Monday, July 6, 2009

call for very young volunteers

I have a co-worker who has a little daughter who is about a year and a half old. She's at the daycare center that our company has at our work location, so I've seen her daughter on occasion - cutest thing. I was asking the co-worker about the daughter the other day, and she said that her daughter was learning quite a bit of sign language, and that it was really cute when she used it. She knew words like "more" and "want" and such. She mentioned that it's much more convenient for her daughter to be able to communicate even before she can really speak because she can at least convey some of what she wants. The co-worker said that sometimes, kids can bite because they're frustrated because they can't really talk yet and can't get their thoughts across.

I found that to be a really interesting point. And it made perfect sense. And I thought, hey, Orkid does that too - she tends to bite when she wants something but can't convey to us what she wants, and we're not picking it up from her simply walking around and meowing, so she can bite in frustration. However, I don't think I'm going to be able to manage to teach her sign language. Other than that I don't know it (though I'm sure I could learn), I don't think her little paws are manipulatable (Is that a word?) enough to be able to form sign language letters and words. Pity, because it would really help to be able to communicate with her better.

But the concept of teaching sign language to children still fascinates me. They weren't into doing that when my siblings had young kids, so I don't have any experience with that. I can understand teaching children signs for finite things, like "milk" and "food" and "sleep" and such. When my siblings' kids were little, I would teach them various things pretty much by rote and repetition, but that still mostly consisted of actual objects I could show them. I suppose the exceptions would be "please" and "thank you", which are abstract concepts, but that was really a matter of training. They didn't know what those words meant, but they knew that if they said it before or after receiving something, they'd get what they wanted. OK, well, really, it's more accurate to say that they made sounds that sounded like those words because at the point where they were learning that, they couldn't really speak yet. They just knew that making those sounds at certain times generally got them what they wanted.

But how do you teach a child the concept of "more" or "want" enough to be able to even teach them the sign language for that? That's what baffles me. When I was in college, I took a sociology and psychology class, and one of the sections was on child development. When I came home on break, I had a convenient little test subject there - my niece. There was a section about when kids realize that the child in the mirror is actually them, but before that, they just think it's another child - kind of like parrots, but parrots never realize it's their own reflection. There's also the concept that if you don't see something, it doesn't exist, so if you have a ball and then put a cup over it, they don't realize it's under the cup and just think it's gone. But at some point, they do figure out that if they just pick up the cup, the ball is right there.

Well, the siblings' kids are too old to use as test subjects now, and I don't have any friends with really young children that I have access to on a regular basis where I could try out/watch this sign language thing in action, so if anyone wants to volunteer a test subject for me to observe, I'd really appreciate that. Thanks.

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