The role of baby-sign in child development

9 March 2010

The event 'Communicating with Your Baby' has been organised by Professor Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire. Members of her team, Neil Howlett and Dr Liz Kirk, will be sharing their findings on 'baby-sign'- a form of non-verbal communication for infants.

Baby sign language is increasingly popular in the UK. It is based on hand gestures, which enable mothers to interact with their baby before he or she is able to talk. This method means infants can communicate if they are hungry or want to play.

Signing with babies can help some children from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as those from low-income households. Yet the majority of mothers who take their babies to baby-sign classes are well educated and from higher-income households. These babies enjoy a healthy home learning environment so are unlikely to need baby sign. Professor Pine’s research suggests mothers may be 'overcompensating' by buying baby-sign classes or materials.

Professor Pine comments: "We have found that encouraging mothers to use simple hand gestures with their infants can have linguistic and wider non-linguistic benefits for infants, mainly for those who are at risk of language delay, because of social deprivation, low parental education or other factors. It is of prime importance that the outcomes of the research are made available to the community so that interventions are targeted at those who need it."

The event is targeted at mothers, especially those from low income backgrounds who want to bond better with their babies and learn interaction techniques. A speech and language therapist will be there on the day running special 'communicating with your baby' sessions.

Parents will also be given handouts to take away and keep on the benefits of non-verbal communication. Anyone who has questions about Professor Pine's study can talk to the research team on the day.

The organisers have ensured the event is parent-friendly with a special seating area and soft-play zone as well as refreshments and snacks. People are welcome to just walk in from the street and take part in sessions.

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Notes for editors

  1. Communicating with your baby
    • Organiser: University of Hertfordshire
    • Date: Thursday 18 March 10.00 - 16.00
    • Venue: St Albans Town Hall, Market Place, St Albans. AL3 5DJ
    • Audience: General audience
  2. Karen Pine is Professor of Development Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire. Her work has included Sure Start Government funded research to improve communication in low income families.
  3. The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council. It runs from the 12 to the 21 March 2010 alongside National Science and Engineering Week. The Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives - both now and in the future. The aim is to provide insight into research in a variety of formats; from traditional lectures and exhibitions to theatrical performances, film screenings and topical debates. The range of different audiences targeted includes policymakers, business, the media, the general public and students of all ages.
  4. You can now follow updates from the ESRC on Twitter. This includes new funding calls as they are posted, press releases, events and more. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest organisation for funding research on economic and social issues. It supports independent, high quality research which has an impact on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC's planned total expenditure in 2009/10 is £204 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and independent research institutes.