Sign Language for Babies and Beyond

Steps for Successful Signing With Your Children

Here are some simple guidelines to help you as you start signing
with your baby or toddler:

1. Start small using one or two signs.   

Remember, you don't have to learn an entirely new language.  You can learn simple signs right along with your child!  I would
suggest starting with the signs "more," "milk" and "food."  These
are the first signs my children learned. They are easy to make and commonly used.

Once your child starts recognizing the meaning behind these signs, you can start introducing more signs. Soon she will be pointing to things "asking" you to tell her what the sign is!

2.  Always use signs in their correct context. 

It is helpful to make the sign right before, during and after you use that object or do that activity.  For example, I can sign "milk" while I am nursing my baby or when I give my child a sippy cup with milk in it. 

When your child is out of food you can ask, "Do you want more?"  While you ask this, show your child the sign for "more."  You can also use the word "more" for "more stories," "more toys," and "more hugs and kisses!"  You get the idea!   

3. Sign in your baby's line of sight.

Make eye contact with your baby when you show him signs.  Your baby can't learn signs if he can't see them!  It also helps to introduce signs when your baby is in a good mood! 
4. Model the sign and say the word at the same time. 

When you sign and say the word at the same time, your child can connect with the word on two different levels.  However, it is also okay to "turn off your voice" every once in awhile and use only
sign language too!   We've noticed that our children sign a lot more when we turn off our voices.  Our daughter often signs the most during church when she knows it is inappropriate to talk out loud!  

5. Encourage your child to show you the sign.

When your child is first learning signs, you can help her along by prompting her to show you the signs.  Sign "drink" while you ask:  "Would you like a drink?"  This is enough to get my daughter to use signs with me.  If she still doesn't, however, I can follow up with, "say drink!"   If your child is trying to communicate and becomes frustrated and starts to cry or throw a tantrum, you can
remind her to use her "words" or use her "signs".

6.  Learn to recognize your child's beginning signs.

When our children first begin to use some simple signs, we may not recognize them at first.  Learn to pay attention to the signals your baby gives you.  I had been using the sign "water" with my 13
month old for a couple of months and hadn't seen her try to repeat it.  Then I noticed that whenever I would say or sign, "water" she would pat the side of her head.  She also did it when I had a drink of water in my hand or when there was a cup of water within eye-sight on the kitchen table.  It took
me a few times of her doing that to recognize that she was doing her version of the sign for water!  Now whenever she makes that sign I know she is thirsty and wants a drink of water!

 My older daughter used to make the sign by tapping one finger by her mouth.  Now that she is a little older, she uses her first three fingers.  She still isn't quite able to make the letter "w" as it is one of the most difficult alphabet letters to sign, but I have been able to recognize her versions of the sign as she was able to produce them.

6. Don't pressure your child to sign - keep it informal and fun! 

Last, but not least, have fun using signs!  If your child acts frustrated or upset then don't push him.  If signs are used in the right way then he will associate signs with "reading time with dad"
or "singing songs with mom" or with "play-time" or with "successful communication!"  He should never feel like he is being pressured to perform.   Keep it informal and fun! 

Keep signing consistently with your baby or toddler and your efforts will be rewarded as you learn to understand your child's signs!!
                                                                                                       ---Wendy Jensen---

Wendy Jensen is the author of "Sign Language for Babies and Beyond:  Promoting Early Communication and Language Development  In Your Child" available at: