Hey Baby, What's Your Sign?

What is cuter than a puppy or a kitten?
A room full of 1 year olds signing to let you know what they need.
I'll never forget helping in the toddler room where I used to work.  During lunch, all of the little tots would be signing "more more more," and then when they were full they'd all start signing "all done."
Although you can teach a baby lots of signs, I found that just two signs is all it takes to have a very content baby.  When babies and toddlers have a way to communicate their needs, they don't have as many reasons to cry or throw fits.
I'm not claiming that babies and toddlers shouldn't have fits.  Tantrums are certainly part of typical development.  But the frustration that is created when a baby can't tell you what they want day in and day out can be eliminated so easily.

A few things to know first:
  • Baby signing is typically based on ASL (American Sign Language) which is an official language used by many people in the Deaf community (another signing language used in the Deaf community is ESL, English Sign Language which directly translates the spoken english language into signs).  Baby signing is not exactly the same as ASL because typically you only use certain words (not fluent signing) and also because it is common in baby signing to slightly change an ASL sign to make it easier/simpler for baby hands to mimic.
  • Babies can sign before they can talk.
  • Doing baby signing has been been proven to help a baby's verbal skills later on.
  • Signing with a baby that has typical hearing ability is very different from signing with a baby who has a hearing deficit.  When teaching babies "Baby Signing" you typically start exposing them to signs at about 6-8 months old, one or two signs at a time.  However if you are teaching a baby with a hearing deficit to sign, then you start from birth using fluent signing with them just like a parent of a baby who has typical hearing ability starts talking to them the moment that they are born.  The books and videos for these two groups are very different so make sure that if you purchase media, it's the right kind of material for your situation.  Here is a link for lots of Signing with Baby materials and resources... Signing With Your Baby.
Before we had our first baby I thought that I'd teach my child lots of signs; I was so excited about it.  Then reality happened and all we really ever used were a few signs.  We successfully taught her the signs for: more, all done (aka finished - many use the sign for "finished" and call it all done when signing with babies), food/eat, water and cracker.  The ones we most often used were "more" and "all done."  Just to show you what you can do with these two little signs here are some of the many situations in which they can be used:
  • eating/drinking
  • silly play (such as belly raspberries)
  • reading a book (again and again)
  • playing with toys
  • taking a walk in a stroller (For example when you take them out of the stroller and they throw a fit because they wanted to keep riding in the stroller- if they know the sign for "more" then all they need to do is sign "more.")
  • bath time (Do they want to get out or not?)
  • being pushed on a swing
  • playing outside
There are millions of things each day to which your baby can let you know if they want "more?" or are "all done?"  That's great that all you need is two little signs.  Then, if you want to, you can teach them many other signs.

This baby is a perfect example of a baby trying to communicate without signs, and getting very frustrated:

Teaching them these two signs ("more" and "all done") is best done when they are doing something that they enjoy.  This mom explains how you can start to teach the first basic signs:

Teaching a baby these signs is easy to do.  In the beginning you can work on it just at meal times.  Then throughout your day if other things come up where you think of using the signs, the more the better.

Once your baby starts getting the idea it will look more like this:

Then after lots of exposure you baby will start signing without prompts... like this:

As they get the idea of signing you can add more signs.  Once they've learned that signing helps them communicate they pick up new signs a bit faster.

Some more signing babies:
A baby that knows lots of signs - click here.
Lots of babies using sign - click here.


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  1. I did baby signing with my youngest and it was a life saver. Her siblings learned to sign to her too. Sadly, at five now, she has forgotten her signs. We didn't keep it up once she started speaking.

  2. We do ASL with my son. He is speech delayed and it has helped immensely. A lot of his spoken words sound alike so the ASL helps to clarify.

  3. I want to add that my daughter was evaluated by a speech therapist when she was two and half and the therapist was very happy to learn that we did baby signing.