Some Reflections on Baby Signs

I have been using sign language with Jonah since the day he was born. In the hospital I signed to him “milk” (for nursing) “I love you” and “Mommy.” The only two that he has started using are “milk” and “all done.” When we introduced bottles to him, I also introduced the sign for “drink.” We used “milk” for nursing and “drink” for bottles and sippy cups. The idea was, I was going to continue to nurse Jonah as long as he wanted, but the bottles will soon be completely replaced by sippy cups. So it made sense to use a different sign for nursing, but the same for bottle and cup. Jonah has overthrown that idea, though. He has decided to use “milk” for every vessel that holds drinks – bottles, sippies, and big people’s cups. They all illicit the “milk” sign from him. I am a little perplexed at this, as he’s never seen the sign paired with any of these things. This shows a great deal of spontaneous thought from his little mind. He was already using the sign for nurse when we switched to the bottle, so I’m sure that he made the connection between nursing and bottles, and then generalized it to sippies etc. It just amazes me, even though I know the probable psychology behind it. One of the great joys in my life is watching children learn, and now that I can watch my son go through these wonderful processes, it is even more miraculous.

The past couple of weeks, Jonah has really been refining the sign “all done.” He’s come up with two versions that he uses. For one, he holds both of his hands up, about to his head level. Sometimes he wiggles his fingers and sometimes he just holds his hands up.

The second version, he holds just one hand straight up, high above his head. I think that this second variation came about because I sometimes only have one hand available to sign, so two handed signs become one handed.

And here is a video of the sign, after we were done putting sunblock on to go outside:

Today, Jonah tried the sign “apple” as he ate freeze dried apple dices. I was surprised, because it was the first time that I tried the sign with him. He was doing well with the apples, so I said to him “You’re eating apples today!” and did the sign when I said the word. A few moments later I said “You like those apples!” and again did the sign when I said the word. This second time, Jonah tried to mimic my action, making a fist and touching it above his ear. Then he smiled, and went back to eating. Sometimes it seems like when he is mimicking my signs, he is playing a game. Like “peek-a-boo” or “so big.” A social mimicking game, that gets a reaction from others. I am hoping that this game turns into the basis for language and communication.

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  • The video portion did not work out, so I will post the link here

  • Hi Jess,
    you know the mixing of the two signs for milk? My friend gave me an insight into that – the sound inside his head! When he is drinking, whatever it is from – breast, bottle, sippy – he is suckling, so inside his head he hears the same sound, and thus uses the one sign to represent them.

    How cool is that? Do you think that is an explanation?

    My friend was telling me how when her daughter wanted booju she would make this odd shushing sound – her Mother then worked out what the sound represented – the sound of her drinking Mommy’s milk!