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How to Teach Your Baby Sign Language
Violet’s new favorite sign is “music”. Granted, she doesn’t exactly sweep her hand back and forth over her arm as the correct sign language would indicate; it actually looks more like she’s wiping off one hand. But we know what she means, so we affirm she’s signing music by saying the word, “music”, but the real treat is when you start singing her a song to illustrate what the sign means. She laughs and squeals with delight. But I think it’s more than the song, she’s exhilarated by the fact that she is able to communicate.
You too can teach your baby to sign. It’s very easy, and you’ll be amazed at the doors of communication it opens with your child. When I began teaching my first daughter to sign, I was skeptical about all the hype. But I’ve since become a baby signing fan myself. If you’re willing to put forth a small amount of effort, the huge rewards you reap will make you a fan too.
First, let’s dispel a few of the biggest baby signing myths:
1. You don’t need to take a class, read a book, buy flashcards, or watch a video series to sign with your baby.
Many parents shy away from jumping on the baby signing wagon because all the products and information available seem to communicate that signing with your baby must be difficult. This is a myth.
You don’t need to buy any special products or materials to sign with your baby. In fact, you may be able to start immediately after reading this article. Signing with your baby is simple and easy, it does not require large amounts of study or preparation.
2. Baby sign language does not take a lot of time.
Learning to sign with your baby does not mean you have to sit down together each day and have teaching sessions. Signing is something you simply begin to incorporate in the context of your normal day. That’s how your baby is able to learn it the best, actually. When you sign the word “eat” as you ask your child if they want something to eat, again when you give them their food, and again as they’re eating; you’re reinforcing the sign itself and it’s meaning to them.
3. Baby sign language does not inhibit your child’s language development or vocabulary.
Some parents worry that signing with their child will inhibit them from learning to talk. This could not be further from the truth! In fact, signing only affirms to them that they are able to communicate with you- other than through their cries. This encourages them to communicate in other ways. The key is to speak the word you are signing as you sign it. This way, your baby learns the word and the sign. Eventually, when they begin speaking and increase their vocabulary, they will drop the signs as they realize that saying the word is easier and faster.
My oldest daughter said her first word at nine months (other than dada or mama), it was “duck”. By the time she was one, she could sign about fifteen words and say about ten. She is now three and has an amazing vocabulary that includes words such as “chiropractor” and “reflection”.
Baby sign language does not inhibit your child's language development.
The Truth About Baby Sign Language
Here’s the truth that every parent naturally realizes by the time their baby can wave goodbye and point to what they need: children can communicate before they can talk. If you’re a parent, you can probably think of times when your baby was trying to tell you something and you couldn’t figure out what it was. The result of this is frustration for both of you.
Imagine your baby being able to tell you what they need, even though they can’t speak. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know if your one year old was asking for water or milk? If they had a stomachache or their throat hurt? How about if they want to be changed or are tired? All these doors can open to you in the world of baby sign language.
How to Get Started Signing With Your Baby
The great thing about baby sign language is you can learn as you go along. You don’t have to take a class in American Sign Language (ASL) and begin signing everything you say. You take baby steps along with your child. You learn together.
There isn’t a required age that you have to begin baby sign language. If your child is not using words (you can understand) yet, and you would like to communicate better with them, you can start baby sign language. To me, six months is about the earliest you should begin because your child needs basic motor skills before they can sign back to you. However, you can begin as early as you’d like. Just be aware that the earlier you start, the longer it will take for your child to sign back to you, and this can become very discouraging. With my oldest daughter I started when she was five months old, with my youngest, six months. They both did their first sign back at about nine months.
Pick four or five words that are important to your baby, or that you do every day. Many parents find “milk”, “more”, “change”, or “eat” useful words to start with. Or maybe your baby really loves birds. “Bird” would be a great sign for you to incorporate in your first signs with your child. If your baby doesn’t say Mama or Dada, maybe you would like for those to be some of your first signs. This is totally personal to you and baby. Just make sure the few words that you pick are words that you use over and over throughout your day.
Now begin using these signs whenever you say the word. A good method is using the sign and word before, during, and after the action or activity. For example, if “milk” is one of the words you’ll be using, use and say the sign as you offer your baby her bottle or as you recline her to nurse, say and sign it again as she’s eating, and do this one last time when she finishes. This will reinforce the word, sign, and meaning to your child. Do this every time you give your baby milk. It’s easy to understand how this will help your child learn.
You can use actual, ASL sign language motions or make up your own signs. I would encourage you to choose the former. The reasons are that you don’t have to create and remember a new sign every time you want to start a new word and you can look up signs easily to start or remember a word. Another bonus is that your child will be able to communicate with other babies who use baby sign language if they also use ASL. (The majority of parents do.) They could even carry on a basic conversation with a deaf child or adult.
Baby sign language is extremely rewarding.
Don’t Give Up!
The key to signing with your baby is consistency and patience. Use the signs every time you say the word, every day. It will take weeks or months (depending on your child’s age) before he signs back to you. Be aware that your child’s sign will not look exactly like yours, since their motor skills are still developing. So watch for them to use actions similar to the sign you are teaching in its context. “More” may look like they are clapping more than tapping their fingertips together, but if they are doing this for the third day in a row as they finish their snack you’ll realize what they mean. He’s asking for more! When you realize that your child is signing to you for the first time, it will be worth the wait- for both of you.
For a slightly more extensive look at baby sign language I highly recommend the book below, Baby Sign Language Basics. It’s short, and small enough to fit in your purse or diaper bag. If covers much of the basic information about baby sign language as well as a quick dictionary of sixty common ASL signs.
(See the helpful links below to look up signs or get more information.)
- Sign Language Animations: 11 Words About Everyday Items
Why teach children sign language? It helps babies learn to communicate before they can talk, and teaches kids to appreciate a language used by some of the deaf community. Start with these easy signs for everyday items.
- The New Baby Talk
Sign language lets babies communicate long before they can speak -- and may even make them happier and smarter.
- All About Baby Sign Language
Baby sign language can help your child communicate without saying a word.
- ASL dictionary- search for signs and watch quick video clips
- How to Teach a Baby Sign Language | eHow.com
How to Teach a Baby Sign Language. When you teach a baby sign language, you give her an effective way to communicate before she can speak, open the way for a stronger parent-child bond and give her an intellectual headstart, too....