Friday, October 7, 2011

Baby Signing

I've had quite a few people ask me lately about the whys and hows of baby signing, so I thought I'd do a post on it, hoping it will be useful for other moms.

Why? I first decided to try baby signing with my first son because I read that boys are more likely to have delayed speech development.  I also found in my own experience that my children can cognitively think through what they want to express before they have the verbal skills to express their needs.  Teaching them a few key signs has been really helpful because it has allowed them to communicate their needs to me sooner than if we just relied on verbal communication.
When? You can start communicating with gestures and signs as early as you like.  Each child is different.  I would think that it wouldn't do very much to sign to a baby younger than eight months.  Give it a try around then.  As soon as your baby seems aware that you are trying to communicate with him/her.  Your baby will recognize the signs before they are able to do them themselves.  Most babies won't start signing until about age one.  Remember babies and children (like adults) can't learn anything when they are crying and frustrated.  Sign when they are quiet and attentive.

How? There are many resources for people interested in signing with their children.  In the board-book selection of almost any library you will find baby-signing books.  Be aware, however, that some of the books teach "baby signs" that they made up, as opposed to teaching American Sign Language.  You can, of course, make up any sign that you wish and assign it a meaning.  If you do this, you have the benefit of choosing a movement that your baby already had the muscle memory for (for example, rubbing the eyes you can teach means "tired").
The easiest way is probably to go to an online ASL dictionary, where you can watch the sign being done.  That way you can look up words and signs as you need them, and you have the benefit of watching a video of someone signing the word so you can be sure to do it right.  This is a good baby signing website that has videos of useful words where they seem to use the correct signs.

What? The words I have found most helpful are: "please" (believe me, a baby signing please is much better than screaming and pointing!), "milk" (this one saves some embarrassment in public places when my 15 mo old wants to nurse!), "thank you," "food," "more," "bath," "book," "hot," "cold," "hurt," "bed," "ball," and lots more.  If your baby enjoys signing, there are lots more signs you can learn, like animals, foods, etc.
Signing with my babies has been a really wonderful thing for our family.  It has eliminated lots of frustration on the part of both babies and parents when a baby is trying to communicate and doesn't have the tools.  Benjamin is about fifteen months right now, and while he only speaks a handful of words, he can sign quite a few.  He has even made up some signs of his own that are fun to figure out!

Have you tried baby signing?  What has been your experience?  What signs have you taught your children?


  1. We love signing too! Come to think of it, you may have been the ones to turn us onto it in the first place. Daniel signs "milk," "more," and "please" pretty regularly now. We've been working on "hot" and "sharp" as well as many you mentioned above. It's so fun when they can start doing them in combination, such as "more food please." I am so happy that he has a way to express himself in a way he knows we understand. It's a wonderful thing. I've heard people express concern that signing might lead to delayed speaking, but we have not found that to be true in the slightest (perhaps even the opposite has been true). I say go for it!

    I've heard of some hard-core signers out there who start signing to their kids around 4 months, and in turn, some babies start making signs around 8 months. I think you'd have to be pretty determined to take that route. I have a cousin who starts teaching her kids signs very young and just never stops teaching! They all sign fluently now. (She told me this has been especially helpful in church.) It's a skill I'm sure they'll be able to use to serve others their whole lives.

  2. I am a huge advocate of signing to babies and children. My oldest Peter could sign milk when he was thirsty as early as 7 months old! Both of my boys have exceptional verbal skills and I attribute much of that to their exposure to a second language (ASL).

    We are particularly fond of the Signing Time and Baby Signing Time series. I'm totally going to plug for baby signing time vol. 4 Let's Be Friends because my oldest was filmed in that one when he was about 15 months old and we think he's pretty darn cute in it.

    And like Nonie mentioned, it is EXCELLENT to use in church. Peter was being a little too silly during the primary program last year and I was able to sign to him from the congregation telling him that he needed to be more reverent.

  3. I think signing for babies is such a great idea. I saw it for the first time with a friend of mine, Jennifer Hyde Smith, who was a speech pathologist. Even though Aaron is young, I think he might benefit from learning starting now. I'm going to learn some signs, too, so I can communicate with my wonderful grandsons!

  4. I love the idea of teaching signs to babies and am glad it is becoming so popular! It really does cut down on so much frustration for them (and their parents) when they are able to tell you what they want. I also think it helps establish a solid base for future verbal skills. We have done some sign with Jackson and he will sign; please, drink, eat, more, all done, and thank you. He also does signs for a lot of animals as well.

  5. Ellie signs "I'm sorry" a lot. It's part of her time-out routine and I've seen her signing it and saying it to her teddy bears lately. Pretty cute.