ASL or American Sign Language has long been used by the deaf community. Recently, parents have begun learning about the benefits of using sign language with hearing infants and toddlers. Babies can learn to form signs long before they can form words to speak. By exposing your infant to common signs used every day you are giving him or her a way to express their wants and needs.
I began signing with my son when he was about 6 month old. He started signing at 8 months old. Imagine my excitement when he enthusiastically signed "more" after finishing all the rice Krispies on his high chair tray. Now imagine his delight when I actually understood him and poured more krispies on his tray. The next few signs came quickly and were used often, "milk", "Mom", "Please", and Hungry" The next major development occured at around 12 months when he started stringing signs together to form sentences. I was surprised and delighted when he told me with sign: "hurt" "head" "medicine" Cool, now I knew why he was fussy, he had a headache! A dose of tylenol and within 1/2 hour he was feeling much better. Another time he signed: "hot", "change". He was hot and wanted to be changed! Let me tell you, being able to understand your little one is amazing. It certainly curbed the whining, grunting and pointing, he simply signed what he wanted, of course he still got upset when the answer was not, but that is unavoidable and at least I know why he was crying!
There are other benefits to sign as well. Some parents are worried that teaching a child sign language will delay the child's speech. Studies show that the opposite is true, children who are exposed to sign language at an early age have larger vocabularies once they hit school, and I definately believe it. I don't know what the average 3 year old's vocabulary is like, but my son is regularly using words like acceptable, disgusting, suitable, fantastic, etc. He can also count to 50 in english, 30 in Japanese and 20 in ASL. Not bad for a 3 year old.
I have noticed other benefits as well, I can communicate with my children through a window or from across the room, no more yelling or mouthing instructions, I simply sign. (My 8yo daughter is fluent in ASL as well.) My son's fine motor skills have always been very advanced, and I think it is from the sign language. He has been holding a pencil in the proper tripod grip since he was 18 months, he can use scissors properly and can now colour within the lines (for the most part)
I highly recommend starting teaching your children American Sign Language. A great resouce is the signing time series. We have volumes 1-12 and both kids love them. I'll review them shortly. Check out their website at signingtime.com
Update On Dec 07, 2010: My children recently met a young boy who is very hard of hearing and thanks to ASL, they can easily communicate with him. Unlike the other children who struggle to understand what he is trying to convey, my kids easily understand and reply using ASL. This may not seem like a big deal to many people, but imagine his delight at understanding and being understood. Priceless.