Thursday, July 07, 2005

Criticism of Baby Sign Language

Learning to sign before speaking

“Baby Signs is based on research showing that using signs enhances language, cognitive and social-emotional development of babies. The program originated in 1982 when two researchers at the University of California, Davis launched a study of babies and sign language.

‘We discovered that teaching babies sign language facilitated and sped up talking,’ said Linda Acredolo, a psychologist who later co-authored a best-selling book on the program. ‘And children who used sign language had higher IQs than peers who didn't.’

The researchers also noted social and emotional benefits for the babies and positive effects on the parent-child relationship. Acredolo said signing reduces frustration for the baby and parents and enables the babies to share their world.

The author of several books on child development, Greenspan said teaching babies to use specific signs and gestures introduces an artificial element into the naturally developing communication system.

'Anytime you do something repetitive with a baby you're reducing the flexibility and creativity of the child,' Greenspan said. 'I don't want to say that parents who use sign language are doing something bad or wrong, that only makes the parent feel bad. But why not let your child learn to ask for a drink 30 different ways instead of just using one sign? What if there was only one way to express love? Or one gesture to show love?'"


Greenspan misses one important aspect of creativity and flexibility; children use sign language outside of original context. This application of information to other areas displays the child’s understanding of a concept.

When I worked as a nanny, transition times were always difficult. After meals the children tended to signal that they were done by squirming, standing up in their highchair, or sometimes yelling. To alleviate the stress (and to provide a better alternative), I taught the children to raise their arms in the air to signal “all done.” It worked brilliantly and mealtime became much easier for the children and myself since we could communicate more effectively.

To my surprise, in a short period of time, I noticed that their new communication skills were being implemented in other areas. When they were done playing or were ready for a new activity the “all done” sign would appear. Sometimes "all done" would be made into a joke where the child would produce the gesture after one bite of food; when asked if they were really done, the child would laugh and continue with their meal. This clearly demonstrated flexible and creative thinking. Furthermore, being able to communicate made for a more stress free environment, which is of the utmost importance to a child’s development.



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