As with all our children and grandchildren, the newest, born Jan. 31, is above average. But even she startled her parents the other day. They asked, “Let’s get ready to take a bath. Okay?” She babbled back a distinct “Okay.” Her first spoken word. She may not say it again for a year, but she said it once.
Babies communicate, first and foremost with their variation of cries. Secondarily, they voice their preferences through their motions, turning their head away from unwanted food, pushing or pulling with their hands and stiffening their bodies in protest.
One of my favorite baby pictures has our four-day old grandson scowling in protest, flinging his little hand against his mother’s fingers reaching to wake him up for a picture taking session. He communicated loud and clear, “let me sleep!”
The introduction of baby sign language provides parents with a new twist for understanding pre-verbal one-year-olds.
My friend’s grandchild created his first sign. He bounced up and down to say, “Play some music so I can dance, Mom.” She taught him to sign “more” for food and to stick out his tongue repeatedly for “frog.” Recently, she has begun to introduce him to colors. When she asked him, “what is green?” He surprised her and repeatedly stuck out his little tongue.
“Why, that’s right. Frogs are green.”
He likes frogs. When his nursery worker wore a green frog on St. Patrick’s Day, he pointed it out and signed “frog.”
My daughter’s son likes chickens and birds – for days after learning the sign for chicken, he flapped his bent arms every time he saw a bird outside the window.
Teaching a child sign language takes time and attention on the part of the adults, but it saves a lot of frustration for both. Our 17-month-old grandson opens and shuts his hand to ask for food. His mother likes knowing what he wants, but insists, “Okay, but say, ‘please’.” To sign ‘please’ he is supposed to rub his chest – he usually rubs his belly and looks at the food hungrily.
Sometimes, a child just needs to point to communicate. My friend read to her grandchild one evening using only a small lamp. Astonished, he looked at her and then looked up at the ceiling lights and pointed.
“Yes, we need more lights,” she agreed and reached for the light switch.
Even little children enjoy books. Back during the holidays, our toddler’s favorite cardboard book had a picture of Santa Claus. Now any picture of Santa or the question, “What does Santa say?” elicits a low, “ho, ho,” from this knee-high person.
That same book has a picture labeled ‘smile.’ My daughter showed him ‘smile’ with her face a few times. The next day I visited and he again read his favorite book. At that page, he stopped, stared at the ‘smile’ picture and several times pulled his mouth up and down into a smile.
We teach our children much through our personal actions. Carolyn Smith, Norphlet sent me the following story about reading to her grandchild:
When one of my granddaughters was very small we had a book about animals. We would look at it together but whenever we got to the pages about snakes I would simply turn the page not saying anything and go to the next animals.
When she was a little older she said to me “Nana, I did something today you are not going to like.”
I said “Whatever could that be?”
She said, “I looked at a snake.”
Her granddaughter had watched and she had learned, just as any child does. My three-year-old granddaughter watched her older siblings reading and doing their work for home schooling.
One day she asked her mother, “how do you read?”
Her mother explained about letters and words.
The child’s face lit up with understanding, she began listening closely to ABC books.
Someday soon she too – another one of our above-average grandchildren – will be reading and taking another step along the path of communication.
(Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org)