Signs is a very cool idea. I had heard about it before my
daughter was born, and we decided to give it a try when she got the
appropriate age. The basic idea is that many babies reach a point where they have the cognitive capacity for language, but lack the vocal control necassary for spoken language. They do, however, have sufficient motor control to make some sophisticated hand gestures.
I was optimistic, but a bit skeptical about the whole notion. My
primary rationale for being skeptical was that if this really works so
well (allegedly helping prevent tantrums because of improved
communication, increasing early communication with the child, etc.)
why isn't everybody doing it. But, we decided to give it a try.
We probably started signing to her around 6 months, and she seemed
pretty oblivious to it. Then, almost exactly on her first birthday,
she figured her first one out. In the two months since then, her
signing vocabulary has exploded. She has a bunch of spoken words too,
but her signs tend to be much clearer. Sometimes it's not clear if
she's saying "bye-bye" or "buh" (book) twice. When she signs, the
difference between flower (sniffing dramatically), apple (fist to
cheek, with motion), banana ("peeling" your finger), eat (fingers to
mouth), and others is quite apparent.
The fact that she can scoot over to us and sign for "eat" when she's
hungry or tell us at snack time what she wants specifically is
amazing. Without the signs, I'm sure she'd eventually figure out a
word or we'd figure out what she wants just by her general agitation,
but this short circuits all that nicely. Currently, she probably is
picking up a new sign less than a day after we start using it.
So, if you've got a pre-verbal baby, I can't endorse this enough. The
only remaining question is why isn't everybody doing this with