Excerpts summarized from the My Smart Hands™ website

1.) What is baby sign language?

Baby sign language is a tool of communication that you can give to your preverbal baby. Babies begin to gesture at a fairly early age; putting their hands in the air to be picked up, waving goodbye, pointing at objects they want, etc. They quickly learn that these movements will elicit a reaction from his/her parents. Taking that natural gesturing to the next level, parents have started to teach their children specific signs that they can use to communicate their needs. By using ASL signs with babies, you are not teaching them the actual language (grammar, sentence structure, etc), you are simply using the exact sign for the exact English word.

2. When should I begin teaching my baby sign language?

You can start to teach your baby anytime you’d like!  The sooner you start signing with your baby, the sooner you will see results.  The key here is to be consistent, and to not give up. I have never seen a child whose parents were consistent in his/her signing not sign back. Parents who don’t have success usually have given up too soon. If a parent starts signing at 2 months, and the baby doesn’t start signing back until 6 months, that is four months of signing with no reward back. Some parents will simply give up if it doesn’t work within weeks or a couple months. However, if a parent starts signing when their child is 6 months old, and the baby signs back within a month, then they feel more rewarded and continue to sign with their child. Basically, you can start anytime you feel motivated to!

3. What are some of the advantages of teach my child sign language?

Fewer tantrums = more FUN!

The main advantage that appeals to everyone, is it lessens the frustration that your baby will experience because they are able to communicate their needs to you. This will obviously lead to less frustration on the parents’ part as well, by not having to play a guessing game with their baby.

Child/Parent bonding!

Being able to communicate with your little one forges a closer bond and increases the feeling of closeness.  Being “in tune” with your baby will make you feel closer and have fewer moments of distress, making you a more confident parent.

Accelerated language development and vocabulary, leads to higher self-esteem!

Another advantage is that signing babies tend to have a higher self-esteem as a result of being secure in their environments. If a child can easily communicate their needs to you, then they are going to feel a sense of security.  If they want something, they can tell you what they want, and you can quickly and easily fulfill his/her needs.  As well, signing babies are learning to communicate with words and simple phrases, thus expanding their vocabulary before they are verbal!

4. Does Baby Sign Language hurt speech development?

The answer to this is 100%, No! There have been zero studies that have shown signing to hinder language. In fact, all of the studies on signing with children show that signing accelerates language in many cases. Many times, we confuse speech and language. A child who signs is using language, more language in fact than a non-signing child. Speech is the ability to form sounds to produce the language. Some children don’t develop the ability to speak until much later than other children. The reality is babies want to talk, they babble all the time. When they are able to talk, they will. It is not easier to sign than talk. It is much easier for a child to talk. However, when you don’t have that ability then signing is easier and a great bridge until speech does develop.

Imagine, you have two children and they both don’t talk until they are two. You sign with the first child and not with the second. The first child is able to easily communicate with you and use 50 plus words easily, all while building more and more vocabulary until the age of two. The second child is only able to use pointing and sounds to let you know what he wants. When both children start talking at two, who did you think would have the larger vocabulary? Obviously the child who was signed to because he’s used language in a more advanced way through his two years of life. Plus the adults around him are probably talking to him in more advanced sentences than the second child because we know that the child comprehends what we are saying. Parents should have zero concern that signing would have any hindrance in their child’s language development.

5. Are there tips to help my baby to pick up baby sign language faster?

Make it FUN!

This is where the bonding comes in.  Babies love learning new things and want to be understood.  When you set the tone for a fun learning environment, your baby will learn faster and you’re setting the foundation for future learning interactions.  Follow your child’s interests when signing to take advantage of their natural curiosity of the world.  Props and books are always a good thing to use as well because you are providing a visual.  But make sure your child is engaged.  If the T.V. is on or he/she is distracted by something else, this isn’t the ideal time to sign to them.  Rather, wait for a time that you are providing that one-on-one interaction and they are completely focused on you and your movements, and make eye contact!

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat!

So what’s the secret you ask?  Repetition!!  The most important thing for parents to do to help their child pick up signs faster, is to be consistent in their signing. It is more important for parents to sign a couple of words each and every time they say those words, than to sign 30 words once in a while.  Start by picking a handful of signs that are relevant and work on incorporating those into your daily routine.  When you feel comfortable slowly add more.  It’s important for parents to remember that each baby is at different stages in their life and are interested in different things, so you want to pick signs that are relevant to your baby’s interests.

It is also important to keep in mind that all babies are different, some are going to pick it up faster than others. I started signing with my son when he was 4 months old, but he didn’t start signing back until he was about a year and a half. However, I’ve had parents in my class who started signing with their baby at 6 months, and the next week they started signing back. Others have not signed back until 11 or 12 months.  Most importantly, be consistent!