanded so that s/he sees across a room rather than just as far as mama or papa’s adoring face. Here is your chance to name many more objects in Baby’s growing world. If you give each of these visual pieces its own hand shape, a little person new to it all has an extra way to take it in, and, ultimately, give it back. The earlier they feel understood the more confident they get to feel in who they are and how they see the world.
Your connection to your child is strengthened by the face to face interaction required by sign and the truly mutual communication. Not only do they feel better, but when they are happier, you feel like a better parent. It’s a beautiful cycle.