How to Teach Your Baby Sign Language

By: Caroline Brose
Teach Your Baby Sign LanguageI wish I had heard of teaching babies sign language before I had child number eight! Babies cry because they need something. There is a host of reasons why a baby might be crying. Maybe he is hungry or tired. It could be that he is hurting, or wet. Possibly he just wants to be held. Contrary to what some might think, they do not cry just to cry. It would be so much easier if they could just communicate to us what they need. Well, now they can! (Well okay, not at first, but later…)I had seen the ads for books, movies, and programs about teaching sign language to a baby, but I have to admit I was pretty skeptical. Nevertheless I decided to give it a try. When our son was about 8 months of age we started teaching our youngest child to sign. We started with a few basic signs, such as “eat", “drink", “more", etc. To our utter astonishment he picked them up real quick. Not that I did not think he was smart, but remember, I was pretty skeptical.

So, we taught him some more. Those too, he picked up rather easily. Soon he was able to tell us, with some simple signs, what he wanted. Oh, the frustrations that were relieved. Here are some tips to get you started:

1.Begin with basic signs. Teach signs you know will be used on a day to day basis. (i.e. eat, drink, sleep, bath, the name of a favorite toy, etc.)

2.Introduce one sign a week. Use it every time you have an opportunity.

3.In order to teach the sign, ideally, one person will demonstrate the sign and the other will help the child from behind to guide his hands in forming the sign.

4.Another important thing to remember is to say the sign as it is demonstrated and as you help him make it. This way he will also learn the spoken word. (The proverbial two birds with one stone.)

5.Some signs are a bit more complicated than others so it’s okay to adapt a little. Don’t worry if the sign your baby makes is not perfect. As long as you know what he is trying to say –it’s all good!

Researchers have shown babies have the ability to learn to sign adequately enough to communicate their needs long before they can speak the words. So why not save yourself a bit of stress and frustration by teaching your baby some basic signs.

Books on American Sign Language can be picked up for under $20.00. There are also tons of resources on the internet.

Note – Some programs you might come across are specifically geared to babies. For example, they may teach different signs (ones that are easier) than ASL teaches. If you and your baby are going to learn sign language you might as well learn something you can possibly use in the future (ASL), not some made up “baby signs".

Oh yes, I think I forgot to mention that our three year old son, who has about a 50 word sign language vocabulary (maybe a little more), has Down Syndrome. His progress has been INCREDIBLE!

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