Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Conversations With My Toddlers -- by Laura Houston

I taught my boys American sign language to help them communicate at an early age. It was a wise thing to do because it boosts their confidence and eliminates a lot of frustration in expressing what they want or need. When Lyle and Wyatt were about 12 months old, they could ask for milk, food, and sometimes water. They knew when I made the sign for “bed” or “sleep” that a nap was coming, and they broke out in a chorus of tears if they were not ready to go.

Now they sign with verve, and it’s amazing to watch them differentiate between words like “more,” “please” and “want.” I can see gaps in their understanding between the words “more” and “food.” When they ask for more, they get food. So when they are hungry, they sign “more.” And when they sign they want a “bath” it can mean three things: they really do want a bath, they have pooped their diaper (I often gives baths after a serious diaper blowout), or they want to be naked (because both of them hate wearing clothes, and they don’t have to in the bath.)

Lyle is forming sentences with his signing. It can be a lot of work for me to figure out what he is saying. He’ll say a word like “more” and then point. He’s not really pointing to anything he wants. He’s practicing pointing. I can only know this when I point where he is pointing, and then he points somewhere else.

They both enjoy trying their hand at sentences in sign language. Our conversations go like this:

Wyatt: Want. More.

Me: You want more what?

Wyatt: More.

Me: More milk?

Wyatt: Change.

Me: You want your diaper changed?

Wyatt: More. Change.

Me: “Yes we can!”

Wyatt: More. Change.

Me: Well, we thought we could. But now we have a shift in Congress.

Wyatt: More. Change.

Me: I’m afraid with the recent extension of tax cuts you’re going to be paying off our deficit long after I’m dead and gone.

Wyatt: More. Change.

After explaining to him the finer points of our democratic process, I finally figure out that he is not asking for his diaper to be more changed, he is asking for the little musical radio I give him to play with when I am changing his diaper. I hand it to him, and he toddles away happy.

Lyle: Dog. Ball.

Me: Do you want to play with the ball?

Lyle: No.

Me: Dog? Ball?

He slaps his thigh, the sign for dog, and he makes the sign for ball again.

Me: Ball? More? Or shoe? (These signs are similar.)

Lyle: Ball. Dog. Ball.

It turns out the dog ball is a Kong toy I gave the boys to play with, and they have watched me and other people play fetch in the park with their “dog ball.” So I got on my hands and knees and crawled around looking for the Kong. I found it, and he clapped his hands to signal his satisfaction.

Teaching them sign language has taught me how they associate words with entire activities. When they are really hungry, they sign for food, and they know this means being placed in the high chair and receiving a complete meal. When they want a snack, they know “more” means I will grab the little plastic container of crackers or cookies and let them dip their hands in for a quick bite to eat. To them the sign for water means anything from juice to milk to water. It’s a crapshoot, and they’ll take what I give them.

My favorite sign is “play” because when I am getting them ready to go outside and go to the park, they wave their hands back and forth with the sign for “play.” If I skip the park and head out on an errand first, they pop their fists out and make the sign again to remind me. I like this word because it is a difficult concept for a child to understand. They don’t comprehend that they get to play at home. To them "play" is being outside, running around, and being free.

And I can so relate to that right about now.



Blogger Karen du Toit said...

Very interesting! I wished I had taught my toddler a bit of sign language...

12:27 PM  
Blogger Cara Meyers said...

I taught my son American Sign Language through a course my son and I went to from the time he was 8 months old until age 4 when the sign language instructor cut down on her classes to write a book and produce a video.

Looking back, and now knowing my son has Auditory Processing Disorder and is a visual learner, I can understand why he did so well with ASL. He was speaking words at the same time as he was learning ASL, but many times he would sign when he could speak. He saw a mural on the wall in a big play center and started signing "boat." It took me 5 full minutes to find that darn boat as he was frantically signing.

He still knows some signs to this day, and with his Auditory Processing being so severe, perhaps we may have him take classes for ASL in the future if reading and writing continue to be a stumbling block for him. But for now, his reading and writing are slowly improving, so ASL is not necessary at this point.

I'm glad you are enjoying it with your sons! I enjoyed it with my son as well!

1:55 PM  

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