Why Use Toddler and Baby Sign Language?

Baby points at an object when he sees or wants something.

Image by chadguy, Stock.xchng
Image by chadguy, Stock.xchng

Baby and toddler sign language is not really a new idea among parents and their baby or toddler. In fact, it's the most natural form of communication that occurs between them. When a baby or toddler wants something, he usually uses his hands to get his message across.

I have a 1 1/2-year old daughter right now and she's very talkative. However, her words are still incomplete; sometimes she just uses syllables which I could decipher depending on her context of usage. These are just some of the hand signs I see her using. When she wants to be picked up, she lifts up her hands in the air. If she wants something, she uses her finger to point at the object. If she wants a hat, for example, she puts his hands on his head as if putting on a hat.

Two researchers by the name of Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn took notice of this baby instincts and saw a compatibility with American Sign Language (ASL). They further researched about it and so 'discovered' and developed baby sign language. Today, there are lots of books and products like flashcards and videos in the market that are aimed at teaching this system of communication. There are even daycare centers and special classes that teach baby sign language.

Baby communicates with his hands.

Image by Deniz Ongar, Stock.xchng
Image by Deniz Ongar, Stock.xchng

Benefits of Using Baby and Toddler Sign Language

Pre-verbal communication

Ever wonder what your baby is thinking or crying about? I think every parent has been in this dilemma. Because the baby has not yet fully developed her speech and language skills, he cannot express himself clearly. However, he has already developed the muscles in his hands, so babies can learn to communicate with their hands. Teaching them sign language is possible as early as 6-8 months.

Lesser stress and frustration

When the baby expresses a need but fails to receive it, his tendency is to cry and throw tantrums. That is very unhappy moment for baby and a very frustrating and stressful time for mom and dad. But if the baby has learned to communicate using sign language, he is quickly understood and his needs are easily met.

Intellectual Development

Babies who used sign language are found to have increased communication skills and vocabulary, increased interest in books and enhanced cognition. There was also a story about the hearing siblings of deaf children who learned to read even before going to school. It must have been due to being exposed to the signing and finger spelling. They were making the connection between manual letters and printed letters thus learning to read earlier.

Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn also compared in a study the IQ of 8-year old children who had signed as babies with those that didn't. The results showed that children who had signed had IQs 12 points higher than those who had not signed.

Closer child-parent relationship

Every moment spent teaching the child sign language is a moment spent strengthening the bond between parent and child. Moreover, when there is an effective communication between the baby and parent, the number of positive interactions (meeting child's needs) goes up and the number of negative interactions (crying and tantrums) goes down. When this happens, both feels more connected to each other.

How to teach your baby and toddler sign language

If you want to teach your baby or toddler to use sign language, no prior special knowledge is required. But you do need to know what are the signs you will use for signing words. You may use free online baby sign language dictionaries (please refer to the resource links below) or you may want to buy baby sign language flashcards (you can also make your own flashcards, please refer to the video below).

Here are 5 tips for teaching baby sign language:

1. Introduce one sign at a time when the child is less than a year. Build his vocabulary as he grows. Up to 3 signs can be taught at a time when the child is over one year old. He can actually learn about 40-60 words by or before the time he begins to speak.

2. Speak and sign at the same time. This way he is learning not just the sign but the verbal expression that goes with it. This also encourages 2-way communications.

3. Use signs in context. Make it a part of daily routine. For example when he is playing, you may teach him the signs of play, ball, airplane and the like.

4. Be consistent and remain committed. The baby will not learn the sign immediately and he may not do it exactly as you would but with consistency, you will be surprised the moment he responds with a gesture using baby sign language.

5. Have fun! Don't forget to make it a fun activity. This will make learning more encouraging.

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Comments 6 comments

Chin chin profile image

Chin chin 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Thanks Debbie for reinforcing the benefits of using baby sign language. God bless.


Debby Bruck profile image

Debby Bruck 6 years ago

Hi Chin Chin ~ I recommend this whole heartedly. I'm sure your little ones communicate and feel satisfied and accomplished with their ability to talk through their hands and have their needs met in a timely fashion. Won't mommy be happy too! Blessings, Debby


Chin chin profile image

Chin chin 6 years ago from Philippines Author

Tamarajo and Shawna, thanks for sharing how you were able to use baby sign language. Though my 22-month old daughter is now very talkative, I'm glad that she does use even the little sign language we've learned together. It is really recommendable that parents use this for their little ones who aren't speaking much yet.


shawna.wilson profile image

shawna.wilson 6 years ago from Arizona

I have used basic sign language with each of my kids, and it has been SOOOO helpful. Mostly we've used the signs for more, please, eat, drink, and thank you. It's so nice to have a way to communicate when they aren't verbal yet. Great information!


Tamarajo profile image

Tamarajo 6 years ago from Southern Minnesota

All my granddaughters are learning sign language. It began with our oldest granddaughter who had some developmental delays. Out of necessity we began learning some sign language. We have discovered that it is useful for all little ones and really does eliminate a lot of frustration for them. It is also nice to know that it helps with their intellectual development.

very useful hub. I hope those with little ones will try it. there are many useful baby signing videos out there now too.


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 6 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

They use this here in some day cares. Good idea.

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