Sign Language for Babies and Beyond

When Should I Start Signing With My Baby?

You can start signing to your baby as early as you would like; we talk to our babies as soon as they are born, and we can do the same with signing.  Just because a baby doesn't yet respond verbally or with gestures doesn't mean they don't understand what is going on.

Most babies have heard words spoken to them for at least a year before they actually start saying words.  Your baby may need to observe you doing signs for several months before she responds.   In the first few months of life, your child will be too young to understand what you are doing and may not have the memory to remember the signs you give her, but by signing to her at a young age, you are beginning to practice using signs so that you feel comfortable using them.  This will help you to be more consistent with your signing when your child is old enough to start understanding that your signs actually represent something. 

If you would prefer to wait a few months before signing with your baby, then that is fine too.  You may want to wait until your baby begins to give signals that she is ready to communicate with you.
Some babies will be interested in communicating much earlier than other babies. 

Laura Dyer, Speech Pathologist, explains that by age 9 months, most children have learned to communicate their intentions through "eye-contact, gestures, vocalizations or a combination of these
three methods." She goes on to state some of the benefits of using sign language with your child:
"Typically developing children ages 8 to 22 months benefit from learning sign language because these children can use signs to represent words that are too difficult for them to say.  In fact,
introducing your baby to signs regularly and consistently at age 7 months may help him begin communicating expressively at age 9 months.  That's several months earlier than a typically developing child might otherwise verbally communicate!" (Dyer, Laura, MCD, CCC-SLP, Look Who's talking: How to Enhance Your Child's Language Development Starting at Birth (Minnetonka, MN: Meadowbrook Press 2004) 158.)

You can watch your child for indications of readiness that he is interested in communicating.  This may include eye gaze to get your attention or natural gestures such as waving or pointing.  Your
child may show you a certain toy or reach towards his bottle if he is hungry. All of these indicate a readiness for signs.  I actually didn't start signing consistently with my kids as early as I could have, but when my babies started using gestures of their own I realized, "Hey - we need to start signing!"   

When our oldest daughter was around twelve months old, she started waving "hi" and "bye bye" saying "uh oh."  We had been signing to her for about a month. A couple of months later she started signing "more" and "milk" and "ice-cream."  A few months later she started signing "shoes" and animal signs. At the same time she was learning to sign words, she was also learning to say words with very little over-lap between the two.  So by using signs as well as speech, she was able to learn twice as many words, twice as fast.  

I now have a six month old baby boy.  I have introduced several signs to him (along with saying the words).  Whenever I nurse him or feed him a bottle, I show him the sign for "milk."  When I feed him solids, I show him the sign for "food."  I ask if he wants more by signing "more" and ask if he is finished while signing "finish."  (If I am asking a question then I raise my eyebrows while making the sign which turns it into a question.)
 
When I give him a drink, I sign "drink" or "water" or both.   He is watching me very intently when I sign each of these signs.  You can view me signing each of these signs on my web-site at:  http://www.signing4babies.com 

All babies are unique in their development.  Some older babies may respond right away when introduced to signs and other babies may not respond for several months.  So be patient and don't give up!  Signing should be fun - it shouldn't be something your child feels forced to do.
                                                      
                                                                                              ---Wendy Jensen---
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Wendy Jensen is the author of "Sign Language for Babies and Beyond:  How to promote early communication and language development in your child."  For more information, go to: http://www.signing4babies.com

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