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How to Teach Your Baby Sign Language

Katlyn Joy |25, April 2014


If you can't wait for your baby's first words, you might want to consider starting the process of teaching your baby sign language. By doing so, you will speed up communication by perhaps several months. Even better, your baby will experience less frustration and fewer tantrums when capable of expressing himself to the world.

While research is limited, that which exists finds that babies communicate earlier with sign language and those with developmental disabilities are benefitted with the communication technique. Babies between the ages of 8 months and 2 years are especially helped as they can experience frustration in letting caregivers know their needs, wants and emotions and signing can help them bridge the gap until vocal communication develops, according to the Mayo Clinic.

5 Tips for Teaching Sign Language to Your Baby

1. Start at an age when baby maintains consistent eye contact with you.

While baby probably won't sign back until about 8 months of age, you can start much sooner. Babies have higher receptive language (the words they understand) than expressive language (the words they speak or communicate).

2. Start with only a handful of signs. (Pardon the pun.)

Begin with four or five signs that are linked to a real object your baby is interested in such as "ball," or an action baby can anticipate such as "eat."

3. Use sign language in a variety of ways.

Speak to baby and use the appropriate sign you are teaching in the context of the action or object. Also, encourage others in the home to use the signs with baby and each other to model the word. You can put baby on your lap and make the signs with baby's hands.

4. Follow baby's lead.

If baby is bored, drop it. If baby resists, drop it. If baby takes to it like a natural, keep increasing the words you are signing.

5. Let baby teach you.

Often a baby will come up with her own variation on the sign, or perhaps make up one of his own for different things. If so, use that sign as baby does. The goal is communication, remember. Don't lose patience if baby seems slow or reluctant.

Simple Signs to Teach

Ball. Put your hands in a position as if holding a ball from the top, with thumbs closest to your body.

Eat. Put a hand to your mouth, with thumb tucked under four fingers and repeat.

Milk. Mimic the action of milking a cow, with squeezing motions.

Drink. Tip back an imaginary cup towards your mouth.

Play. You make the letter P which is your second and third fingers extending with thumb between, gesturing from waist to chest. Make sure your fingers are pointed downwards, otherwise it may be confused with the sign for the letter K.

Shoes. A simple sign, just hold your fists side by side and bump them together, thumbs touching.

Socks. Variation on the above, only for socks, you move the fists together back and forth.

Apple. Make a fist with the index finger bent at the knuckle, and twist at the corner of your mouth.

Mother. Hold your hand in front of your face with your thumb under your chin and extend outwards away from your face one time.

Grandma. Do the same sign as above, except do a extended movement away from the face.

Father. Put thumb in middle of forehead with hand extended and bring away from the face.

Grandpa. Do the sign as the father sign, only extend the movement an additional time.

Baby. Make cradling motion, as if rocking a baby horizontally across body.

More. Bring your fingertips together in front of your body twice.

Yes. Do a knocking motion with one hand.

No. Take your index and middle finger and tap against the thumb twice.

Go. Extend both hands by pointing the index finger away from you, and place one hand further away from the body than the other. You will be pointing away.

Again. Put non-dominant hand palm up, and with dominant scoop air up and then bring fingertips down into the palm-up hand.

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