For me, it is sort of a tie between breastfeeding my little ones for between 2 and 3 years each AND signing with my babies. Every once in awhile we have a day where the kids are totally interested in re-visiting signs they have not used in awhile and then I'll see if I can verbally coach them to draw the sign from memory. It's pretty fun to see them come up with the sign even when they thought they couldn't remember it. Then usually what follows is a story I tell them about when they would use that sign or first learned it or words that sounded alike and their sign was the only way I could know for sure what they were expressing. Sometimes I'll have a conversation asking my youngest if he remembers that he used to have mommy's milk and I can see him thinking hard about a time that seems so long ago. Being that I tandem nursed twice, my older two saw me breastfeed plenty and it was quite normalized around our house. They don't necessarily see breastfeeding as being special as they know it is a common way for babies to be fed. However, they do know that most children have not been exposed to sign language and so they enjoy hearing these stories about their earliest learning experiences and how their own language developed. It is sort of fascinating to me that they are so curious about their early access to language.
We have such a short window to provide our baby with the best nourishment for optimum development. We have an equally short window to gain some insight to the inner thoughts of our babies. All too soon they will be talking, almost nonstop and the opportunity to truly see the world from their firsthand perspective disappears. I say firsthand perspective because as any signing parent will tell you, a baby signs what they are discovering and what connections they are making. So these parents are not left wondering what their baby is thinking. As a two year old does not have a filter to their thoughts and speaks what is on their mind, a baby does not have a filter to silently think, but rather they sign what they are thinking. Sometimes they sign to no one in particular, they're just thinking aloud.
I have gone on record to say that if I had been forced to choose ONLY ONE of these two incredibly important gifts, I would choose signing with my babies hands down. And that is a pretty strong statement coming from a recovering breastfeeding Nazi. A term I relinquished because it has negative connotations, I have plenty of friends who didn't breastfeed for various reasons and I myself was never breastfed. My younger sister was breastfed. My mom learned from a relative the importance of breastmilk days after getting home from the hospital with me. When you learn what's best you can't change the past, but just do better with your newfound information. But, I did learn to sign as a baby, as did my sister. I wonder what would be different if I had been breastfed. The fact is, I will never know. All I could do is make the choice to give my babies the two BEST gifts I possibly could in the small window of opportunity available in order to reap all the benefits that each offer.
Tune back in for a comparison of the benefits of singing with your baby and the benfits of breastmilk.
Amberly just shy of her 2nd birthday and Kyle about 5 months old
Joann Woolley is owner and instructor of Sign4Baby in San Diego teaching parents how to communicate with their pre-verbal baby using American Sign Language. With her in depth knowledge of ASL as her first language she takes you beyond just the basics in signing, also filling your parenting tool belt with parenting tips and tricks coupled with signing as a great boundary teaching tool for toddlers. Want to know which signs most parents start with but gets them stuck in the mud? I'll send you that hundred dollar tip for FREE.