Baby Sign Language
Communicating with Your Baby Through Sign Language can be Simple and Rewarding - For Both of You
Learning to communicate with your child before they can talk (or talk very well) has a number of advantages, not the least of which is reduced frustration for both parent and child because you can understand one another much better.
I'd heard about how helpful signing is for parents and their pre-verbal infant or toddler, but I was intimidated at how to go about learning sign language and teaching it to my daughter. In actuality, with some great resources, teaching my baby to sign was not only much simpler than I'd thought, it was really enjoyable and helpful for both of us. My little girl got to communicate her needs and wants from an early age, and it took a ton of the 'what do you want?' game off of the table. Total win-win situation for baby and parent. While my daughter's a preschooler now, she still likes to sign sometimes, and yes, she has an excellent vocabulary and verbal skills.
In this site you'll read about the benefits of using sign language with your baby, learn how to teach sign language to your child in an easy and fun way, find answers to some frequently asked questions about baby signing, and get more resources about signing with your baby or toddler.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nuttinbutlove/5620620002/
The Benefits of Signing with Your Baby
One of the most immediate benefits for both parents and baby is a lowered amount of frustration in communication. Many of the tantrums and frustration that a toddler experiences have their roots in frustration over not being able to communicate well. For a pre-verbal baby or child who does not yet have a good grasp on verbal language yet, signing is a means to communicate with their parents in an understandable way.
For example, a baby who knows even a few simple signs can clearly communicate whether they want more milk, more water or if they are 'all done'.
Parents who sign with their baby may also experience:
* Deeper bonding with their baby because they have greater insight into their baby's mind
* A higher level of trust from their baby because he or she knows that you understand what he or she is trying to tell you
* Satisfaction. What a great feeling it is to know that you can effectively communicate with your pre-verbal infant
Scientific studies suggest that "typical" children who learn to sign:
* have higher IQ scores
* are better adjusted
* read at an earlier age
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/timsamoff/3836966993/
Does Signing Really Reduce Tantrums?
In my experience, yes. Signing gives young children the ability to express themselves by saying what they want, like milk or a ball, and also how they are feeling --sad, mad, etc. instead of resorting to tantrum behaviors. It doesn't magically eliminate tantrums, but it definitely helps a ton to provide a language that both toddlers and parents can understand even before a child can speak.
Getting Started with Baby Sign Language
Finding a fun, helpful way to learn interactively with your child
I'd heard from other parents about how much signing had helped them in communicating with their babies and toddlers, but wondered about how to learn to sign to be able to teach my daughter. How would I know what signs were best to teach? What method would work well? I found huge books on teaching children to sign, but when would I have time to read them on top of all the other responsibilities of caring for a newborn (and books that went along with those!) Signing is communicating and relating, so it made even more sense to learn in a more interactive way.
One learning method that some friends tried were baby signing classes in our community. Those seemed like fun, but they were both expensive and you only went a few times. While I'm not a mom to plunk her child in front of a video for hours at a time, I found that the Baby Signing Time DVDs by Two Little Hands Productions extremely helpful because they were designed for babies/toddlers and their parents to watch together and facilitated our learning to communicate better.
Signs are taught within the context of catchy songs that are arranged by topic. For example the first song in Baby Signing Time Volume 1 teaches all about signs for some of the most common words you'd use around a baby's mealtime. You and your baby see signs for Eat, Drink, Cracker, Water, Cereal, Milk, Banana, Juice and Finished (All Done) demonstrated both by the warmly appealing teacher, Rachel, and several toddlers. There was another song about pets, one about teaching the sign for 'more', a song about families (mommy, daddy and grandparents), the 'diaper dance' song, and a tune that teaches signing for showing where something hurts. All very useful for everyday life.
One of the nice things is that I could play as many or as few of the songs as I wanted to reinforce the signs that I wanted my daughter to focus on learning at the time, both for me and for her. When you got down to it, watching the Baby Signing Time DVDs with my daughter as an 8-month old initially learning the signs was really a lot more helpful for my learning. Plus, the songs and word picture descriptions of the signs got stuck in my head. I'd find myself singing them in my head (sometimes a bit too much ;), but it made me remember easily so I could use signs naturally when I thought of that word.
At 20 months old, my daughter would sign 'baby' to ask for the Baby Signing Time DVDs every day. At this point in her language development, the signs came more easily for her, and she added new signs to her ASL vocabulary each week. They tended to be centered around her interests, which at that stage were anything having to do with the outside, motion, vehicles, and anything that resembled a ball.
Starting off With Some of the Most Helpful Signs
A Sample of How a Sign is Taught From Baby Signing Time Volume 1. - The sign for 'bird'. The rest of the song, 'The Pets I Love' teaches signs for other common
Other signs taught in Baby Signing Time Volume 1 include: Eat - Drink - Cracker - Water - Cereal - Milk - Banana - Juice - Finished - Mom - Grandma - Dad - Grandpa - Diaper - Potty - More - Bird - Fish - Cat - Dog - Horse - Frog - Hurt - Where
A Sample of How a Sign is Taught From Baby Signing Time Volume 4. - The sign for 'happy', taught in the song 'Can You Feel It'
Other signs taught in Baby Signing Time Volume 4 include: Friend - Play - Share - Nice - Feel - Happy - Laugh - Sad - Cry - Hot - Cold - Yes - No - Me - You - Dirty - Clean - Apple - Pear - Carrot - Peach - Juice - Bubble - Balloon - Telephone - Music - Game.
Your Thoughts on Baby Signing - Please feel free to leave more comments in the guestbook further down the page. I'd love to know what you think.
Will you teach your baby/toddler how to sign?
Taking Things From the Screen Into Real Life
How to make the learning process more fun and integrated into your daily life
Studies have shown that babies learn much better from interactions with real people than from videos alone, so once we (at least I) knew and could use the signs from Baby Signing Time, I started using them in real life.
Rather than just sitting down and having signing practice sessions, I found it easier, less time-consuming, and more effective to just do the signs along with the spoken words in their normal context. My daughter found it a lot more fun to watch mommy's hand while she was talking about what we were doing too.
When it was mealtime, I would tell my daughter that it was time to eat and sign 'eat' at the same time, or ask her verbally 'would you like to eat?' while doing the 'eat' sign. As I'd give her bites of food, I'd say things like 'you're eating!' and sign 'eat', and 'yes, we eat cereal' (of course signing 'eat'). At first, this was a very deliberate action on my part to help me remember too, but after awhile I started signing 'eat' more naturally as I talked with my daughter. After awhile, she caught on, and she started signing 'eat' when she was hungry or in response to my questions of if she'd like to eat, just like the little boy in the photo above is signing 'more' for his dad to give him another bite of rice cereal.
When she learned each sign, she smiled and seemed very happy with herself for learning how to do it, and that mommy and daddy understand her. Of course, sometimes she was happy because the sign got her food or a toy more quickly, but who can blame her? ;)
P.S. in the photo above, the baby is signing 'book'
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/janetmck/7431283972/, used under a creative commons license
More Signing with Your Baby or Toddler
The rest of the Baby Signing Time collection to help your child communicate with you. The animation and music is friendly, fun and helps the concepts stick.
A Toddler Shows What She's Learned from Baby Signing Time
Using a Book to Teach Your Baby to Sign
There are a number of large, thorough, well-organized books that show many of the most helpful signs for babies and young toddlers to learn, and many also give their parents and caregivers tips on teaching signing as well. Personally, though, I think one of the drawbacks to using a book is when you'd have time to read it on top of all the other responsibilities of caring for a baby. Maybe that's just me, but I prefer a more interactive means to learn something myself, and if my child and I are learning together, that's even more efficient and fun.
A big bonus of having a book with lots of signs in it, though, is having a great reference on hand if you're wanting to remember specifically how a sign is done.
Will Signing Delay My Child's Verbal Development?
No. Research has shown that there are no developmental speech delays in hearing children due to signing. In fact, the opposite has been indicated by several clinical studies. Hearing children who sign tend to have a 'jump start' on speaking, since research seems to point to a connection between communication functions of signing and verbal development.
In my personal experience, learning American Sign Language has been fairly similar to learning a new verbal language, but in this case we've had the benefit of some great tools to teach it to very young children, so I've learned the words more quickly and easily. I guess I learn better at a young child's level too. :) If you are interested in reading more, there is a link to a research summary in the 'More about ASL and Signing Section' further down this page which provides more detail about the benefits of signing.
A Parent's Review
"The Baby Signing Time songs are catchy and reinforce the signs for both kids and parents. Rachel's clear, child-friendly descriptions of each sign help you remember how to do them, and her animated delivery catches young childrens' attention. My daughter and I liked watching the other babies sign as well as the cute animation along with the songs featuring Rachel, Leah, Alex and baby Hopkins the Frog."
Why Use ASL (American Sign Language)?
Can't I just make up signs for my child and I to use?
You or your child can make up 'specialized' signs for just your family to communicate amongst each other, and it would help you understand one another. At least one book I read focused on this method of 'signing', which argued that when the child makes up their own signs, they remember them better and use them more. Not only is that assertion is debatable, there are far more practical advantages to using ASL. They also say that ASL signs are harder to learn, which is true in some situations. However, the ASL signs that small children would be most likely to use in everyday life tend to be very simple to do and easy to pick up.
Since ASL is a real language used by thousands and thousands of people, both hearing and deaf, why not give your child the advantage of learning actual words in a second language. Hearing children who sign as babies have an easier transition into communicating with deaf children and adults. You never know what future interests and opportunities that ability could open up....interest in other languages, a job as an ASL interpreter, or an advantage getting a great job which views ASL knowledge as a positive.
The clincher for me about using American Sign Language with my daughter is that she can use it to communicate with people outside her family RIGHT NOW. With the growing popularity of teaching ASL to children, many caregivers, doctors and other families are familiar with common signs. For example, my daughter's favorite lady in our church's childcare knows what my daughter means when she does the ASL signs for 'more' and 'all done', which makes my little girl all the happier there knowing she's understood.
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/hauntedpalace/241961747/
Does My Child Have to Do the Signs Perfectly?
No, many kids start off doing the signs as best they can with what they can do physically. As their fine motor skills develop, their signs can improve. Just keep demonstrating them correctly and encouraging them.
At the right is my daughter signing 'more' with her knuckles rather than her fingertips to ask her grandpa to bounce her in the water again.
The Baby Signing Time videos show real kids signing, and while you can tell what the children are saying, the signs naturally like how a little kid would do them rather than the more precise signing that an adult is capable of. Just like with spoken language, a child can say 'mama' before they say 'mother.'
My daughter (age 4) signing 'fish' at the koi swimming around in this fountain
American Sign Language for Babies and Toddlers - Resources, explanations, research, and backstories
- Awards for Baby Signing Time, Signing Time and Two Little Hands Productions
Daytime Emmy nomination, Parents' Choice, National Parenting Publications Award, Great American Toy Test, and many more
- How Signing Time began...Rachel, Leah, Lucy, Emilie and Alex's story
Read about one mother's journey from adversity to opportunity
- Babies and Sign Language
Has a number of free online resources for teaching your baby or toddler to sign
- Benefits of Learning Sign Language
Signing Time's FAQ's about ASL, teaching your child to sign, and the benefits of signing.
- Research About the Benefits of Signing
Signing Time's compilation of clinical research about signing with hearing children
Signing Time is designed for children ages 1-8, but it's a very fun, effective way to introduce anyone to ASL
Now in preschool, my daughter is completely engaged by these videos. For that matter, so am I. It's an easy way to learn a second language that expands her vocabulary, word usage and builds some great pre-reading skills. I'm excited to see where they take us. We've also used signs for words like 'please' and 'thank you' as silent reminders for her to say them in social situations.
So far, her favorite episodes of Signing Time have been the ones with animals (Leah's Farm and Zoo Train) as well as ABC signs. Big plug for ABC signs: a FANTASTIC alphabet song where Rachel teaches the ASL alphabet along with words that begin with each particular letter. The song's incredibly catchy, funny and vocabulary-building all at the same time. My family has a lot of inside jokes based on it, so you can guess how many times we've watched that video and have signed the alphabet.
Below I've got just a tiny sample of the Signing Time videos (there are several seasons of the show that cover topics such as school signs, around the neighborhood, food, etc., etc., etc.) They also offer alphabet and number practice videos that mix up the questions/activities to help kids learn.
Learning the Alphabet with Signing Time
photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/29224712@N08/2755905578/