After giving birth to twins I knew life would never be the same. Living days with all the trials and tribulations of raising a child doubled would undoubtedly change things a bit. Early on I understood these challenges so I created ways to deal with them uniquely and that is how we stumbled upon teaching our toddlers to sign.
By sign, I mean a unique form of parent child communication. Knowing there would be times I would need to wrangle two toddlers together at once laid the groundwork for the signing. Being a person that often talks with my hands anyway, I devised a signing system and began using it every chance I could. Soon my twins could understand what I was saying without ever hearing me speak a word.
We began by using our hands with speech to teach our twins the connection between the two actions. For instance, if I asked them to chew before speaking at the dinner table, I would say, “Chew first”, while using a simple hand gesture mimicking a chewing motion with my hand. After about a week the twins had already learned the gesture and understood they needed to chew their food without hearing the spoken command.
We next added a second gesture for the word “First”. The gesture we chose was the true sign language sign for “first”. Again within a week the twins had picked up the connection between the spoken word and the gesture and we knew we were on to something very beneficial.
We continued to add hand gestures for different words such as, “swallow”, “please”, “thank you”, and “welcome”. Each time we added a new gesture we practiced for at least a week before moving on to the next lesson.
Over a period of a few months we had managed to teach the twins enough gestures to hold simple conversations with them without ever speaking a single word.
In a real life setting these gestures have come in handy almost every outing we plan. When we find ourselves in a crowded or loud room and are sure our children are unable to hear spoken words, we use the gestures to calm them and communicate where we are going or where to walk. When in public fast food play places, the gestures have also been found phenomenally useful to simply explain wordlessly to our children the need to chew and swallow before attempting to rule the world.
The use of this make shift sign language taught us not only the learning capabilities of our three-year-old twins but also quite a lot about our resilience as parents. We are no longer frightful in situations when the twins are out of earshot.
If you would like to teach a small child you know a few important signs, here are a few tips to make the process easier and more enjoyable for all involved.
Make sure the child is capable of understanding and responding to verbal requests before beginning any signing lessons.
Try to use hand gestures closely related to the request you are trying to express.
Use the gestures in every day settings on a repetitive basis even when you don’t need to.
Learn a few authentic signs for use with words with no real hand mimicking gesture action such as, “please” and “thank you”.
Use the same gesture every time you speak the related word. Don’t change gestures mid lesson.
Teaching your toddler how to understand your own version of sign language is not only fun but helpful as well. Crowded rooms and large play areas are just a couple of the places you may find yourself out of earshot with your child. By teaching your toddler to sign, visual contact is all you’ll need to keep the lines of communication open.