I started signing to Fern when she was about 6m old. Her first signs were 'more!' and 'milk' when she was about 7.5m old and it took off from there. She wanted to tell me about what she had seen. She would pant with her tongue out to tell me the dog had walked into the room, and wiggle her fingers down when it rained, but her early favourite sign was 'light!' and she would look out for lights in any room we entered, point at it and sign. She seemed very pleased with herself at being able to show me things she had noticed about her environment and as she signed more and more it made me realise how much she was taking in and understanding, even at such a young age.
By ten months she had about 20 signs and conversations were possible. She started stringing signs together 'more bubbles!' for example. I have never doubted how much this enriched her life and ours, it was a beautiful thing to experience communicating with our baby and realising how much she knew inside. I used to feel quite sorry for some babies at group who seemed desperate to say something but didn't have the tools to do so. How frustrated they must have been! I knew how much excitement was bubbling around in their heads about everything they saw, as Fern would sign it all to me. Our family got very involved, loving it when this tiny baby could ask for 'grannie!' or comment that grandad was 'funny!' A very useful sign was 'hurt/pain' with a pointed finger to the source, so I could rapidly tell it was teething pain when she was grizzly and do something to help. We could have days at a time when she would not cry, as she could tell me what she needed, be it sleep, food or play. Wonderful.
Fern could only say mumma and dadda as she turned 1year old. I never worried when people asked if signing would delay her speech as I knew the research proved the opposite, she just needed to get to grips with her vocal cords. Words came easier at 14m and with a sign to accompany it, I could always understand her! At 16m the words started in a torrent. By this time she had about 250 signs and she rapidly added a vocal approximation to most of her signing. By 18m she can now say well over 300 words recognisably and mostly clearly. She still signs the difficult ones like 'elephant' and 'crocodile' and often adds signs to her general chatter even now she can say the word, although some have been dropped now. Today she saw a baby friend drop his drink onto the floor. While he sat mutely staring at it she said 'drink, floor! Dropped it! Dirty! Mummy clean it!' clever girl.
Doing the BSL alphabet seemed like a big ask at first, but when it's a game, she loves it! Our favourite game is naming things that begin with a certain letter. I'll say what begins with B? And together we sign and say baby, bubbles, bath, big, blue, ball, banana, etc etc. Fern loves it when I'm faltering and she thinks of another one! She already shows interest in the words in picture books and will point at letters for me to identify and we sign them together. She also likes having a letter sign for each of her friends names and runs about happily chattering about 'Charlie' or 'Lara' and what they did together last week, or what happened when we visited Nannas house last month. I can barely believe how much is going on in that head of hers.
I have become the biggest fan of signing with children and have taught some friends children how to sign to 'The Gruffalo' story. Watching them all signing together and 'acting out' the story is great fun and they love it! This is interaction at it's very best.
We will certainly be continuing to sign letters and words as Fern starts to learn to read and spell. It makes it fun. It makes it memorable. I'm so proud of her, and I'm so grateful to sign language for showing me time and time again what an amazing girl my little Fern is.
Vicky 4th july 2011