Monday, July 28, 2008

Baby What's Your sign?

We were at another baby party over the weekend (when you have kids, weekends are never ending birthday parties), and another mom observed that her kid didn't speak as many words as Sophie at that age. She asked whether we did anything "special"?

It's inevitable when you put devoted parents and their offpring in the same room all this comparison takes place, and whilst I TRY not to get too wrapped up in it, I guess it's hard not to when you are bursting with pride at your child's little milestones.

Anyways I told her that whilst I frankly doubted that Sophie is any kind of prodigy, nor would any kind of external stimulus turn her into one, I do think that her language skills have been aided and somewhat elevated by one of the parenting crazes of recent times - Baby Sign language. I say this with great reluctance because I generally try to maintain a healthy skepticism of a good many "make your baby a genius" fads, and in my view, anything that sells itself as boosting my baby's intelligence is probably part of the evil baby business empire.

But at least this stuff has (some) scientific backing. If you are too lazy to read the whole article, just skip to this extract:
The results of the present study, particularly the comparisons between the Sign Training group and the Non-intervention Control group, strongly support the hypothesis that symbolic gesturing facilitates the early stages of verbal language development. In a significant proportion of the comparisons between these two groups, infants who augmented their fledgling vocal vocabularies with symbolic gestures outperformed those who did not. The fact that no such advantage was found for the infants in the Verbal Training group provides reassuring evidence that the superior performance of the ST infants was not simply a function of their families being involved in a language-centered intervention program. The explanation seems to lie instead within the gesturing experience itself.

So I told this mom that my personal experience was that I started signing "milk" to Sophie starting from when she was 6 months old, and it was pretty fun because she signed back almost right immediately. So does it all work? I am not sure, but with Sophie I think it helps to explain her pretty wide vocabulary.

As a random aside- if you want to see what Sophie can or cannot do, you'd have to hang around to long enough to observe it by chance, but I don't have any detailed laundry lists, and I absolutely flat out refuse to make her do party tricks for an audience. There are enough studies that show that getting your kid to "show Auntie Mae how you can clap your hands/ sing a song/ jump through flaming hoops" is just not a good idea in building healthy self-esteem.

On the other hand, there are just certain snippets like that which happen along her learning curve that I found irresistibly cute (okay I recognise that this springs from the maternal urge to show-off, but forgive me here - I do my best to supress it, this is after all a personal blog which serves as my soapbox extolling the benefits of some kooky child raising theory and also a kiddie memory capsule). And this is the one I snap-shot that I want to record: I recently taught her the word "penultimate" the other day, in the context of which staircase step she could jump off. She likes running to her parents and asking "can I jump off this step or this one? Is this one too high?" and so on.. So I told her that the rule is that she can jump off the "penultimate step of any staircase". She got the idea pretty darn quick (when it's related to her favourite activity of jumping off any raised surface, she will get it pronto). She as she was leaping up and down, composed her own little song playing with the words "ran-ultimate, jam-ultimate, sam-ultimate, pen-ultimate!!"... It's cute, but I also think that some of this fairly advanced linguistic play comes from being able to enjoy language and communication from a very early age.

So is it nature or nurture?

The acid test comes with Baby Number 2. Since Sophie has stopped signing a long time ago (we used baby-sign only from 6 months, and starting phasing it out as her speech developed from 12 months). So I cannot remember most of the signs any more. This explains why I am now up way past my bed-time, surfing the web and trying to remember all those damn signs.

I do feel sorry for Baby 2, he/she will definitely not get the entire 1 year of undivided Mommy attention that Sophie did. That also probably means not alot of Baby-signing for Baby 2, so I do wonder how this will make a difference. In any case, I refuse to feel guilty about it. Baby 2 will have something much better that Sophie never had - an older sibling, and that actually gives him/her an edge in social skills, if you believe the research about the effects of birth order on personality. But that is definitely a discussion for another day - Gotta go to bed now!

** post script:

For those of my Mommy friends who ARE going to try baby sign language with their infants, I also want to tell you that for a time (when Sophie was 11 months) she still prefered signing to talking, especially to strangers. I did wonder whether the signing was impairing her language development (despite all the claims to the contrary in the baby-sign community).

However, at 2 years old, I am pretty sure that it didn't hurt, and quite possibly contributed to the fact that she's a chatty little girl in all 3 languages (even if she sometimes mixes them all in the same sentence - e.g. wo yao orange juice si tu plait, bu yao small cup, yao big cup, yao enormous cup, merci).


Xavier said...

What about reading your weekly Economist aloud again?

Randy Hasmidah said...

hey sharon. whats your email address? trying to initiate contact with you...- has, siaec (still remember me?)

sohcool said...

Hi Sharon,
I found a site in french on baby signing. Though I am not going to be a mom yet, baby signing looks fun.

All the best to your second delivery.