Choosing the Right Environment
An environment free from distractions is certainly the best environment in which to learn anything, including sign language. On the other hand, an environment with a lot of stimulation provides many things that can be labeled with signs. The key to striking the right balance is to choose an environment that is free from unnecessary distractions such as the television blaring, another child running through the room, or the incessant ringing of the telephone. There are times when these distractions cannot be avoided, but when possible, keep them to a minimum.Environments for Beginning Signers
When you first introduce signs to your child, any distraction can be problematic. At this point in your signing adventures, you are introducing your baby to more than just the signs themselves. You are demonstrating the concept of signing. He is learning that signing is a form of communication and that he can use it to express himself. If your baby has his mind on something else, he is less likely to pick up the sign or to make the connection between the sign and communication.
For example, imagine that you are feeding your baby a bottle before naptime. You know that he routinely falls asleep during this feeding, so you have gotten into the habit of turning on the television. Unbeknownst to you, however, your baby is watching or listening to the television, too. If that’s the case, he is unlikely to get much out of your sign demonstrations. In addition, if you are engrossed in something else, you may even forget to sign for your baby.For Advanced Signers
Babies and toddlers who have a firm grasp on the concept of sign language will begin to learn signs faster and more easily than they did in the beginning. At some point, it seems to click in their little minds that signing is a way to ask for what they want or to express their feelings or observations. When that happens, they are usually eager to sign, and you will not have to struggle for their attention. In fact, many babies at this stage will point to an object or ask, “What’s that?” because they want you to label it with a sign.
An effective way to help encourage your child’s language development and build his vocabulary is to verbally label everything around you. Household objects, outdoor sights, and people should all be labeled. Once you get into the habit of verbally labeling, it will be easy to then make the sign for the object in addition to speaking the verbal label.
By the time your baby reaches this stage, sign language will have become a routine part of his life and yours. Neither of you will have to think too hard about signing, and both of you will do it out of habit. Because you will not be planning out your signing times, but rather will be doing it all the time, it will be hard to avoid distraction. Instead, if your baby seems distracted while you are introducing a new sign, try to get his attention by calling his name or snapping your fingers. If he is not willing to focus, wait until another time to demonstrate the sign.