What Age Should You Start Teaching Baby Sign Language
The good news is, its never too late to teach your baby to sign. If youre thinking about signing with your 12-month-old, go for it! As long as you approach sign language as a fun way to connect with your baby, rather than as a chore, the experience should be a positive one for any preverbal tot.
As for when you should ideally start, you can begin showing your baby signs between the ages of 4 to 6 months, but dont expect instant results. Babies are just beginning to learn how to use their little hands to grasp and hold things at that age, so most likely your baby wont begin signing back until around the 8-month mark. Until then, focus on teaching signs through repetition. For instance, if youre teaching the sign for milk , you should make the sign and say the word out loud, show your baby the bottle, and then give the bottle to them.
Dont wait for your baby to make the sign back before giving them their milk or toy. Remember, teaching your child to sign is going to take practice and patience. As long you practice the signs with them multiple times each day , then youre on the right path.
How Does Sign Language Work
Babies understand language long before they have developed the ability to use it. Most infants and toddlers can wave or point well before they can say “bye bye” or “what is that?”. Providing them with signs allows them to communicate the language they understand, but cannot yet speak.
Babies love to mimic and learn best through observation. They are naturally prone to using gestures so it only makes sense to provide them with signs that have meaning, so they can communicate to us in a way that we can understand. Although babies love to mimic, it is important to note that not all babies will be interested in signing. I know several families where some of their children took to signing and their other children showed no interest. Like anything, it will take some trial and error to see if your children will engage in this behavior or not.
Sign language is a great way to help infants and toddlers communicate and grasp the world around them. As parents and providers, it is important for us to communicate and narrate every day activities to the little ones in our care. Narrating everything that is going on around them allows children to better interpret the world around them. If we are already doing this, adding signs can become second nature. I started with the easy signs that I could easily incorporate into my everyday conversations like please, thank you, and more.
What Are The Most Important Signs To Teach
As a speech language pathologist, Ive seen how babies who are taught baby sign language display far less frustration and increase communication than those who are not. For that reason, the most important signs that I recommend teaching are the ones that help your little one express their wants, needs, and emotions on a daily basis.
This includes the signs for more, all done, milk, help, and hurt. Teaching please and thank you can be beneficial, too.
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References: Baby Sign Language
Acredolo, LP and Goodwyn SW. 1988. Symbolic gesturing in normal infants. Child Development 59: 450-466.
Acredolo L and Goodwyn S. 1998. Baby Signs. Chicago: Contemporary Books.
Anderson D and Reilly J. 2002. The MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory: Normative data for American Sign Language. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 7: 83106
Bonvillian JD, Orlansky MD, Novack LL. 1983. Developmental milestones: sign language acquisition and motor development. Child Dev. 54:1435-45.
Cartmill EA, Armstrong BF 3rd, Gleitman LR, Goldin-Meadow S, Medina TN, Trueswell JC. 2013. Quality of early parent input predicts child vocabulary 3 years later. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 110:11278-83.
Crais E, Douglas DD, and Campbell CC. 2004. The intersection of the development of gestures and intentionality. J Speech Lang Hear Res. 47:678-94.
Fenson L, Dale PS, Reznick JS, Bates E, Thal DJ, Pethick SJ. 1994. Variability in early communicative development. Monogr Soc Res Child Dev. 59:1-173.
Fitzpatrick EM, Thibert J, Grandpierre V, and Johnston JC. 2014. How handy are baby signs? A systematic review of the impact of gestural communication on typically developing, hearing infants under the age of 36 months. First Language. 34 : 486509.
Goodwyn SW, Acredolo LP, and Brown C. 2000. Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. 24: 81-103.
Oller DK. 2000. The emergence of the speech capacity. Lawrence Erlbaum.
Baby Sign Language Basics
In terms of which signs to teach baby first, select words you and your family use all the time in your day-to-day . Some baby sign language basics? Words and phrases like please, more, milk, all done, play, thank you, sleep and sorry all make for great first signs, Fujimoto says.
Read on to learn how to useand teach baby to usethese common words in baby sign language:
Baby sign language: Food. The food sign is done by flattening your fingers on top of your thumb and then bringing your fingertips to your mouth.
Baby sign language: Hungry. Make the sign for hungry by cupping your hand around your neck to make a C shape, then move your hand down from your neck to your stomach.
Baby sign language: Drink. To sign drink, make a C shape with your hand, as if you were holding a cup, then move it to your mouth as if you were drinking from it.
Baby sign language: Milk. To sign milk, make two fists, then extend your fingers and bring them back into fists.
Baby sign language: Water. The sign for water is made by spreading out the three middle fingers on one hand and then tapping your index finger on your chin.
Baby sign language: More. Make the sign for more by pinching your thumbs and fingers together, creating two O shapes, then tap your fingertips together a few times.
Baby sign language: Please. To sign please, extend your fingers and thumb out, then rub your flatten your palm against your chest in circles.
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How Can I Learn More About Baby Sign Language
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A great starting point is Ayelets Strength in Words podcast episode called, “Why Sign?” which features an interview with a fellow pediatric speech-language pathologist who has a special interest in Sign Language. Youll also find the on her DIY Blog.
She also recommends these books to learn some signs appropriate for your little one:
But I Need To Learn Too
Baby signing is not difficult! But it can be hard to actually get going, especially for someone has never used sign language before . Ill start tomorrow
Attending a baby signing class is a perfect way to learn how to do it and to actually get around to start. And its fun! But if you cant find a course that works for you, you at least need to check some instructive videos or buy a book.
There are two different schools regarding baby sign language at present. The difference between those is that one of them uses proper American Sign Language and the other uses simpler signs. So if correct American signs are important for you, check out for example books by that is important for you, go for his book.
Otherwise, check out the truly awesome Baby Sign Language Made Easy: 101 Signs to Start Communicating with Your Child Now by Lane Rebelo. It contains everything you need to get going!
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Benefits Of Baby Sign Language
Baby sign language is thought to offer a bunch of potential short-term and lasting benefits. Being able to understand what your preverbal baby wants or needsand allowing baby to express himself without the use of wordscan go a long way in clearing up confusion, cutting down on aggravation and bringing you even closer to your child.
Some of the possible benefits of baby sign language are:
- Increases babys ability to communicate before she can speak
- Leads to fewer baby tantrums, since baby can get her message across
- Lowers frustration for parents, since you can understand what baby wants or needs
- Gives baby a head start in language acquisition
- Strengthens babys cognitive skills
- Enhances parent-baby bonding
Back in the late 1980s, Linda Acredolo, a University of California, Davis professor, and Susan Goodwyn, a professor at University of Southern California, Stanislaus, found that babies who used baby sign language actually learned verbal skills faster than those who didnt sign. In a second study, they later checked in on those same children at age 8 and found that the babies who used sign scored higher on IQ tests than the non-signers.
Tips To Make The Learning Process Easier
Begin with a few and common signs. To make it easier for both your and your child, start with the most useful words that you use more often in a day for instance, drink, milk, sleep, etc.
Say the word aloud. You dont want sign language to replace verbal communication it’s a stop-gap solution until your baby learns to use words. So, every time you sue the sign for a specific term, make sure to mention the word and vice versa.
Consistency and patience are the keys. The only way to teach children is through repetition repeat the gesture and the word at least twice. So, if you’re asking your child if she wants milk, make the sign for “milk” several times, and put forth the question in different ways: “Would you like to drink milk?” “Shall I give you a bottle of milk?” and so on.
Find opportunities throughout the day. Suppose if you use the “water” sign only when handing over the sipper to your baby, she may start relating the sign to her sipper only. So, make sure to use the sign and say “water” while bathing your baby, or while you drink a glass of water, and whenever you see the water. Thus, slowly your baby learn that the word and the sign stand for water.
Encourage your child. Reward your baby with a toy or a bit of food when she performs the sign it will motivate her. And to reinforce the sign, repeat it after her. Also, help your child by gently moving her hands to perform the action.
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Baby Sign Language Allows Children To Communicate Earlier Than Verbal Speech:
Babies and toddlers can understand far more than they can express. Receptive language skills usually develop before expressive language skills . Learning to coordinate your tongue and teeth to produce words is a tricky skill and most babies wont be able to do this until around 12 months.
However, gestures or signs can be produced much earlier . So a baby who can sign will be able to communicate much earlier than those babies who use only words to communicate.
What Is Baby Sign Language
For some parents, baby sign language is a peek into the mind of their child, and an opportunity to begin connecting before speech is developed.
A babys ability to speak develops later than his or her ability to comprehend spoken language, causing a lag between what they understand and what they can communicate , Lane Rebelo, baby sign language instructor and founder of Tiny Signs told TODAY.
Signing gives babies more refined tools than just pointing to express what theyre thinking, says Rebelo. Parents who use sign language end up finding their little ones understand so much more than they ever would have imagined once they get started.
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What About Enabling Better Communication During Infancy Is It True That Babies Can Sign Before They Can Speak
This is an interesting idea, and it has been championed by advocates of baby signing programs.
The proposal is that babies are capable of communicating via sign language months before they are ready to communicate with spoken language.
Is there compelling scientific evidence for this claim? Once again, the answer is no.
The best evidence available on the question comes from a few, small studies of children raised to sign from birth. For example, two of the most relevant studies feature samples of fewer than a dozen children for a given age range.
In these studies, the average timing of first signed words appears to be a bit younger than the average timing observed for children learning spoken language.
But there is big problem. The sample sizes are just too small to draw any firm conclusions.
For example, one long-term study featured only 11 infants .
Another study relies on data collected from only a few individuals each age group for instance, just five individuals between the ages of 12 and 13 months .
When we use such small samples, we run a high risk of getting results that are skewed: Its relatively easy to end up with a group of individuals who arent representative of the population as a whole.
And this is especially true when there is a lot of individual variation, as is the case for the timing of language production. For instance, at 13 months of age, its normal for some children to produce as few as 4 words, while others might produce more than 80.
Baby Sign Language: Why When And How To Start
If youre a parent of a baby or toddler, youve probably heard the term baby signs or baby sign language and wondered what its all about. Is it only for deaf children or can hearing children benefit as well?
How and when do I start teaching signs? If my child learns baby signs, will that keep her from talking? As a speech therapist who worked in early intervention for several years, I can answer all of these questions!
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Uncle Goose American Sign Language Blocks
Little ones will strengthen their fine motor skills while developing a love of learning to sign the alphabet with these beautifully crafted Uncle Goose American Sign Language Blocks. The high quality, wooden building blocks feature the letters of the alphabet with the corresponding sign to strengthen fingerspelling skills. The blocks are made with sustainable wood with non-toxic inks making them safe for your babe.
6 of 6 Image Credits: Amazon
Will I Stress My Baby Out If I Teach Too Many Signs At Once
Dont be afraid to overwhelm your baby. Their brain is like a sponge at this age, theyre absorbing everything. Everything is exciting and new, and they welcome whatever comes their way. Since its important to be consistent, my suggestion is to do what does not overwhelm you as the parent. Staying consistent and being repetitive every day is whats most crucial for the learning process.
And remember, have fun! This is such an exciting stage, and teaching your little one baby sign language is truly a bonding experience. Youve got this, mama!
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But Surely There Are Situations Where Signing Is Easier Than Speaking
I think thats very likely. For example, the ASL sign for spider looks a lot like a spider. Its iconic, which may make it easier for babies to decipher. And it might be easier for babies to produce the gesture than to speak the English word, spider, which includes tricky elements, like the blended consonant sp.
The same might be said for the ASL signs for elephant and deer.
But most ASL signs arent iconic, and, as I explain opens in a new windowhere, some gestures can be pretty difficult for babies to reproduce just as some spoken words can be difficult to pronounce.
So its unlikely that a baby is going to find one mode of communication easier across the board.
What Is The Difference Between Asl And Baby Sign Language
There are a few key differences between ASL and baby sign language. American Sign Language is a standalone language with its own grammar and rules. Baby sign language is used to enhance the language babies already know. Its made up of specific signs used to communicate with a baby about their needs.
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Which Signs Should I Start With
Although any word that relates to your babys world can be helpful, there are a few that are particularly useful. Functional signs, such as milk and full, are a great starting point, says Steyns. But the fun ones are actually important as well because theyre what your baby will likely be most interested in practising with you, she says. These may include signs like bath, if your little one loves tub time, or dog, if your pooch is already your babys best friend.
Introduce between one and three signs at a time, repeating them often as firm statements and saying and signing the words at the same time. Avoid using the signs as questions because this can confuse your baby, says Steyns.
In addition to practising on your own, it may be worth signing up for an online or in-person course on baby sign language to ensure that youre getting the gestures just right.
Before long , your baby will begin signing back to you. But keep in mind that, as with speech, their early versions of the words in sign language will often be a bit different at first. They may only be decipherable to you in the beginning, but thats OKjust keep trying together.