I hear from a lot of parents that they taught their baby to sign milk, more, eat and potty and then their baby started to talk, so they gave up. Remember, signing may actually speed up the learning process for language development. It is also a great tool to help your child learn their ABCs. Many professionals are using sign language in the classroom because it reinforces learning, "while teaching children a hands-on second language" (to quote Rachel Coleman from Signing Time). SO don't give up just because your child has started to talk. Remember if she says three words and signs 25 that is a 28 word vocabulary. Imagine if she says 25 and signs 75, that is a 100 word vocabulary. And remember signing is a fun way to bond with your children!
The real question is, why wouldn’t you want to sign with your baby? If you can communicate with your little one before she develops speech, wouldn’t you want to get on board? I know you would! Here’s the thing to remember, you are not focusing on teaching your baby a second language by signing, but instead using sign language as a means of early communication. You are enhancing communication skills and giving your baby confidence in her ability to communicate with signs. This may lead to improved language skills, greater understanding of words and earlier use of sentences. It can also give your child the power to learn more and it can aid in the development of concepts. Signing with your baby provides one more way that you can interact with her, but most of all, signing with your baby is fun!
Although the technique for signing with different ages may vary, here are some pointers to help you get started signing with your baby.
Start with just a few signs.
We suggest starting with milk, eat and more. These signs will probably have the most relevance in your baby’s routine and fulfill her most common needs in the beginning. You may add more signs, once she begins to use these.
Use signs every day. Incorporate them into your daily routine.
You may start signing with your baby as early as six months. Try using signs every day and as often as possible. Make it part of you daily routine. Ask your baby, “would you like to eat” while signing eat. Ask your baby if she would like some milk when you give her a bottle. Ask her if she would like more when she finishes her snack. Repetition is the mother of learning. Repeat, be consistent and most of all be patient. It may take a while, but the signs will come. Most often signs first appear around 9-10 months. We also recommend watching baby signing videos together (our favorites are from the Baby Signing Time series).
Speak, read or sing and sign together
Always say the word you are signing. For added reinforcement, you may sing songs and use signs, or you may read books and use signs. Research has shown that reading while signing may make children more interested in books. Signing is like reinforcement for language, you hear the word, see the object or action and then make a kinesthetic gesture. It actually speeds up the learning process.
Help your baby form the signs if she cannot
Sometimes it is hard for babies to form the shapes of the signs with their little hands. You can take their little hands in yours and help them form the signs.
Watch out for signs
Signs may first appear out of context. Your baby may sign more more more on the changing table, or eat while watching tv. Watch closely, if you see it again she may be practicing. Some signs are more difficult to form than others. So watch for something similar, that may be their own modification. For example, if your baby brings one finger to her mouth while you are drinking from a bottle of water, she may be signing water. Also look for sign substitution. My baby will sign bath when he wants to go in the pool, bike if he sees a motorcycle or knife when he wants the scissors. To him they are similar items and since he doesn’t know the signs for pool, motorcycle, or scissors, he uses what he does know.
Always offer positive reinforcement,
Always praise your baby she makes an effort to sign, even if the sign isn’t exactly correct.
I get a lot of flack from the 50 plus generation for teaching my baby to sign. They can't understand why I would do it, they want to make sure that I am also teaching him how to talk, they are concerned that he may not be SAYING enough words, etc. My son has a 60 plus word vocabulary and you want to tell me he's not communicating with me? Hello! Here's the thing, I'm not teaching my son a second language, ASL. I am teaching him to communicate with me before his speech is solid. The research shows (YES the research) that signing babies' speech is often accelerated, their sentences come sooner, they have larger vocabularies, score higher on future IQ tests, and are more interested in books. Oh yeah...AND ITS FUN! So never mind what others tell you, signing with your baby is soooo worth it... Drs. Acredolo & Goodwyn did some of the original research that disputes any ideas that speech is delayed in signing babies, in fact, they found that speech is often accelerated as I mentioned above. You can see the summaries of some of the research here .
My son cracks me up some times. He'll be frantically signing something, and I just won't get it. Then I realize, he doesn't have the sign for what he sees or what he wants so he uses something similar. During the summer, we were in the back yard and it was so hot, he kept signing bath, and then I realized he wanted to go in the pool. Recently, we were at the park when a guy drove up in a Harley, there's my son signing bicycle..okay kinda similar...the latest one, we were in the bedroom and he started signing knife, finally I realized he wanted the scissors. When they want to communicate, they sure can find a way!
My baby is a Signing Time Addict! If we are in the house, he begs me with his sign language to let him watch Baby Signing Time, near the end of the DVD, he starts asking again, for a new DVD. He dances to the songs, laughs if I sing them, learns new signs every day. This is a great product, but I am actually concerned that he is addicted! and who said signing babies don't have tantrums, while they can sign what they want "more baby signing time", if I don't play it for him....you guessed it! But really, signing does alleviate a lot of frustration that comes from not being able to communicate. Anyone else with Signing Time addicts?
I am a mom, an artist, an educator and a developer of educational products for children. I recently authored The Complete Hawaiian Reef Fish Coloring Book, which is now being used as a textbook in schools across the country. I am now developing a new line of products that will help parents empower their babies with the gift of communication before they have developed speech. My mission is to bring families closer together by building stronger bonds and trust by using sign language. My products will also use the benefits of sign language to enhance other early language development and cognitive skills. I believe in a multisensory approach to learning because it builds more connections in the brain, which makes learning more efficient and enhances memory. Sign language is the tool that enables us to make learning truly multisensory.