I don’t know what it is about sign language for toddlers that kind of turns me off. I guess, as a linguist, I can’t quite get behind teaching little people just figuring out how language works gestures that so many of the population can’t understand. I have this mental image of Tess walking up to stranger or a family friend and frantically making a gesture and getting no response or understanding – having them think it’s just kinda cute.

So we’re at therapy yesterday and her physical therapist kept pushing sign language. Up til now I’ve avoided it pretty gracefully, but as Tess has recently entered speech therapy (just on the fringes), I find myself without a leg to stand on. I unwillingly found myself holding a snack while making the


gesture at my daughter. I don’t know quite how that even happened but here we are. Tess, when seeing any gesture, shakes her head adamantly no and looks furious. I don’t blame her! We’re teaching her how to go up and down stairs, what to wear, and are now demanding her she make “sound” signals at us?

There’s so much to learn as a small toddler and so much to learn as a small toddler in three forms of therapy, but it just seems like one additional unnecessary level of work for her. I’m all about Tess learning everything and communicating with anybody she can, but this seems like a fad. She doesn’t have a hearing issue and she isn’t going to learn enough to really speak with anyone. She’s simply learning a small collection of signals so that I can say Tess signs, and that feels very inauthentic and unproductive.

I’m going to say something terrible: I feel like signing for toddlers just came into effect for parents who were impatient for their children to speak. We live in a world where raising children is a competition, and any delays or unusual growth patterns are seen as parental failure. I guess watching Tess learn and grow leaves me feeling that we’re not failing. Tess thrives. Tess is learning every day and astounds us with how quickly she picks things up. Who’s to say she should be speaking right now?

I have been crazy at work so maybe this is just my grouchy side. No one would be surprised by that, but that’s my take on things. We’ll see – maybe she’ll end up loving signing and I’ll feel like an idiot. It wouldn’t be the first time. Still this time I feel like I’m giving in and not making a choice. That’s not how I want to parent.

On a happier note? We ran into neighbors yesterday who switched to French when they heard me speaking with Tess. Tess is smart; she noticed. I love my neighborhood.

We took the kids to family dinner, Irishfest, hung out with Sassy, went to the park – we’re getting the most out of the last days of summer. And the kids don’t seem to mind one bit!


5 thoughts on “Signs

  1. Interesting, how is ASL really different from teaching her English and French? It’s just fundamentally another language, correct?

    • Honestly? It’s a language I don’t speak and have no community to reinforce. I want her to be be multilingual, but I’m dying trying to incorporate French. A language I’m unfamiliar with in addition to French? The bar’s too high.

  2. Sassy says…. There is a limit to parents and children’s abilities to focus energies and thought Tess is working very hard to. Catch up as well as learn to communicate in two languages. Personally, really? I think that’s pretty azing! Why in the world would one complicate that with a third language in any form? Cut this kid some slack. She is amazing. Tess is catching up in physical and verbal ability but its work. I would not for one second consider allowing a therapist to add to this educational load.
    Tess needs to focus on a strong base in her current curriculum She is a delight and loving with spirit and rebellion matched only by maggeys!
    I cannot. Hold my thoughts… Much as I would like to….
    Much love, sassy.

  3. I totally agree. Children are naturally curious, they will definetely learn whatever suits them and their surroundings at their very own pace. May not apply to teenagers. ;-D

  4. Personally, I found sign language with my baby sisters to be a blessing! Their motor skills developed faster than their verbal skills and sign language was a way that they could adequately communicate their basic feelings, wants, and needs instead of just crying and hoping we would guess what was wrong.

    That being said, I absolutely believe that there is no one way to do things and what works for one parent may not work for another. So, take a deep breath and give sign a fair try. It may be frustrating at the get-go, but if it helps Tess communicate with you while her verbal skills are still developing then great! If not, then at least you gave her the option of a useful language tool to try and it’s okay to drop it if/when it is no longer useful. (Some of our family -including Rose- still use sign language from time to time to communicate basic stuff across a noisy or crowded room.) But, ultimately, just do what works best for you and your children… and no matter what, you still have amazing children! 🙂

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