Today we bring you an interview with Silvia Bitelli, certified teacher of Baby Sign Language, who will let us know everything about this method which improves communication between adults and children who are not yet able to talk. The original interview is in Italian but we have translated it into Spanish and English. Enjoy!
Silvia Bitelli has a degree in Modern Literature and will be graduating in Primary Education sciences, she is a Baby Sign Language certified instructor (Baby Signs ® Program) and educator of Italian for Foreigners Teaching (DITALS). She works as a teacher of Literature in the secondary school and, since about 15 years, as an au pair and educator of young children; since almost 3 years she uses Baby Sign Language in a daily basis and from a few months she began to lead in Italy the first workshops for families and educators.
- What is Baby Sign Language?
The Baby Sign Language is an extraordinary American method that allows a more complete and effective communication between adults and young children who are not yet able to speak. This is a simplification of the American Sign Language (ASL), which takes advantage of the natural tendency of young children to use signs to communicate and teach them to express with their hands needs, desires and emotions, and thus to be understood more easily by those who care of them.
- Where and when did it start?
The method was established about 25 years ago in America, where some scholars, such as Joseph Garcia, Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn, realized, through interesting research conducted separately, that, as well as deaf parent’s hearing children are already prematurely able to communicate through gestures with their families, also the children of hearing parents could, by teaching them the signs, do the same; For this reason, they have created a simplified sign language, suitable both for the limited fine motor skills of children, and for the ability of hearing adults, who do not normally have the opportunity to use the language of the deaf, to memorize a potentially large number of gestures . The method has been extremely successful and has spread rapidly in many countries of the world; in Italy is unfortunately not very well known yet, but I see with great satisfaction that since I started as a teacher, to spread the word and to encourage its use, the number of households that use the BSL is increasing.
- Who is it addressed to?
The Baby Sign Language is addressed to all those who have the goal of helping a young child in its cognitive, verbal and social growth, especially parents and siblings, but also grandparents, nannies, educators and teachers at kindergarten.
- What benefits can it offer our children and us parents?
The benefits proven by scientific research, that the Baby Sign Language offers children and their families are many, and really important: to communicate through signs helps the child who is not yet able to speak, to reduce his frustration (this means a significant reduction of crying and screaming!) and to build his self-esteem, it allows him to share his experiences and his feelings with adults, strengthening the link with his parents, it provides him with an constant opportunity to improve the eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills; Moreover, contrary to what one might think, it is a tool that greatly helps children learn to speak earlier or more quickly.
- Can it work in a family in which more than one language is spoken?
Absolutely yes, actually for multilingual families it is really advisable, not only to understand the needs of their child, but also to allow him to assimilate faster all linguistic systems to which it is exposed. The Baby Sign Language can, in fact, be considered a “language bridge” linking words that have the same meaning in different languages to a single sign, the child, focusing in a short time on the sign as its point of reference for understanding the meaning of the word, will learn it faster, and just as quickly he will have the ability to express the concept with the gesture until he will also have the ability to verbalize it.
- At what age should we start?
There is no specific age to start, every moment of the first two years of a child’s life has its specific advantages! Personally I recommend to start as soon as possible, even at birth, so that children are exposed for a long time to the use of signs and benefit for a long period; of course, if one starts after the first year of life, it is more likely that the child quickly learns and uses a large number of gestures; it is possible and useful to start even after the child is two years old if he is a “late talker” or if he is exposed to more than one language.
- At what age do children begin to use signs?
On average, children begin to sign around 7-9 months old, some after, some before; it happened to me several times already to see children 6 months old already able to sign one or two gestures, a lot depends on how much and how Baby Sign Language is used by those who take care of children!
- Could you recommend us any book to read more about the subject?
In Spanish you may refer to the book “ Señas con su bebè” by Joseph Garcia, who is considered the “founding father” of Baby Sign Language.
- Are there any courses in Italy that us parents can follow?
Yes, since not long ago! With great satisfaction I can say that since last February, as a certified teacher, I activated with my colleague Paola Castellani, bilingual and English teacher for children, workshops and playgroups in Italian and English to explain to families how to use the Baby Sign Language in both the monolingual and the bilingual perspective. The workshops have already started in Modena and Milan. Starting from autumn, at the request of families and professionals, they will also begin in other cities!