Baby, what’s your sign?

Apparently, this horse read Animal Farm-- "four legs good, two legs better!"

Apparently, this horse read Animal Farm– “four legs good, two legs better!”

Welcome to the Year of the Horse! For those of you who celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year, today starts a fifteen day extravaganza of food, gifting, and visiting with relatives.  People often buy new clothing during this period (usually red, considered a lucky color), and children look forward to receiving small decorated red envelopes from their older relatives.  Each of the fifteen days features specific ceremonies and traditional foods. Though we at the Kelly house will be celebrating the festival in a fairly limited way this year as we prepare for our little man’s upcoming surgery, we look forward to learning more together as a family as Alexander gets older.

On a related note, if you haven’t heard the story of The Great Race, a traditional Chinese tale that explains the order of the Chinese zodiac signs, it’s quite an entertaining story.  I won’t give away too many spoilers, but it involves a bunch of animals rushing to a meeting called by the Jade Emperor– each of them hoping to be the first to arrive, and therefore honored with the first year of the new calendar. Come on, you know you want to know why of all the animals in the zodiac, the cat never made the list?!?

Speaking of signs, our house is practically exploding with waving hands, snapping fingers, and animal sounds these days. Our adventures of ASL with Alexander continue at a frantic pace, so much so that most evenings, an ASL book rests on my nightstand in order to keep up with the young sir. Brian, ever the saint, is usually subjected to something like this before falling asleep:

me:  “What am I??”  *making clawing motions tight to my chest*
Brian: “Uhh.. what?”
me: “Come on! Look at my hands! My arms are so tiny!”
Brian: “…”
me: “I’m a dinosaur!! Get it??? Isn’t that clever??”
Brian: “…”

Alexander in mid-sign for "baby," one of his favorites

Alexander in mid-sign for “baby,” one of his favorites

Several people have asked us why we are teaching Alexander sign language, often inquiring as to whether our little guy has hearing difficulties. We realized, after a discussion at dinner one night, that teaching sign language to babies and toddlers is really a fairly recent trend. In our family’s case, we’re using sign language combined with using words to help Alexander both expand his vocabulary and better communicate with us until he’s better able to with words. I admit that I was fairly skeptical about baby signing at first, but the first time Alexander signed “baby” back to us, I was sold. Signing has been a really effective way for Alexander to communicate emotion to us in other ways than crying or howling. Through a few simple signs like “tired/sleepy,” “hungry,” “more,” and “all done,” we’ve saved ourselves quite a few toddler meltdowns.  He can indicate what he wants to do (like “play”) or when he’s frustrated, we can determine that he’s hungry or just tired.  He has also made up some of his own signs by watching our actions. After much frustration of having the family felines run away from him, we explained he needed to be gentle by petting the air slowly. Though I don’t think it’s an ASL sign, one day when I reminded him “Alexander, be gentle with Benny!” he started to run around, petting the air. Now, that’s his sign for “gentle,” and we use it anytime he’s playing too rough or needs to chill out a little.

We’re now advancing into specific food related words, like avocado, yogurt, milk (that was actually one of the first he learned), and cereal, and we’re working through basic manners, like please and thank you.  Alexander has learned the signs through a combination of our teaching, watching signing videos available online, books from our library, and a few new signs from our speech therapist. Though I was fairly new to signing, I’m getting much more comfortable signing now in daily conversation with Alexander. Our goal is to have Alexander use only words to communicate with us (which is why we talk and sign at the same time), but I do hope he maintains this wealth of knowledge he is amassing at an alarming pace.  I can’t emphasize enough just how much fun it’s been to both learn and teach the signs to Alexander and how excited he is when we are able to understand what he’s trying to convey to us, not to mention how hysterical is it when he signs something initially perplexing to us (ie he signed “cereal” for his stuffed seal– then we realized he heard the sounds as too similar). This is of course only enhanced by the occasional snarky joke by Brian when I am overly enthusiastic about a new sign. Just last night at dinner, I proudly demonstrated the sign for “dog”– and Brian promptly replied that my combination of thigh slapping and snapping seemed a better sign for “shark” or “jet” than “dog.” (Two points awarded for the musical reference!)

I’ll leave you with the latest sign I just learned yesterday, which is quite timely:
Make the letter “L” with each hand, with thumbs pointing toward each other and with only index and middle fingers raised. Put the thumbs upon either side of your head and wave your your index and middle fingers together like ears.

Voila! The sign for horse! Happy Lunar New Year everyone!





One thought on “Baby, what’s your sign?

  1. I *love* the baby signing/ASL movement! It was totally new to me when our godson was learning at daycare (they do THAT now?), and we picked his few signs up when we babysat. And you’re right – SO much easier than trying to figure out what they want through crying/grunting/pointing. Very cool. 🙂

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