Baby Sign Language? Yes Please!

What is baby sign language?

Babies have so many more capabilities than we often give them credit for. Baby Sign Language is a communication tool you can use with your baby before they even learn how to speak.  Real American Sign Language vocabulary is signed along with the spoken language you are already using with your child.  Babies naturally communicate with gestures & when you think about it, all babies are taught some form of sign language.  Have you ever seen a baby wave goodbye or clap their hands?  All 3 of my kiddos have been signing since they were around 6 months old! I love sharing our baby sign language story!

A mom signs the word "CLEAN" to her baby.

A mom signs the word "CLEAN" to her baby.

Why should you sign with your baby?

There are so many benefits to signing with your baby, not to mention the fact that it is adorable seeing a tiny baby tell you exactly what they want at such a young age. Teaching American Sign Language vocabulary to little ones has been backed by over 25 years of research!

Here are some facts about baby sign language that I believe are worth mentioning:

•       It promotes brain growth! Signing uses both sides of the brain & is multisensory! (Baby SEES the sign, HEARS the spoken word & MOVES to illicit a response from mom or dad all at the same time!) It’s amazing to think of how much learning is happening every time a baby signs. Even before they begin signing back to you, just watching you speak & sign to them, gives them a huge developmental boost!

•       Researchers Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn, studied children who signed as babies & followed them all the way through elementary school. Their IQ scores were, on average, 12 points higher than their non-signing peers.  

•       Signing tends to increase the bond between parents & children. There is a lot of face-to-face communication happening! In order to sign, you have to look at each other. Unfortunately, many parents today, spend a lot of time looking down at their cell phones, rather than looking directly into their child's eyes!

•       Babies become active participants of story time when you sign with your little one! They aren't passively sitting there listening. They are moving their bodies & telling you what they are seeing on the pages. If you aren’t reading daily with your baby, I highly suggest you start incorporating reading into your baby's daily routine!

•       Signing gives children an alternate way of expressing themselves.  We all love toddlers who throw tantrums right? No thank you! When a toddler is learning how to speak, oftentimes their words sound the same.  For example, my youngest, when she first started to talk, her words were difficult to distinguish. The sound “Ba” meant BOOK, BABY, BALL, BEAR…What does this kid want?! Come on! Tell me you aren’t THAT MOM that points at everything when their toddler is throwing a tantrum in desperation trying to figure out what they want! I know…more coffee please.

How to sign with your baby?

As a former baby sign language instructor and a mom of 4 signing babies, I’ve compiled a list of HOW TO’s and FAQ’s regarding signing with your baby…

  • How can I teach baby sign language if I am not a fluent signer?

    You do NOT have to be a fluent signer to introduce your baby to ASL vocabulary. All you need to do is download an app, like this one. You’ll be able to type in a word & see a video of the ASL sign. Let your baby help you decide which ASL signs to learn throughout your day. Does the family pet fascinate your baby? Learn the sign for it! Did your baby laugh as you brushed your hair or teeth? Learn the sign for it! (Us moms never have alone time in the bathroom, right?!) Babies are fascinated by the world around them and the more you talk/sign what you are doing, the more you are enhancing their cognitive skills. I’ve been using this app for years now & I love it! It’s been such a great tool and has certainly helped enhance my American Sign Language vocabulary.

  • I am a working mom. How can I give my child enough practice signing when I’m only with them for a few hours before bed?

    It’s not impossible for a working mom to teach baby sign language. Ask your child’s caregivers if they would be willing to watch Baby Signing Time DVDs & incorporate them into their day? With my first daughter, I worked full time in the NYC public school system. My mom purchased baby signing time videos for her house. She was really intrigued by it all & loved to sign with her. If your child’s caregiver only does the basics like MILK, MORE & ALL DONE, that’s okay! You’d be surprised how quickly your child can pick up a new sign, even if you aren’t with them 24/7. As a side note, when I ran my baby sign language classes, families who watched Baby Signing Time had a much greater success rate with signing than families who did not.

  • At what age should I start signing with my baby?

    Start signing as soon as possible under one condition…you will have to understand that you will not see results right away. It may take a few months, especially if you start shortly after your baby is born. Once a baby begins grasping their hands together in front of their body, that is one of the tell tale “signs” that they are capable of signing back to you. I’ve seen babies in my classes as well as one of my daughter’s exhibit their first sign as young as 5 months old! Be consistent with whatever signs you are teaching & make sure to say the word along with the sign every time.

  • Will signing delay my child’s speech?

    Absolutely not! It is very important that you verbally say the word along with the sign. Signing uses many parts of the brain because it is a multi sensory language: It’s VISUAL - baby is seeing the sign; It’s AUDITORY - baby is hearing the sign; It’s KINESTHETIC - baby is moving to recreate the signs they are learning. Research shows that signing with a baby has the potential to actually enhance a baby’s speech & vocabulary development! It truly is an amazing communication tool. Remember that the goal of signing with your baby is communication. Over time, your baby will develop their fine motor skills to be able to manipulate those tiny fingers like a pro! In the beginning, if we can get our babies to understand what the sign looks like and attempt to use it to express their wants/needs that’s definitely a WIN!