The baby signing has started again in this house.
At six-months-old, my little Roly Poly is starting on solids, which means plenty of practice opportunities for "more" and "eat". We use "more", "eat", "finished" or "all done", and "bottle", at least to start. For most kids "more" goes naturally with "yum!" and "mmm!", so it is an easy first sign to lead the way to language. (Check out this old post about Baby Signing and what I recommend.)
Mealtimes are wonderful periods during the day to reinforce some basic signs. The child is strapped into a chair, focused on getting fed, and the parents are usually sitting next to them at eye level. There is a positive reward (food) for every good attempt. There's no "perfect age" to start baby signs, but I started at about 6-months with both my daughters. (I think that up until 6-months most parents are just trying to get into a rhythm with their child, engage and open/close circles of communication, and embrace coos, gurgles, and squawks. Oh, and get some sleep. And change diapers. And try to sleep.)
Baby signing doesn't necessarily mean your child will be talking by age two, and most kids will leave their signs behind as they start to acquire words. (Click here for speech and language milestones for reference.) However, if your child does end up being a late talker or have language delays, giving them an avenue for communication can only help them down the road.
Signing for older babies and toddlers is more than a way to communicate needs and wants. As your child signs, they are learning the fundamentals of language ~ that we use words to express ourselves, that we receive messages from others and interpret them. Just today a friend mentioned that her son was requesting "more" with sign rather than screaming for more food. (This is a good thing, because 1) he is realizing how to specify exactly what he needs, and 2) parents have been known to go bat-crazy when screaming is the main method of communication.) Regardless of when he learns to speak the word "more", he has learned to be very specific and deliberate in his communication.
Although she is very verbal, I can still prompt my almost-three-year-old from across the room to say "thank you" or "please" to someone; it's like our own secret code without Mom needing to shout "Don't forget to say thank you!" The signs can still serve as a reinforcer as we build language. (Click here for more language expansion strategies.)
As the Roly-Poly learns to eat, and in-between drools on her bib and gurgles to her sister, I will try to reinforce the positive communication I am seeking. She will sometimes lift her hands like she wants to sign "more", but she doesn't yet have the dexterity to coordinate the movement every time. When she does, though, I am quick to reinforce with a spoonful of food, and a corresponding "more!" or "yum". As she gets better, I can mirror her movement, close to my face so my mouth and words are in her line of sight, too. In a perfect situation, at a perfect time, this is what works. (Then there are those "other" times: when the Walkie Talkie is telling a story, the dog is barking, the Roly Poly is spitting all the food back on my face... and I'm shoveling food into her little mouth without much more than a "Yum!" in exchange for her "Phlllbbbpt!!" raspberry of food back at me.)
I'm curious: Did you use baby sign with your children? Did it "work"? Let me know your thoughts...