I Saw the Sign…Baby Sign Language

I officially apologize for getting that song stuck in your head 🙂

Something new we’ve just started doing is introducing baby sign language.  If you’re not familiar with it, baby sign language allows you to communicate with your pre-verbal baby through signs.  The theory is that this lets them communicate earlier so that they can tell you what they need before they can talk.

This is an idea I’ve been in love with ever since seeing it in action with some of the babies / young toddlers at the school where I taught.  Some studies do show that it has benefits for both cognitive and emotional development…but I also just think it looks so fun!

We just started signing to James last week, so I am by NO means an expert.  I wanted to share some of what I’ve read though in case anyone else is thinking of using baby signs.  Please chime in in the comments if you have any experience with baby sign language; I would love any advice you may have!  I’ll do an update in a few months too, after we know how James takes to it and if we see any benefits.

When should I start signing to my baby?

It’s never too early…or too late!  Many people recommend starting around six months though.  Every baby is different, but if you sign consistently and often, you may see your baby start signing back around the time they start waving hello and goodbye.  If you think about it, that is just a simple sign!

From what I’ve read, this is often around 8-9 months, so if you start signing around 6 months, they’ll have plenty of exposure before they’re ready to sign back.  If you sign consistently though, your baby may pick up on it much sooner.  For instance, if you do the sign for “eat” every time you feed him, he will likely see that sign much more frequently than he sees someone wave.

We started now (at five months) because I know it will take us a while to remember to do the signs.  Hopefully we’ll be doing them consistently by the time he’s six months old.

How do I introduce a new sign?

Simply start doing the sign when it’s relevant throughout the day.  For example, I sign “milk” before I feed James, saying the word “milk” at the same time.  There is no need to give any sort of formal lesson, they watch everything you do!

How many signs should I start with?

I’ve read that 3-5 is a good number.  You can introduce more once they start to sign back.

Which signs should I start with?

We’re starting with “more,” “milk,” “sleep,” and “eat”.  The daily life words are the easiest to start with because they come up the most often, so your baby will see you do them constantly.  You could also start with “Mama” or “Daddy,” things that are relevant to their lives.  For instance, you could do “dog” if you have a dog, but if you don’t have one, it likely won’t come up enough to sink in at first.

What if I don’t know sign language?

I do not know sign language, but I’m confident that I can learn a few signs at a time.  Also, you don’t have to use formal American Sign Language (ASL) – your baby won’t know the difference 🙂  I figure I might as well use ASL when possible because he may retain it later in life, but if a particular sign is too difficult for your baby to use, you should feel free to make up a different one that makes sense.  I’ve also read that babies will sometimes make up their own signs after they’ve been signing for a while.

We also got this book to help us.  That way, there’s something both my husband and I can reference to make sure we’re using the same signs.  It was very inexpensive and easy to look at.  This particular book does not give any background information on signing, but I had already read enough about it that I was just looking for the actual signs.

Will signing delay my child from starting to speak?

This is a concern some parents have – does providing babies with another way to communicate take away the drive to start speaking?  Everything I’ve read says no.  In my opinion, I think babies want to communicate like we do, and in a much richer way than just learning some basic signs gives them.  I don’t think signing takes away the drive to speak any more than crawling takes away the drive to walk.  You also always say the word out loud along with giving the sign, so it does not take away from your baby’s exposure to verbal language.

Also though, I don’t really care if using sign language means James won’t say his first word for an extra few weeks.  Of course I’m eager to hear him talk, but I try not to get too hung up on racing to get to the next milestone.

I would really love to hear about any experiences you have with baby signs!

Have you used baby sign language?

Do you know sign language?

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  1. I’m definitely singing that song now–thanks! 😀 haha! I LOVE baby sign language. I used to teach all the kids that (I worked in childcare for 6 years) and it helped everyone be less frustrated!I’ll definitely be teaching my baby signs too!

  2. I have a few friends who have done sign language with their children and had great experiences. I keep saying I’m going to start with our son as at 16 months he still isn’t talking but I don’t even know where to begin. Thanks for the tips!

    1. It can definitely be a little overwhelming, that’s why we’re starting with just a few (although I’ve really mostly just been remembering to do “milk” and “sleep”). Thanks for reading!

  3. We tried sign language too and it was great. “More” was the most popular one he would use when I fed him purees. We only used a handful because then he started to talk. I had a book but only picked out the words I found helpful. It didn’t stifle his urge to talk at all. It was one of my proudest moments when he signed back. I can still remember it! 😍

    1. I’m so glad it worked so well for your family, thanks for sharing! I can’t wait ’til he signs back one day, that sounds like an amazing moment 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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