Guide and Tips: How to Teach a Baby Sign Language
Teach your baby sign language basics with these easy steps
Oct 14, 2018
The barrier in baby communication
Sometimes there is a barrier in communication.
Have you ever tried to talk to your friend from another culture and became frustrated because of a language barrier? Or maybe you tried to talk to your spouse and just couldn’t get your point across to them?
How does that feel? Frustrating? Confusing? Maybe even made you a little angry? Many times this is exactly how parents and their babies feel when trying to communicate with one another before the baby reaches the age of being able to speak clearly and effectively.
We want to be able to understand and be understood by our young ones.
This was my case with my first daughter. She would cry and try to communicate with me about her basic needs, and I had to simply guess what she wanted or needed at that moment.
This form of communication between us caused an amazing amount of undue stress frustration and worry on my part, as well as hers I'm sure.
The good news is that this story doesn't end there. I had a friend introduce me to a way to make things better between me and my daughter. She told me that I could do something about the communication barrier by trying baby sign language.
Basics of Sign Language
Although baby sign language is a form of "sign language" we need to make sure we make a few things clear. Baby sign language is not the same as American sign language, meaning it does not follow the same grammatical structures and rules as a full language would. instead, baby sign language involves simple motions that both your baby and you can easily perform and recognize.
Baby sign language will help you learn how to effectively communicate with your child about the basic needs that your baby has.
Baby sign language is a simple list of hand motions and gestures that connect to a babies most desired phrases needed to communicate.
These hand motions and gestures are easy to learn and do and you can easily incorporate these signs into your daily routine as you do what you and your child normally do.
Easy Beginners Chart
Below is a simple chart of different signs you and your baby can use to communicate the basic needs of any child this age.
Make sure to use the signs daily when talking about different objects or actions to help your child recognize the actions by repetition.
Eat is a simple gesture you can use every day.
Make a "duck face" with your hand by holding all of your fingers together aimed toward your mouth and move your hand toward your mouth to illustrate eating.
As always, when doing any sign, make sure that you SAY the word that you are SIGNING as you DO it.
"Do you want to EAT this banana?"
Obviously, "drink" is a sign that can be used in connection with "eat".
Mealtime signs are wonderful to help your little one learn because they are immediately connected with reward. You say the sign and do the sign and your child gets a reward of food or drinks immediately.
This helps give your child an incentive to want to sign more.
Drink, in baby sign language, is simply holding your hand in the air like you are holding an invisible cup and tipping it back.
Again, as with all of these signs, make sure that you SAY the sign when you DO the sign.
"Are you thirsty? Do you want a DRINK?"
"More" was the quickest word for my daughter to pick up and start to do herself.
This word can be used when playing, eating, or even reading bedtime stories and allows your young one to tell you that they want to continue the activity.
The sign for "more" is like pulling something apart and making it longer. Put both of your hands together in front of your body and pull them out to the left and the right in a lengthening manner.
When you demonstrate the sign make sure that you say it at the same time:
I.e. - "Do you want MORE food?"
"All done" is simply done by showing the backs of your hands and quickly moving them to the front.
This sign can be used to ask if your child is finished with what they are eating: "All done with your meal?"
It can also be a helpful sign when trying to figure out if your child is finished with their toy or game they have been playing with.
As always, make sure to SAY the sign as you DO the sign to help your child remember the motion and connect it to your words.
"Hug" is one of those signs that you could probably guess even if I didn't tell you what it was. These signs are fun because they are easy to incorporate immediately into your daily routine without having to look up how to show the sign in the middle of trying to feed Junior.
To show the sign for hug, you need to put closed fists on opposite shoulders of your body and pretend to be hugging something. Yep. That's it. Simple right?
As always, remember to SAY the sign as you DO the sign:
"Come here, mama wants to HUG you!"
Another simple sign is the baby sign language word for "cold".
Although maybe a little out of the norm in how you would show this, it's so self-explanatory that I'm sure you can remember it the first time that we show you.
"Cold" is holing up both fists near your shoulders and bent at the elbows then shaking them as if you are shivering.
Make sure you are always SAYING the sign as you DO it:
"We are going to put on jackets today because it is COLD outside!"
"Sleep" is a very helpful sign when your young one is starting to get cranky and tired.
Your child can show this sign to you, letting you know they feel like it is time for a nap, or you can show it to them letting them know that it is time to start your nightly or naptime routine.
This sign has a few more moves than the others, but it easy to figure out once you have done it several times.
"Sleep" is shown by having a fully opened hand toward your face and grabbing at your face as you pull your hand away from you and close your eyes.
Also, remember to always SAY the sign when you DO the sign:
"Baby, it's time to SLEEP. Are you ready to SLEEP?"
When to Start Teaching Baby Sign Language?
Teach your children sign while having fun!
It's never too early to begin teaching a baby sign language, as the young brain is constantly learning and taking in information every moment. But don't expect your child to begin to sign back to you immediately.
Most experts say that a child will begin to communicate back to you in sign between the ages of six or eight months depending on how early and how often you have been showing them baby sign language as a part of your dayly routine.
Good Reference Videos
I learn best from watching, don't you? The good news is that there are quite a few youtubers and vlogers who promote and show examples of baby sign language.
I'll attach some of their videos below:
You have already seen some of her short, simple videos as examples in our list of simple signs. Talkbox Mom teaches us a lot of signs in a simple, well-produced way.
Her Instagram is much more about her and her family, but her youtube page is well organized to teach you signs based on activity or purpose.
Signing4baby is a great resource for learning baby sign language. You can find numerous videos depicting everything from the everyday signs down to some very specific ones that you would only need to use on occasion. Overall, the information is great!
Good Referencing Instagram Accounts
In addition to videos, there are several Instagram accounts that specifically seem to center on baby sign language and give quick, simple pictures that illustrate what sign to focus on for the day.
Here a few of those accounts.
View this post on Instagram
Colors class is definitely one of my favorite classes to teach! I love rainbows! When we are learning our colors, our language building skills grow. Red bird, orange cups, yellow flowers, green frogs, blue ball, purple mittens, and so on. What is your favorite color? . . #favoritecolor #colors #red #orange #yellow #green #blue #purple #myfavoritethings #sharingsigns #babysigningtime #signingtime #signingtimeacademy #signingtimeacademyinstructor #smallbuisness #mompreneur #womanowned #womanownedbuisness #mombuisness #asl #americansignlanguage #babysigns #comesignwithme #signandplay #signandplayclasses #teach #teachsign #learnsign #totalcommunication #communication . . Image description: example Signing Time flashcard with woman using asl to sign colors by wiggling fingers on her chin. The word “colors” printed on the other side.
View this post on Instagram
🚦Stop and go! 🚗Today we rode in cars, trains and boats around the studio as we signed stop, go, fast and slow. When the song ended- many little hands requested MORE. So of course... we did it again!🛩 #signandplay #babysigningtime #signingtime #signingtoddler #signlanguage
ASL ready is an Instagram specifically made to encourage parents to teach their little ones sign language at a young age in fun, exciting ways.
They seem to post at least once a week and have a lot of great content.
There is a better way of communication.
Although learning baby sign language can be a commitment and time-consuming practice, learning and implementing this into your daily routine will increase your level of communication with your child and help begin the process of understanding each other when it comes to expectations.
Find ways to sign every hour of the day in some way or fashion to help solidify the signs you are desiring your young one to learn.
A word of advice, do not get frustrated or desire upset if it takes longer for your baby to start signing back at you. There is power in consistency. Every child learns in their own way and at their own pace. They will eventually pick up what you are doing, do not give up in the meantime.
I still remember when my daughter signed for the first time and what joy it brought to us! She was communicating and understood what she was asking for. It was a proud moment for a parent and an exciting moment of exploration for my child.
Taking the time, energy and effort to make this a part of your life not only helps with communicating wants and needs but also helps us to communicate our love for each other.