At this point, you may be raring to go but wondering how you are going to take advantage of the Four Keys to Signing Smart Success. The first thing to remember is that Signing Smart does not mean signing every time you say the corresponding words--not by any stretch! Signing Smart success is about the kinds of signs you use and the kinds of interactions and experiences in which you use them.
Key 1 : Creating Signing Smart Opportunities
Children learn best in interactions stemming from their own interests. When parents create or respond to Signing Smart Opportunities, they work with their child's interests, engaging her in two-way communication.
RESPONDING TO CHILDREN'S NONSIGNED "INVITATIONS"
Young children have many ways of letting us know they are eager to interact. They may stare intently at an object of interest, they may move toward a toy or person, they may start manipulating an object, or they may exhibit a marked change in affect (e.g., from happy to neutral, or the reverse). Signing Smart teaches parents to view all these behaviors as invitations to create Signing Smart Opportunities. Remember, you need not feel obligated to turn all of these situations into Signing Smart Opportunities; just notice that they all could be, and then take advantage of some of them by engaging your child with a quick comment supported by a sign.
So, a parent may choose to create a Signing Smart Opportunity when her child crawls over to her ("Oh, you want MOMMY? Let's PLAY BALL."), throws the ball he's been mouthing ("You threw your BALL, are you ALL-DONE EATING it?"), looks up from playing with her feet and smiles ("WHAT are you doing with your feet? Are you PLAYING with your toes?"), or topples over and starts fussing ("WHAT happened? Do you need HELP?"). Will a parent do all of these things in any given interaction? Absolutely not! The parent would be overwhelmed, the child overstimulated, and none of the chores would get done. However, by creating such Signing Smart Opportunities from some of these situations at some points during the day, parents tell their child that they notice his invitations to communicate, and take advantage of them by engaging him with some of their Chosen Signs. The child, in turn, gets to see relevant signs during moments in which he is most primed for learning and is eager to be engaged by his parents.
SITUATION: Parent sees her child happily playing with a xylophone.
In this situation, parents may feel stumped because the sign for "xylophone" is not among their Chosen Signs. Parents may wonder if they should simply forgo signing in this situation or if they should try to take advantage of their child's good mood by bringing over a toy that they do know the sign for. But because Signing Smart is flexible, parents can use signs they already know to continue to engage their child with her chosen toy! Even if you do not know the sign, you can use a sign to create a Signing Smart Opportunity.
Signing Smart Opportunity--Option 1: Instead of using the sign "xylophone," draw on another related sign you know. For instance, say, "I see you playing with your xylophone. You are making wonderful MUSIC! Can Mommy make MUSIC with you as well?" For more on the Signing Smart strategy of "plugging in" related signs, which we call Conceptual Grouping, see pages 58 and 70.
Signing Smart Opportunity-Option 2: If you can't remember or don't know the sign for MUSIC, plug in a more General Sign. So, for instance, ask your child WHAT he is playing with and then fill in the answer (xylophone) verbally; or ask him if he wants MORE music and begin to bang away; orcomment on the fact that he is EATING the mallet and ask him if it is yummy. When you notice his interest waning, ask him if he's FINISHED and if he would like to play with his BALL now. Regardless of his choice at that point, think of the wonderful interaction(s) you had with him about the thing that was most interesting in his world during those few moments.
In addition to responding to your child's "invitation" (object manipulation), Signing Smart allows you to extend the exchange by inviting him to participate even more. Notice how the above interchanges move beyond simply labeling the object, and, in this way, enable you to engage your child in rich and stimulating interactions. Using a single, more generalized sign opens the door to enriched conversations about anything under the sun. More important than the extent of your vocabulary are the engaging contexts in which you and your child are interacting--contexts in which signs are seen, internalized, understood, and eventually used by both of you.
RESPONDING TO CHILDREN'S NATURAL MOVEMENTS AND BABBLING
Recent research conducted at Franklin and Marshall College indicates that when a mother responds to her baby's random babbles by smiling at, moving closer to, and touching him, the child's vocalizations become more advanced.8 In a similar way, creating Signing Smart Opportunities from your child's nonintentional movements or babbles will benefit both sign and word development! The beauty of Signing Smart Opportunities is that they exist whether or not children's movements or vocalizations are actually deliberate.
For instance, when your child flaps his arms up and down--even for no apparent reason--we call that a Signing Smart Opportunity. There are several possible signs this movement may resemble (e.g., BALL, FINISH, RAIN), and when you react to even seemingly random movements in meaningful ways, your child will come to understand that his hands can convey meaning. Here, creating a Signing Smart Opportunity involves deciding on a possible meaning for your child's movements--if your child flaps his arms happily, you might respond by initiating an interaction around a BALL you can play with together; if your child makes the same type of "flapping" movement while fussing, you might respond by commenting on how your child is FINISHED playing and bring him over to his high chair for a snack. In this way, the same unintentional movement might "initiate" different interactions, because you as the parent choose to reinforce different signs, depending on how you read your child's emotions and interests. As you can see, there is no "right" way to create a Signing Smart Opportunity.
You can also create Signing Smart Opportunitiesin response to completely accidental hand positions. For instance, if you notice your child sucking his fist or thumb (especially if he is not usually a thumb sucker), this is a Signing Smart Opportunity to reinforce his movements as a possible sign for DRINK or BOTTLE.
We want to stress that we are not suggesting that a child's meaningless movements are signs. What we are saying is that our responses to these meaningless movements will help turn them into meaningful and purposeful signs over time. Note that the same can be said for reinforcing your child's "meaningless" vocalizations. When we hear our child say "bubu-bu," even if we know it is not intentional, we instinctively reinforce the word as "bye-bye." Doing so allows your child to more quickly turn that "random" sound pattern into a purposeful word. By creating these kinds of Signing Smart Opportunities, parents allow children to "initiate" and participate in rich and meaningful interactions from the start--even before children are signing back.
SITUATION: Child excitedly flaps his arms up and down for no apparent reason.
Initially, parents may feel silly assigning meaning to these natural movements. Or they may feel comfortable commenting on their child's excitement but be reluctant to treat the movements as a "sign." Remember, we are not trying to convince you that these natural movements are signs. Rather, we are asking you to interact with your child as if these movements are precursors to signs.
Signing Smart Opportunity--Option 1: Engage your child with words, signs, actions, and experiences around the possible meaning of his movements--in this case, maybe BALL. Thus, a Signing Smart response might be "BALL? Are you saying BALL with your hands? Let's go get your BALL--great idea!" The parent would then play ball with his child, continuing the interaction the child "started" through his accidental hand movements.
While it is the parent who mapped meaning onto the child's meaningless movements, this does not diminish the vital information the child received. In creating these Signing Smart Opportunities, the child learns that his hands can (and in fact do!) convey ideas that initiate interactions and lead to getting objects or having experiences.
Signing Smart Opportunity--Option 2: If you notice your child is eagerly watching your pet dog while simultaneously making arm-flapping motions that could be the sign BALL, you may choose to go with your child's interest while still commenting on and reinforcing his use of signlike natural movements. Therefore, you might say, "I see you saying BALL with your hands. You're looking at the DOGGIE, woof, woof! Let's go say 'hi' to the DOG."
Again, there is no "right" way to create a Signing Smart Opportunity--experiences such as this one will multiply and give your child the message that you are attuned to his natural movements as well as his interests. Over time he will come to refine his hand motions; but until then, he is still experiencing the power that his natural movements have to influence his world--both in getting your attention and in leading him to interesting interactions. Notice again that these interchanges do much more than simply label objects--they include discussions, interactions, and experiences.
RESPONDING TO SIGNED/SPOKEN INVITATIONS
Perhaps the most obvious Signing Smart Opportunity to create is the one in which your child clearly uses a sign/word in an appropriate situation, such as when she crawls over to her high chair and signs EAT. In this case the interchange will likely proceed without a hitch, especially if you use Signing Smart tools to enrich your interaction.
SITUATION: Your child looks up at the lamp and excitedly signs LIGHT.
In situations such as this one, parents will often take advantage of Key 3 (Recognizing your child's signs) and comment briefly on the LIGHT their child noticed. Brief interactions like this are important and necessary--they allow your child to continue interacting with the world on his own terms, and they let you continue your chores after a brief interchange. However, when you have the time toengage more fully with your child, it is in moments like this one that a great deal of learning and play can happen.
Signing Smart Opportunity: You excitedly say to your child, "I see you signing LIGHT with your hand. WHAT happens when I turn the LIGHT-OFF?" You then proceed to "play with" the lamp, interacting with your child over the very thing that she told you interested her at that exact moment. With these behaviors, you not only recognized your child's sign (Key 3) but you also extended the interaction and created a learning environment through experiences, words, and a balance of signs (Keys 1 and 4). And, if you used any Signing Smart Attention-Getters or Adaptation Strategies (Key 2) (such as signing LIGHT in the rays of the light), you will have hit all Four Keys to Signing Smart Success in a single interchange. This is a wonderful example of the flexibility and usefulness of Signing Smart techniques. And, what a rich interaction your child just experienced on so many levels: cognitive--the cause and effect of flipping the lamp switch; social/emotional--when I communicate, Mommy responds to and interacts with me; and linguistic--I've seen and heard lots of signs and words that I'm coming to understand and use myself.
While we have emphasized the fact that Signing Smart Opportunities are often short but rich interactions, do not let this discourage you from extending these interactions if your child's interest and your time permit. So if your child is engaged in your game with the lights and you have the time and energy to take the interaction further, by all means, do so. One way is by going on a LIGHT walk, as suggested on here or 146. Let these interactions go as far as both you and your child can take them, but do not measure their success on length alone.
Unfortunately, not all signed/spoken invitations are as clear as we might like. Children often use signs (and words) very differently than we do. Sometimes parents are unsure how to respond--do we work from what our child signed or from what we think she really meant? Our research has shown that we make the most of a potential Signing Smart Opportunity when we work from what our child means, while still acknowledging and applauding what was actually signed.
SITUATION: Parent sees her child sign LIGHT while looking at the vase of flowers on the table.
Families often bring stories such as this one to our play classes and workshops. In this type of situation, parents cannot help but wonder whether their child is confused, whether they were just imagining that their child understood, or whether they were just imagining that their child was signing purposefully. Trust us, everyone feels this way sometimes. Even we, as developers of the program, have gone through these "crises of faith" about our children's abilities/intentions. We encourage you to overcome your own doubts and give your child the credit she so richly deserves, while creating a Signing Smart Opportunity in the process.
Signing Smart Opportunity: Recognize your child's attempt, but then work from her interest rather than her sign. For instance, tell her, "Yes, you're telling me with your hands; you're signing LIGHT. But I see you looking at the FLOWERS. You really like those FLOWERS." Don't know the sign for FLOWER? Say, "WHAT are you looking at? I see you looking at the flowers. Do you want MORE of the flowers? Let's go see those flowers some MORE [as you lift your child]." If you discover your child is captivated by flowers, add FLOWER to your set of Chosen Signs.
GOING BEYOND BASIC LABELING
An important difference between Signing Smart Opportunities and other types of interactions is the level of engagement between the parent and child. While an Opportunity may be short, it still engages and stimulates in meaningful ways. Take a look at the situation below and see the richness, intimacy, and learning that come with simple Signing Smart techniques, which can take any interchange far beyond basic pointing and naming.
SITUATION: Parent sees child playing with a horse.
Basic pointing and naming: "Oh, you have a HORSE. Can you say HORSE? Look at Mommy. That's a HORSE. Carlos, sweetie, look at Mommy. That's a HORSE, say HORSE."
The only information the child is getting is that the object he is playing with is called a horse.
Basic pointing and naming with a Signing Smart invitation: "Oh, you have a HORSE. Can you say HORSE? That's a HORSE.Mommy is saying HORSE with her hands. Can you say HORSE with your hands? Carlos does it, Carlos says HORSE with his hands."
This basic interaction goes beyond the previous one in that it invites the child into the conversation through signs. However, additional Signing Smart techniques can bring much more.
Signing Smart Opportunities in action:
Animating the interaction with pretend play:
• "WHAT are you PLAYING with? Do you have a HORSE? 'Neigh' [Language Clustering] says the HORSE."
• "Look! You have a HORSE. WHAT is your HORSE doing? Is it JUMPING? MOMMY is making the HORSE JUMP. Can you make the HORSE JUMP?"
• "The HORSE is giving you KISSES [with Language Clustering]. Hee, hee, are you EATING your HORSE now?"
• "Who else KISSES? Your BEAR! Your BEAR is giving you KISSES! Oops. WHERE did MOMMY HIDE your BEAR? Can you LOOK-FOR it? Do you need HELP?"
Additional ways to extend the interaction:
• "Oh, you have a HORSE. Are you PLAYING with that HORSE? Can MOMMY PLAY too?"
• "You have a HORSE [parent hides horse]. WHERE'S the HORSE? She's HIDING! Can you LOOK-FOR the HORSE? SURPRISE! You can have a TURN. Do you want to PLAY with the HORSE some MORE?"
• "Let's LOOK-FOR MORE HORSES! Oh, here is a BOOK with HORSES in it. We can read the BOOK."
While you will only engage your child in a smattering of such interchanges, and any given interchange may include fewer signs, even the most basic of interactions can be easily made more three-dimensional and meaningful to your child with almost no extra work.
SIGNING SMART OPPORTUNITIES SUMMED UP
Remember, Signing Smart is not a list of prescribed responses for every one of a hundred possible scenarios. It doesn't involve signing all day, or dancing around your child and bringing over balls, or even engaging him every time he seems interested in something. Understanding Signing Smart Opportunities helps you to realize possible times and possible ways to interact. It is not the number of signsyou use--or even the number of times you sign--in any given day that will have the greatest impact on your communication with your child.
Signing Smart creates short but meaningful interactions at various points, integrating select and relevant signs where comfortable and feasible. It teaches you to notice the possibilities and use new eyes and new tools to enrich what you are already doing. The fact that Signing Smart Opportunities can happen in many different contexts simply means you have the opportunity to create such interactions one hundred times a day. It does not mean you should do so. But what a relief to know that any missed opportunity only means another will pop up in short order. Believe us when we say there are whole days that go by when we do not sign with our own babies. Life is just like that! So we have developed a program that reflects and allows for the realities of real-time parenting!
Key 2: Bringing Signs into Your Child's World
By now you are armed with your six to twelve Starter Signs and with an understanding of the multitude of possible Signing Smart Opportunities in which to use them. However, many parents wonder how to best get their child to look at them and to see their signs. Have you ever tried to get an active fourteen-month-old to glance over at you, let alone to stare you in the face, so he can see you sign BALL or LIGHT?
Signing Smart Attention-Getters and Adaptation Strategies
Make attention-getting noises
Signing Smart Language Clustering
Touch or pat your child
Bring object to you
"Tell me with your hands"
• Using signs to get attention:
Signing Smart Baby-Talk
Sign on your child's body
Sign in your child's line of sight
Make two-handed signs one-handed
Sign on an object of interest
Change the angle of the sign
Take heart and know that once your child understands the power of Signing Smart, she will often look to you for these visual highlights. But discovering the wonders of her world is one of your child's most pressing and developmentally appropriate jobs, and the worst thing that you can do is to make herchoose between looking at you for signs and exploring her environment.
To make signing and interacting as successful as possible as quickly as possible, Signing Smart has developed a great number of Attention-Getters and Adaptation Strategies for hearing families. These give children access to sign information without their ever having to stop what they are doing to look up at the signs. We call this bringing signs into your child's world, and it is the Second Key to Signing Smart Success. Rest assured, by using even a few of the following Signing Smart strategies, both you and your child will feel the joy and success of signing without the frustration. In short order these strategies will become second nature to you! And once you have your child's attention, don't forget to extend the Signing Smart Opportunity beyond basic labeling: Engage your child with words, actions, or experiences that involve the object that holds his attention!
SIGNING SMART ATTENTION-GETTERS: VERBAL
Diversify your verbal requests for attention (beyond just calling your child's name) by incorporating some of these Signing Smart strategies, developed to capture your child's attention through creative use of your voice.
Make Attention-Getting Noises
One way to do this is to play up the "silly factor." No child can resist turning to Daddy when he suddenly makes a strange noise (e.g., "doo-wop") or couples a funny sound with an exaggerated movement or sign!
Signing Smart Language Clustering
One wonderfully effective verbal strategy is what we call Signing Smart Language Clustering. Put simply, Language Clustering entails joining a word with a sound and with a sign, and it is a strategy we developed for many learning and interaction forums. To use this technique for attention-getting, exaggerate and extend the sound of the object you're talking and signing about, to capture your child's interest and attention. For instance, make an exaggerated "rrrrroaring" sound for a lion; "beeeeep-beeeeping" for a car; a high-pitched "Hi, I love you" for a doll, and so on. These sounds are compelling attention-getters for your child and are sure not only to draw his eye gaze over to you but also to initiate or extend wonderfully playful interactions.
SIGNING SMART ATTENTION-GETTERS: NONVERBAL
Another Signing Smart strategy is to use nonverbal means of getting your child's attention before you sign. The more you vary the ways you ask your child for his attention, the more likely it is that he will not only give it to you but also realize what he gains by doing so.
Touch or pat your child
The most basic nonverbal Signing Smart Attention-Getters are those that involve a gentle tactile signal. Touch, tap, or rub your child's arm, leg, cheek, or foot. When your child looks over to you, take advantage of the Signing Smart Opportunity you have created.
A simple but highly effective nonverbal Signing Smart Attention-Getter is to vary your proximity to your child. Moving closer to--or moving away from--your child is sure to grab her attention and cause her to look at you. This creates the perfect Signing Smart Opportunity: Initiate an interaction about an object of interest by using a sign.
Another wonderful Signing Smart Attention-Getter involves using a sensory quality of the object itself to get your child's attention. For instance, turn on the fan and let the blowing wind entice your child to look over. Turn a light on and off until your child notices. Use the squeaker of a toy to get your child's attention, without you having to utter a sound. This strategy is a wonderful one to combine with others, such as signing on the object, described below.
Bring the object to your body or face
Another Signing Smart nonverbal strategy is to bring an object that is holding your child's interest toward your body or face, drawing his attention to you while allowing him to continue looking at the object. Once his eyes are on you, sign, but be sure to return the interesting object to him afterward.
"Tell me with your hands"
One very effective Signing Smart technique is a combination of both verbal and nonverbal cues. Tap your child's hand and encourage her: "Tell me with your hands," or ask, "Can you make your hands say LIGHT?" You can then either sign away or employ another Signing Smart technique, such as signing on your child's body or using hand-over-hand signing (see below).
The "tell me with your hands" technique is one of the most successful Signing Smart strategies because it gives children a clear means of understanding what we are asking them to do: use their hands to communicate. When you open the door to, and specifically encourage, "alternative" communication, many children tune in eagerly and quickly begin to sign back.
You can extend the effectiveness of this strategy by adding, "Daddy's hands are saying LIGHT. Can Rakeesh's hands say LIGHT? Rakeesh does it. Rakeesh says LIGHT with his hands [as you tap them]." From there take advantage of the Signing Smart Opportunity you have created. Such interchanges not only help bring signs into your child's world but also make the early stages of learning more interactive.
SIGNING SMART ADAPTATION STRATEGIES: USING SIGNS TO GET YOUR CHILD'S ATTENTION
Based on our knowledge of the way Deaf9 parents interact with their Deaf children, Signing Smart has developed a great number of strategies to help hearing families work within their child's developmental level, follow their child's lead, and literally move signs into their child's world. Using real ASL signs gives you great flexibility to adapt and exaggerate signs to your advantage in each of the ways described as follows.
SIGNING SMART BABY-TALK
While Deaf adults use ASL "baby talk" when signing with young children, Signing Smart adapts this technique for use within hearing families. To do this, make movements somewhat bigger and more repetitive than one would in adult sign conversation. The larger movements attract and maintain children's attention; the repeated movements allow children to see the sign produced anumber of times in a very short period. An additional benefit of this strategy is that, by repeating a single sign throughout an entire spoken sentence, you highlight that one concept, making it easier for your child to attend to and learn it. For example, asking, "Do you need HELP pulling your bear out?" with repetitions of HELP spanning the entire spoken question, focuses your child's language-learning energy on the sign/concept HELP.
Another wonderful Signing Smart Adaptation Strategy is to move your child's hands/arms to help him get a feel for the sign. The goal here is a very gross movement--a clapping for MORE, a hand bumping the mouth for BIRD, an arm lifting for LIGHT. Developmentally, children experience these parent-guided movements as "their own" and can therefore readily learn the basic movement patterns necessary for sign production through this technique. However, do not try to place your child's fingers into position or make them move as the sign might (e.g., opening and closing the fingers for DUCK) as this is too difficult and frustrating for young children. In addition, when you help your child create fine movements, he is more likely to become a passive participant in the signing. Why? His fine motor skills won't be developed enough to form very specific, smaller movements until weeks, months, and maybe even years into the future; therefore, manipulating his hands to create particular fine motor patterns makes him dependent on you to make the sign for him. On the other hand, because he will be able to produce his own rough version of the sign(s) relatively quickly, when you help him experience the general way signs feel, you empower him to make the sign himself.
You can extend this Signing Smart strategy by combining it with the "Tell me with your hands" technique described previously. For example, as you clap your child's hands together, say to him, "Do you see the SHOES? Michael's hands are saying SHOES. Good work!"
Some children find it frustrating to have their hands held and manipulated. Some respondwell on certain days and not others. If your child seems to tense up when you use this technique, choose from the other Signing Smart strategies instead.
Sign on your child's body
Instead of doing a sign on your body where your child may not be able to see it (e.g., when your child is sitting on your lap as you read a book together), do it on her body. This literally gives your child a feel for the sign. Don't worry that she won't see the exact hand shape or movement; she will feel it on her body and have plenty of opportunities to see it in other contexts. Signs that easily lend themselves to being done directly on your child are those that you produce on your head or torso.
Sign in your child's line of sight
Another Signing Smart Adaptation Strategy is to move your sign so that it is in your child's line of vision (e.g., above the toy she's playing with or between her body and the object that holds her attention). If there is no specific object your child is watching, sign in front of his body. Any sign that is not "anchored" to your body can move into your child's line of sight.
Make two-handed signs one-handed
Life with a baby will keep your hands busy. There will therefore be many times when you will only have one hand free for signing. There are two ways to make a two-handed ign into a one-handed sign. One is to simply drop the use of the other hand (e.g., CAT, BATH, or even BALL). While the sign may look different, it is still discernible to your :hild. For signs that require the other hand e.g., MORE, HELP, or BOOK), brace the one land you are signing with against something else--your child's body, the book you are reading, a toy you are holding, and so on.
Sign on an object of interest
Another way to move signs into your child's line of sight is to sign directly on an object that your child is looking at. If your child is looking at a doll, sign DOLL on the doll's nose. Or if you're pretending to feed a rubber ducky, sign EAT by tapping your hand on the duck's bill. One especially useful way to use this strategy is to sign directly on the book that your child is looking at. For instance, sign COW directly on the picture of the cow in the book. Signing Smart strategies such as this keep the learning cycle intact (your child sees the object, sees the sign, andhears the word simultaneously), thereby shortening the time frame for your child to sign back and develop a sizable vocabulary.
Change the angle of the sign/ Get down on your child's level
If you are standing above your child and sign the "regular" way, your child only sees the underside of the sign. If you tip your hands downward, your child can see the sign "head-on," in its most accessible form. For instance, if your child is sitting on the floor while you are standing, sign CLEAN-UP with your hands tilted downward toward him. Another strategy is to get down on your child's level when you sign.
Key 3: Recognizing Your Child's Versions of Signs
When parents ask us, "How will I know if something is really a sign, as opposed to anatural movement or a happy accident?" we tell them it doesn't matter! That is, whether or not your child intended to sign DOG will not change the Signing Smart Opportunity such a movement presents. That being said, it is important for parents to have tools to recognize "real signs."
As parents, we all know that when children begin talking, their early words will be approximations of the words they hear us say (e.g., "ba-ba" for "bottle," "da" for "dog"). The same is true for signing--children's early productions of any given sign (regardless of how many signs they may already have) will usually be their own version--an approximation of the sign we have been showing them. For this reason, part of Signing Smart is learning the "how" and "why" of children's sign "errors."
For instance, you will see your child produce some two-handed signs with only one hand. This happens because she has seen you produce so many signs with only one hand (when you carry her, for instance), or because her other hand is occupied with the object she is describing/playing with. Alternatively, your child will sometimes produce one-handed signs with both hands because she has less control over moving each hand individually (when both are free) than you do.
Being able to recognize and respond to your child's version of a sign will make a tremendous difference in how many signs your child will use and the time frame in which she will use them. Knowing this, Signing Smart has researched and documented the predictable ways young children are likely to adapt any given sign's three main components.
Be Alert to Children's Signs
Likely Hand shapes
• Loose index finger
• Loose fist
• Relaxed open hand
• Bigger hitting/slapping
• In front of the body
• On the head or body but not in the correct spot
• Beside the shoulder (instead of on the face/head)
Overlapping Movement Patterns
• Signs produced the same way that actually refer to different concepts (e.g., MORE/SHOES)
Be aware: Children will create their own versions of signs even if you try and give them "baby-friendly" signs.
• Instead of trying to "figure out" which signs will be "easy enough" for your child (really, they all will be), learn the Signing Smart strategies that will help you see and respond to whatever your child's version may be.
Children will make these same "mistakes" no matter how much you try and "simplify" the signs that you show them. Rather than spending time and energy trying to figure out how to make a sign "easy enough" (when your child will then create his own version anyway), learning these Signing Smart strategies will help you see and respond to whatever his version may be, thereby speeding the process along.
CHILDREN'S SIGNS: LIKELY HAND SHAPES
Taking advantage of our training in both child development and sign language linguistics, we know that children's early signs are likely to be produced with one of three hand-shapes: a loose index finger, a loose fist, or a relaxed open hand. For example, children will often sign MORE with open palms (like clapping), BIRD or DUCK with an opening and closing of the fist (like waving), and so on.
CHILDREN'S SIGNS: LIKELY MOVEMENTS
Children are also likely to simplify the movements of signs, eliminate the movement completely, and/or make much more exagerrated motions than adults would. Their early signs are likely to be larger and less controlled than yours (jabbing, clapping, hitting, as opposed to tight, small movements). For example, MORE might be done with a bigger slapping motion than the light tapping you will do or with a stationary hand clasp, PLEASE with a large swiping as opposed to a crisp circling, and so on.
CHILDREN'S SIGNS: LIKELY LOCATIONS
Children also modify the locations of signs, but our research with Signing Smart children indicates that some locations are more likely to be altered than others. In general your child will most accurately produce locations for "free-floating" signs. For instance, BALL will likely be done in front of him, LIGHT up above his ears, and so on. For signs anchored on the body, you may see the general location preserved, but not the specific one. So, for example, CRACKER may involvea pounding on the opposite hand rather than the elbow, BEAR a swiping on the belly or legs rather than the chest, and so on.
The signs children are most likely to produce in an incorrect location are those that are supposed to be done on the face. This happens because anchoring her hand on her face and producing an accurate movement is a later developmental accomplishment. So a sign like ELEPHANT might be produced with a flipping motion beside the shoulder. Knowing this, Signing Smart parents can be on the lookout for other face signs like DUCK or DRINK to be produced free-floating, beside the shoulder. However, note that some children will accurately produce the location of face signs but will alter the hand shape and/or movement. For these children, ELEPHANT may look like a palm tap to the nose, BIRD or DUCK like a grab/bump of the mouth, and so on.
CHILDREN'S SIGNS: OVERLAPPING MOVEMENT PATTERNS
As a young child's vocabulary increases, her parents are likely to notice that she seems to be making the "exact same movement" to talk about very different things. This happens with spoken language as well, when a child uses the "exact same sounds" to talk about more than one thing (e.g., when a child says "ba-ba" to refer to both his bottle and blanket). At Signing Smart, we call these sign approximations Overlapping Movement Patterns. You may see your child signing "the same exact thing" when asking for MORE and when commenting on his SHOES (e.g., by clapping). In such contexts, our research has shown that children are not confused--they really do have two signs, one for each concept. The children just haven't yet developed the motor control to distinguish these two productions. Despite the fact that the adult productions of some of the following signs look very different, children's versions of these signs often look the same (i.e., they often show Overlapping Movement Patterns for the following sign groupings): MORE/BALL/SHOES; DUCK/BIRD; PLEASE/BEAR/BLANKET/BATH/MONKEY; BED/PHONE; FROG/PIG; MUSIC/FINISH. Please see the Signing Smart Illustrated Dictionary on here for the adult forms of these signs. Techniques such as Signing Smart Body Leans, Assorted Cues, and Opposite-HandedSigning (described later in this guide) will go a long way toward helping you help your child develop distinct movements for each of his signs over time. For more on similar-looking signs, see pages 64, 103, 149, and 169.
How will I know it is really a sign?
It does not matter!
• Whether your child's hand movements are accidental or intentional, what is most important is the interaction you create when you respond. It teaches your child that such movements have meaning and initiate experiences.
Cues your child is making purposeful attempts to sign:
• If he makes "signlike" movements
* while he is looking directly at you
* while he is looking directly at his hands
* while he is looking directly at the object
• If he produces a similar (approximate) movement over time
Don't forget that young children often sign very inconsistently. Not signing in one context says nothing about what she may have signed in another context.
HOW WILL I KNOW IT IS REALLY A SIGN?
No parent is immune from sometimes wondering whether her child is "really signing." While of course we recommend that you interact with any signlike movement as if it is intentional, there are several cues that will help you know whether or not your child is "really" signing. One cue is her gaze: Is she looking directly at you? Is she looking intently at something? Is she focusing on her hands? Another cue is her use of the same "sign" over time. Has she repeated this same (approximate) movement at various points over a period of time? If you answer yes to any of these questions, you have a strong indication that your child is intentionally signing.
And while the above checklist can help, we know that we are all vulnerable to the confusion and uncertainty that arise from trying to "read" our own child's version of a sign or to understand his "confusing" signing. Even Michelle was in disbelief when--at not yet four-and-a-half months--Maya began banging her fist into the side of her head (too many times to be accidental) when her sister was nearby, in a very "signlike" attempt to produce the name sign Michelle and Scott had been using for Kylie (a "K" hand beside the eye). It was only through Maya's continued use of this same movement in enough appropriatecontexts over time that Michelle was able to "really know" it was an intentional sign. Reyna felt a similar way about Nadia's first attempts at BALL until she saw Nadia's arm bouncing in enough contexts over enough days. One word of warning, however: Very young children sign very inconsistently. Do not expect your child to sign BALL every time she sees one, or even many of the times you think she might be inclined to sign. Not signing in one context says nothing about what she may have signed previously. All this is to say, if you think it could be a sign, interact with it as if it is. Then watch it over time and see what develops.
Key 4: Facilitating Both Early Communication and Long-Term Learning
Signing Smart will give you the means to facilitate both early communication and long-term learning. When you use signs to foster both communication and learning, you allow your child to "break into" signing more quickly and allow your family to take full advantage of all that Signing Smart has to offer, from the very first day into the preschool years. In fact, as you continue on your way with Signing Smart, in relatively short order you will want to add to your initial set of Starter Signs, and you may wonder when and how to do so. Let Key 4 be your guide.
WHEN TO ADD TO YOUR STARTER SIGNS
Add on to your set of Starter Signs when your child seems to understand your signs and/or begins to produce even one "real" sign himself. From there, your goal is to "stay ahead" of your child, using a few more signs than he is using (e.g., go from your set of six to twelve signs to twelve to twenty-four signs, or whatever pace your own learning curve will allow). From there, there is no reason to limit your vocabulary, as long as you strive to maintain the balance of See A Lot / Do A Lotand Highly Motivating Signs. Add any new number with confidence--your child understands the role signing plays in your interactions and is ready for more sign input. Signing Smart gives you the tools to highlight concepts and ideas as well as to engage in topics of interest to you or your child. For this reason continue expanding your Chosen Signs when you notice your child developing new interests, when you want to help prepare him for new experiences, or when you wish to take advantage of Signing Smart strategies for long-term learning.
HOW TO ADD TO YOUR CHOSEN SIGNS
While it may be tempting to add a slew of new animal signs, part of the Fourth Key to Signing Smart Success is to maintain the balance of Highly Motivating and See A Lot / Do A Lot Signs. This will allow you to sign in all kinds of interactions and to continue to provide your child with tools to talk about his interests as well as his needs. It will also enable you to use signs to support your child's learning now and into the future.
To expand your repertoire of Highly Motivating Signs, pay attention to your child's developing interests: Is she fascinated by city BUSES, does he notice every BIRD at the park? Think about the change in seasons: Are you likely to start seeing a lot of brightly colored FLOWERS or beautifully decorated TREES with LIGHTS?
To add to your See A Lot / Do A Lot collection, consider new or upcoming family experiences: Are you expecting relatives or going on a family vacation? Is your toddler interested in potty training? Don't forget to choose signs for concepts you'd like to help your child learn. Key 4 is about using signs for bothearly communication and long-term learning. So regardless of whether or not your goal is to have your child sign a particular word, Signing Smart will allow you to use signs to help your child to understand abstract ideas. You just may be surprised by what your child wants and needs to talk about!
So think about including Opposite signs such as IN and OUT, Social Interaction signs such as TAKE-TURNS or STOP, or Health and Safety signs such as HOT, COLD, MEDICINE, HURT, or WET in your growing set of Chosen Signs. These kinds of signs will allow you to highlight conceptual aspects of your activities, thereby facilitating your child's understanding of relatively abstract ideas--es--pecially if you forgo using other signs in your repertoire to highlight a particular concept and focus your child's attention on the new information (see Spoon Fun on here for more on this learning strategy).