When my daughter was born 11 years ago, I was studying early childhood education. There was a bunch of buzz going on about “Baby Sign Language”. Eager to give my baby girl opportunities to communicate her needs and excited about the possible benefits of signing with her, I started studying some basic sign language.

Are you thinking of signing with you baby? There are many benefits to signing with an infant and young toddler.

  • Your baby can communicate her needs before she can articulate them.
  • Reduces frustration for you and your baby.
  • Possibility of developing speech and language skills more rapidly.
  • Creates a special connection with baby’s caregiver.
Attempting to sign "airplane"

When should I start signing with my baby?

Most parents start signing with their baby around the age of six months, but it’s fine to start earlier or later! A six-month-old is able to focus on you for a short period of time. Also, it’s around this time that an infant starts to reach for you when he wants to be held. Guess what? That’s a form of signing! Your baby is communicating that he wants you to pick him up when he reaches for you. Signing with babies is exactly that–a way to express a want or need.

What signs should I start with?

You want to pick signs that are important in life at your house. Generally, signs that many people start with revolve around the daily routine.
Here are 10 signs I suggest introducing early:

milk

all done

sleep

eat

mama/dada

bath

diaper

more

drink

help

Other signs you might consider introducing to your infant are: siblings, pets (cat, dog), or signs for beloved toys such as a ball or blanket. Every family is going to have different signs that are important. You can find wonderful resources for teaching these signs at Baby Sign Language’s website.

I know the signs, now what?

I’ve now signed with both of my children as infants. Here’s how I did it:

I verbally said and signed the word at the same time. Make sure you are doing it in the context of the sign. Getting ready to nurse your infant? Sign and say, “milk” two or three times before you start. Finished nursing? Sign and say, “all done”.

When your infant starts to show interest, it’s OK to help her do the sign. If she signs “more” during dinner, sign “more” back and say, “You want more green beans!” and give her what she asked for.

Be consistent! It’s hard not to get discouraged because it can take time for your infant to sign back. Trust me when I tell you, teaching your infant sign language will pay off in the long run. It might take a couple of months before your infant is signing back. However, when your infant is signing “milk” because he is thirsty instead of crying, you can breathe a sigh of relief!

Resources for You

My Smart Hands App: I had the free version of this app on my iPhone and had to buy the full version. I love it! The signs are very clearly demonstrated in a video with an explanation. It was so handy when I wanted to introduce new words I wasn’t familiar with–such as “airplane” before a trip. There also is a My Smart Hands website which will give you the link to buying the app.

Babies and Sign Language website: Tons of resources on this website and lots of valuable information about signing with your baby.