Have you found yourself unsure of what your baby wants or needs? Baby sign language can help you and your baby communicate before they start talking. 

What is Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language refers to the use of a limited vocabulary of modified gestures from American Sign Language (ASL). The signs typically taught to hearing infants and toddlers are different from the signs taught to children with a hearing impairment. Baby signs enable babies to express wants and needs that are typical of children this age, as well as to identify objects and events infants and toddlers frequently encounter and experience. Signs such as “milk,” “more,” “eat,” “all done,” and many others, are common signs taught to young children. 

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Illuminating Child Care Using Baby Sign Language

Infants and toddlers in our Illuminating Child Care mobile classrooms are learning baby sign language and so can you! The infant teacher has started teaching the words “more,” “all done,” and “eat” to the infants in our program. Teachers practice these signs in all of our routines throughout the day, especially during feeding times. The babies in our care haven’t mastered these signs yet, so we’ll continue to practice until they can do them independently. 

Living Your Best Life With Baby Sign Language

Research from the National Institute of Health shows there are many potential benefits to teaching sign language to a baby, such as less fussing, a closer relationship between parent or caregiver and child, and positive cognitive development. 

    • Less Fussing. Babies may react with tantrums and meltdowns when they can’t communicate with their caregiver. Baby Sign Language allows babies to communicate what they want and need, which reduces frustration for caregiver and child and leaves more time for the caregiver and the child to play and interact positively together. 
    • Stronger Parenting Relationships. Research from the Early Childhood Research Quarterly showed that signing allowed parents to feel closer to their child and increased their confidence about parenting.  
    • Cognitive Benefits. A longitudinal study performed by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn found that children who used baby signs as two-year olds continued to outperform non-signing children at age eight, including a 12 point IQ advantage and stronger skills in vocabulary development, sentence construction, and reading. 

Let’s get started!

    1. Familiarize yourself with basic signs. Learn the signs you would like to teach your baby. Resources can be found in books and websites. Teach your baby signs that are relevant and meaningful, such as more, drink, eat, all done, or pacifier. 
    2. Start at an early age. A great time to start teaching a baby signs is when they are 6 months old, but you can teach a baby signing at any age. Most babies, however, won’t begin to start signing on their own until around 8 months of age. 
    3. Model using the signs in everyday life. For example, if your child wants another bite of food, say “more” while modeling the sign, and then give your child another bite of food as reinforcement. Continue to model using this sign every time your baby asks for more food. 
    4. Keep lessons short and sweet! Teaching your child to sign is intended to decrease frustration, so make sure to keep lessons to only about five minutes each. Make it a fun activity with a ton of positive reinforcements. 
    5. Allow the baby to set the pace. It is important not to overwhelm your baby with learning too many signs at once. Be sure to only teach 3-5 signs at a time. Once the baby masters those signs, you can add a few more. 
    6. Stay patient. The goal of baby sign is to provide another form of communication, not to be fluent in sign language. Follow your child’s lead and try not to get discouraged if your child uses the signs incorrectly or doesn’t start using them right away. Continue to work with your child and communicate with them using signs and spoken language daily. 

Practice at Home

    1. Show your baby the sign while saying the word, then help them to make it with their hands. 
    2. Once your child is able to perform the sign, ask them to show you the sign then give them 5-10 seconds of time to process the request. If she doesn’t perform the sign within 10 seconds, gently help them to make it with their hands and then reward them! 
    3. Always offer a reward or positive reinforcement when your child performs a sign with your help and independently. 
    4. Model the sign and say the word again as reinforcement after your baby performs the sign. 

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