Signing with Your Baby or Toddler: Getting Started

Boy Signing Elephant

Teaching your child to use American Sign Language from an early age can lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning, enhance bonding, and ease frustration for you and your child while increasing his cognitive and linguistic development.

Some Benefits of Signing

  • Early Signed and Spoken Vocabularies – Children who sign typically speak earlier and have larger vocabularies than their nonsigning counterparts.  On average children who sign have 25 signs and 16 spoken words at 12 months compared with the average nonsigning child who at twelve months only has 2-3 words.  According to research by Michelle Anthony, Ph.D. and Reyna Lindert, Ph.D., on average children who sign as part of a organized signing program with parents trained in signing strategies have an average of  79 signs and 105 words by 18 months of age and at which time they have been combining signs and words into mini-sentences for quite some time (some as early as 6 months).  Non-signing children of the same age have, on average, a spoken vocabulary of 10-50 words (half the number of their signing counterparts) and are just beginning to combine mini-sentences.
  • Child-Initiated Conversations/Communications – Signing helps you to better tune in to the many ways – signed and non-signed – that your child initiates conversations.   This gives you the tools to engage your child, showering her with words about topics that are of immediate interest to her, when the emotional connection which magnifies learning is already there.
  • Greater Conceptual Understanding – Signing has proved very useful in teaching young children abstract concepts (such as SICK or HELP) from an early age and allows them greater control in their ability to communicate these ideas.
  • Improved Literacy Skills – Signing children often show a greater interest in books in addition to improved reading skills and understanding of symbolic representation.
  • Reduced Frustration – Learning sign language helps both you and your child communicate more clearly during emotional moments and reduces your child’s frustration at not being able to clearly communicate what he needs or wants.
  • Increased Intimacy, Attachment, Self-esteem, and Empowerment – Signing facilitates closeness between parents and children and fosters the sense of intimacy that shared communication brings.  Their extended interactions empower children to see the impact communication has on their world.

Getting Started

  • Between the ages of 6 and 8 months is a good time to start signing to your child, but it’s never too late. Studies indicate that even hearing children who are not taught signing until their preschool years demonstrate improved literacy skills over nonsigning children in terms of vocabulary, spelling, and reading.
  • Choose between 6 and 12 signs for words and concepts that are a part of your everyday life with baby. Signs like BALL, LIGHT, DUCK, MILK, EAT and MORE make great starting signs.
  • Find good resources for learning American Sign Language (ASL) rather than “baby signs”. American Sign Language is easily learned by young children and used widely among parents.  Using ASL increases the chances that other members of your child’s life will be able to recognize your child’s signs and communicate easily with him outside of the home in childcare settings or social settings.

Some Additional Resources

If you’d like to learn more about teaching your child sign language, talk to Ms. Joy or check out her favorite book on the subject:

Signing Smart with Babies and Toddlers by Michelle Anthony, M.A., Ph.D. and Reyna Lindert, Ph.D.

And here’s a great online video dictionary for looking up videos of people demonstrating individual signs from American Sign Language.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply