How To Teach Your Baby Sign Language
by: Nicole Dean
The word is spreading. Sign language is a great way to communicate with
pre-verbal babies and toddler. New moms everywhere are grabbing American Sign Language books and absorbing them feverishly. Pregnancy classes are full of moms teaching each other basic sign language and day care centers across the country are training their teachers in sign language.
Why would you do such a thing?
Some of the benefits of signing are:
Less frustration for baby – Imagine how it feels to grunt and point and
not be able to ask for what you want. Put yourself in your baby’s shoes.
You’re a baby. You’ve been playing and squealing and laughing and now
your mouth is dry and you’re really thirsty for milk. You grunt and
point and whine for milk — and your mother misunderstands and gives you
a dry cracker instead, thinking you’re hungry for a snack. You feel very
frustrated and possibly angry. You might even throw the cracker back at
your mother or hit her out of frustration. What if, instead, you could
simply sign milk and get milk? Pure bliss!
Bonding with Parents – Babies who sign are able to interact and be
acknowledged at a younger age. Picture you and your baby looking at a
book about elephants. She can show you that she understands the story by
signing “elephant” to you well before she could say the three syllable
word “elephant”. You know that your baby understands and is benefiting
from the story and you can respond “yes, it is a big elephant”, thereby
rewarding her for her efforts.
Sibling bonding – Older siblings are given the tools to bond with their
new brother or sister sooner, because the baby can sign, well before
speech is possible. Not only is there a bond, but I’ve witnessed a sense
of camaraderie because the older sibling can act as an interpreter for
the baby in situations with non-signing adults.
How to start
You may, at this point, feel overwhelmed. After all, you are learning a
second language — with no one to teach you. Please don’t worry. First
of all, you only need to learn a few words to being signing with your baby.
Begin with 4-6 words — choose a few words that are of importance to you
(words that will make your life easier, like eat, milk, more, etc.) and
also choose some that are of interest to your baby (for instance,
airplane, ball, book, dog, cat, baby, etc.). This ensures that both of
you are rewarded for your efforts.
Once you choose a few words, you can begin signing whenever you say
those words. When your baby cries, you say “Do you want milk?” Then,
sign milk at the baby’s eye level so she will begin to associate the
cause and effect and realize hands MEAN something!
At what age should you start? You can start from birth on. The earlier
you start, the more time you, as the parent, will have to get
comfortable signing. Babies 6 months and older will begin to watch your
hand movements. Babies 8 months old may begin to make very rudimentary
attempts to sign back to you. By one year, your baby will likely be
If you have an older baby or toddler who is having frustration issues or
is a late talker, begin signing. Start today. Toddlers pick up signing
Don’t think you have to learn an entire language for this to work. Just
learn one sign today and get started. Enjoy the gift of communicating
with your baby!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicole Dean is the owner of www.showkidsthefun.com/baby.html , a fun
resource for parents to spend time with their children.
For more help getting started signing, check out SIGN with your BABY
Complete Learning Kit (link to http://www.showkidsthefun.com/signkit.html )
I am a preschool and primary school teacher and mum to 3 children. I have been involved in education since 1997 and have trained in a variety of educational specialist areas. It is with this expertise that I write articles to help parents and educators provide quality learning experiences for the children in their care.