You’ve decided to teach your baby a tool to help her communicate before she can speak. Great! But where do you start?
We are also developing our own photo dictionary of signs right here at Signing With Your Baby. The linked words you see below will take you to our photos! We hope to add a little bit each day!
Need Based: Most parents choose a sign that involves eating, such as milk, eat, drink, or more. These types of signs are more need-based and will allow your child to request things he or she may need. Other examples of need-based signs are change (diaper), hot/cold, help, and bed/sleep.
Highly Motivating: You can also choose a few signs that may be really exciting to your child. For example, have you noticed that your baby is fascinated by that ceiling fan in the living room? Or perhaps you’ve observed him watching (with an air of extreme excitement) the family dog bound around the front room. Two other very popular choices are Mommy and Daddy.
Choose one sign or choose several – whatever your comfort level is – although the popular consensus is to choose 3 to as many as 12 from both of the above categories.
Show your child the sign (or signs) during an activity (for example, during nursing, if you choose to begin with milk, or as you’re spooning baby cereal in the general direction of your baby’s mouth, if you choose to begin with eat).
Use the sign(s) before or during the activity, and show your baby the sign every time you do the activity. Consistency is the key.
Use your chosen sign(s) until your baby begins to sign back to you, then choose another sign and start the process over again – but don’t drop the sign(s) your baby already knows. Once you begin adding signs like this you will find your sign vocabulary really grows and you truly are learning right along with your baby.
The more signs your baby knows, the easier it will be for him to pick them up – especially once your baby realizes that he can get his needs taken care of by using signs!
See our Helpful Hints section for more information on the signing process and things to keep in mind as you begin the signing journey with your child.
Expect sign acquisition to mimic spoken language acquisition. There are a few phenomena to watch out for:
- Expect your child to recognize a sign that you are making well before he starts using it on his own. You’ll run into this same experience before your child starts talking … saying, “Time to eat!” will elicit the same response to a toddler as signing “milk” will to a baby. Recognizing words and signs is called having receptive language and being able to form words and signs is called expressive language. You can expect your child to go through the former before going through the latter, both in sign as well as spoken word.
- Signs that have a similar handshape will often start out the same … that is, your baby may be making the same sign for several words. One that I noticed was “ball” … “more” … “hurt” … they all are two-handed signs where the hands are brought together. This can be compared to a child saying “ba” for several words, such as “ball” … “bird” … “balloon.” This is all perfectly normal and all to be expected. Your challenge will be to figure out what your baby is trying to tell you … just use context. If you’re feeding your child, he might want more, but if he’s playing, he might want his ball.
- When your child first starts signing, she may use one sign for everything. Just like children will use one word (like “mama”) for many things, so too will children use one sign for many things. This is a good thing! This means that she has realized that the gestures do indeed stand for something and they can be used to get it. Instead of becoming flustered because your baby seems to be signing meaninglessly, be happy that she’s “getting it.” Continue showing her other signs, remain consistent, and she’ll eventually begin to use the proper sign in the proper context.
- Also expect what I like to call a “signing explosion.” It seems that after mastering a few signs, most babies suddenly realize that signing will get them what they desire and their ability to soak up signs like a sponge becomes evident. My son went through this and I couldn’t supply him with signs fast enough … I recognized the look he would give to me, that questioning look as he viewed a new object or activity and wanted to know the sign – because he wanted to be able to talk about it! His signing vocabulary jumped tenfold every day and it was really amazing.
You can look forward to this as your child begins to speak – and one extra benefit of signing that I noticed … my son already knew what everything was, he just had to try out the word!