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Baby Sign Language

I didn’t teach B baby sign language. Now I’m wondering whether it is something I should try with our little girl that is on the way.
photo courtesy of mimicbaby.com

I’ve seen my friends have great success with it! During my online “research” (really I only googled it a few times) I found out the signs to teach first are milk, more, eat, and all done and you can start as early as 4 months old. Along with all of the great reasons to use sign language with your baby I also read stories about parents that were concerned that their toddlers were relying on it too much and not replacing the signs with verbal words. To be honest, that is what makes me nervous!

Pros
~Babies who learn sign language have been shown to have a higher IQ.
~Babies who learn to sign show less frustration because the baby is able to communicate earlier.
~Babies who learn to sign may speak earlier.

Cons/Doubts

~Toddler relying on signing instead of speaking (experts say they will replace signing with speaking just as they do crawling with walking)

~Do I have the consistency to implement this?

~How much is best to teach? Just the basics? Sign everything?

Looking at this list on paper, it looks like a no brainer. The pros seem to far outweigh the cons.
But I want to hear from you, moms who have experienced it or are thinking about it.

What are your experiences with baby sign language?
If you’ve already done it, what would you do differently next time?

Also, I found this Free Baby Sign Language Dictionary which seems like it would be helpful.

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15 Comments

  • Reply Abbril

    Hi there,
    I signed with all three of my children (who are now 3, 2, and 1) and I also do signing with the children in my home daycare. My oldest daughter, who is reading and writing, has a ASL vocab of about 600 words, my 2 year old slightly less. My just-1 year old son is not talking yet but consistantly signing for milk, more, and all done. Both my daughters were talking at or before a year and with no troubles whatsoever.

    I had no ASL backround, other than a class about 13 years ago. We introduced it with a Signing Time video and my eldest, who was just under 1 at the time, picked it up so fast and loved it so much we just ran with it. It has been a huge blessing in our home. In no way do I feel that it has replaced the usuage of words, but has inhanced it and helped us develop reading and writing skills as well through using the manual alphabet.

    I can’t recommend the Signing Time series enough. If you have any questions about signing with your kids (it’s not too late to sign with the eldest who’ll pick it up super fast) please feel free to contact me through my website at harthomedaycare.com. I would love to chat!

    (Also – It has been shown that kids who sign have a IQ up to 12 points higher than kids who don’t sign.)

    November 21, 2009 at 2:48 pm
  • Reply Cassie

    I have just started trying to teach my son a little bit of sign language. He is 17 mos old and not talking at all yet, so our speech therapist told us to teach him some signs so he could communicate better. Now I really wish I had started this a lot earlier! If we have more children, then I will start with them as soon as I can.

    November 21, 2009 at 5:21 pm
  • Reply Lettie

    I signed with both my kids (Signing Time and Baby Signing Time) who ar 13.5 months apart. It was wonderful for the older one. He signed words he couldn’t say and could sign well over 200 words before he tapered off and relied more on words. The younder son just learned to talk really young, so he never got as into it. However, even if you just go with the basics, having them be able to tell you more and all done is so nice! Also, I liked being able to tell them something without having to talk to them if we were womewhere we needed to be quieter or else I was far enough away I would have to yell.
    Overall, I LOVED it and plan on signing with any future children I may have.

    November 21, 2009 at 7:17 pm
  • Reply Sara

    We signed with our son, who is now a little over 2. We started signing to him around 7 months for basic things – more, all done, milk, up – and he did his first ones back at 13 months, just when I was thinking he’d never do it. He was so excited to figure out that he could actually sign and really took off quickly from there. At his peak, he had about 60-70 that he would use regularly. I just used a book ‘Baby Signing 1-2-3’ (I think) because we don’t do tv, and it seemed to work just fine.

    My mom was very skeptical and concerned about him not speaking because he could sign, but that turned out not to be the case at all, and she’s now a huge fan of signing. Between 18 and 19 months, he went from doing primarily signing, with about 30 spoken words to virtually no signing and full sentences – things like ‘Jonah go up blue stairs by self’ and ‘Go outside, maybe see dump truck.’ I really think that signing and being able to have back-and-forth conversations through signs so early played a huge role in his language development.

    Now on the other hand, my cousin signed with her first child (not quite as consistently, but he did sign things) and she believes it did hinder his speaking as he didn’t say much until 2 1/2. My feeling is that he’s probably a kid who would have been a late talker anyway, and how great that they could understand each other and communicate in the meantime.

    From my experience, I see no downside. I’m due with our second in two weeks, and we will definitely be signing again! 🙂

    November 21, 2009 at 9:24 pm
  • Reply Addison's Mommy

    I started teaching my little girl sign at about 8.5 months. I wouldn’t have done it any other way and I”ll do it again next time. CAUTION: It’s not necessarily easy! I was determined to use it but many times I wanted to give up. I started with the basics at 8.5 months but she didn’t start signing back until 10.5 months. 2 months of no progress was frustrating. But the rewards!!! It was awesome and made life so much easier. She would crawl up to me and sign milk instead of throwing a fit and me having to read her mind. Once she started signing she took off. At 16 months she had 25 verbal words and 15 signed words. (With some overlap of words). She’s now over 2 and has hundreds of verbal words, no longer uses the sign language and puts 7 and 8 word sentences together. Was it all because of sign…? Maybe not, but I wouldn’t want to risk not doing it with my second.

    Even if you just do the basics (milk, more, all done) I think you’ll see fewer fits and you’ll be giving your child a better sense of independence.

    Good luck with whatever you decide!

    November 21, 2009 at 9:26 pm
  • Reply Rodney and Erin

    I have a 2 year old. I didn’t really do much sign language at first. When she got to be 18 months I was getting a little worried that she wasn’t saying anything at all! I knew she’d talk when she was ready but she (and we–her parents) would get sooo frustrated trying to communicate with her!! We’re military and her pediatrician referred her to get speech therapy. (I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary but I’m glad we did it). The speech therapist has taught me so much about communicating with my kids! My daughter is now talking up a storm and this is after 6 months of therapy! They come over every two weeks and sit with her for 45 minutes and play or read books…that’s all they really do but it’s the way they communicate that’s so helpful! They used signs a lot at first. That actually helped my daughter’s and our frustration with lack of communication. Then she soon after started saying a ton of words. She’ll still use some signs. I don’t look at that as a set back at all. She’s just learning new skills and she’ll always have the signing skills or crawling skills when needed. (signing has been helpful when my baby–her little sis is sleeping and she wants something and I don’t want her to wake the baby up). TEaching sign language has been extremely helpful! Though my daughter still has lots of tantrums (not sure I believe that signing lowered that with her) she is very independant and happy. I suggest if you do sign language that you don’t let it bog you down too much. And don’t be rigid with it either. “Baby Signing Time” dvd’s which can be found online are AMAZING!!! They are half hour dvd’s (maybe longer) and they teach the kids basic signs. Each dvd has a theme. My daughter loves them. And my friends kids who are older still watch them even though they don’t need them. I recommend getting those.

    I will sign with my baby once she gets older. I guess I was lazy and a bit frustrated trying to keep up with trying to teach her and her not learning that I dropped the ball. I wonder if I had been better about it, would she have needed speech therapy? NOt sure but it sure has helped a bunch since doing it!

    Good luck!

    November 21, 2009 at 10:58 pm
  • Reply Nicole

    Hi. I just found your blog and wanted to put my 2 cents in. I cannot support signing with your baby enough! It’s FUN, it gives them another way to communicate with you. It lessens their frustration. Just picture a small child screaming in their high chair. You ask, ” What do you need? More? Tell me more” and they can calm down and say more with their hands and you praise them lavishly because they have communicated with you! I don’t believe that it hinders their verbal ability. Young children often understand a lot more than what they can expressive verbally, so signing gives them that outlet to express themselves and also improves their receptive understanding of language. Don’t worry about how consistent you are– try to do signs at meals for example: “Do you want more cheerios? More” and then show them how to sign more. You can even ever-so-gently put your hands over their hands and show them how to do the sign followed by LOTS OF PRAISE. Do “more” when you are on the floor playing a silly game, like tickling or rolling cars, etc. Once you get into the habit of using signs, it will become more natural. I signed with my 2 kids and I believe they are excellent talkers because of the signing. I really hope you try it! You’ll be amazed at how much they will be able to tell you at such a young age!! I’ll be interested to see what you decide so I’ll be reading!! Take care.

    Nicole

    November 22, 2009 at 4:38 am
  • Reply Jenn

    We signed with our first. I can’t remember when we started, but it was wonderful for those moments when a young baby just doesn’t have the words to communicate. As my son began to talk (quite early) the signing tapered off, but he’d often speak words and sign them at the same time until he was really well understood. We mostly stuck with the basics – more, all done, milk, eat, drink, change, etc. and found that he caught on really quickly, and ENJOYED being able to communicate with us. I won’t hesitate to do the same with our second child.

    Good luck!

    November 23, 2009 at 1:48 am
  • Reply Tilly

    My son and I did a baby sign language class through our community center when he was only 10 months old. I think he was a little too young, but it was fun anyway. We learned signing along w/ games and music.

    I slacked off for awhile, but as he got a little older, I started implementing some of the signs with him. He was really good with, “more”, “please”, “thank-you”, “ball” and “bubbles”. It was kind of neat to see him put everthing together. Once he started saying the words, he would sign along with it. He is almost 2 and still sometimes signs “please” as he says it.

    I think it is a great idea and can be a lot of fun:)

    November 23, 2009 at 3:48 am
  • Reply The girl who painted trees

    We used signs with our daughter, but not really asl signs. Some were and some were just invented signs. At nine months she started making up her own signs to mean things. She was a little slow moving to two word sentences but now is speaking on par with most 27 month olds. Her delay was more likely due to our home being trilingual not due to the signing. She stopped using signs when she learned to talk, however is singing again now that we are watching Signing Time. I have already started signing with my three month old but this time am using ASL. Signs as a whole invented or ASL really help decrease tantrums so I highly recommend it.

    November 23, 2009 at 5:04 am
  • Reply Jennifer

    I signed with both my kids, starting around 9 months, and they really got it around 11 months. We used the following–more, milk, please, thank you, eat, and all done. My main goal was getting them to communicate without whining and crying for what they wanted. And it took the guess work out of communicating with them. Plus, they just looked too cute signing. Both of mine were very early talkers, with huge vocabularies. I don’t know if it was the signing, but I definitely recomend it to all moms with babies.

    November 24, 2009 at 3:32 am
  • Reply Jennifer

    I forgot to add, we also learned the sign for “help”, which helped a lot, lol. 😉 And after a while, they started signing in sentences, like, “more milk please” and the like. They learned to speak most of their signed words first, and then used them simultaneously for a while before letting the signs go.

    November 24, 2009 at 3:34 am
  • Reply Katie

    Hi. I just found your blog and thought you might appreciate more input :).

    I signed with both of my children. I started with my first when she was about 6 months old but it took her some time to pick it up and I slacked off. So she really only learned “more” and “all done” until she was 12 months. At that point it was obvious that she was behind in her language development so I started signing more words with her. We used a community program to get started but eventually got the hang of it and just looked up words ourselves.

    By the time she was two, she was signing over 500 words and was signing 3 to 5 word sentences. She didn’t start speaking until age 2, but this was entirely due to a delay in her motor development, not due to signing. In fact, her speech therapist has told me that the signing helped her develop age appropriate communication skills (other than articulation). Usually children with my daughter’s problems (a physical inability to form sounds) end up in special ed for a while to catch up.

    I also signed with my 2nd child (we used no program this time, just signed the words as we talked) starting at about 10 months. He picked up about 50 or so before he started speaking and he dropped the signing. But he will still sign when he wants to emphasize what he is saying.

    All in all, it is a good way to understand your child long before they can talk to you. And it is so awe-inspiring when they start combining two words to describe something new or using an known word appropriately for a new situation. You get a glimpse into how their mind works!

    November 30, 2009 at 4:08 am
  • Reply Amy

    I used sign language with my older two children (now 4 and 2) and am just starting with my six month old. It is a little frustrating at first as they are just watching you and not responding back, but they are very much paying attention and will reward your efforts soon. I did start with just the basics, like eat, more, all done, milk, and help. Animals are some other easy signs. Really baby signs can be anything that makes sense to you and your baby to stand for what you are trying to communicate. Your baby may not even do the sign exactly how you do it, but it will be close enough that you will understand and that is all that matters.

    I used the book, Baby Signs and the board books by the same author. It was so fun to see my son sit with his board books when he was just around a year and “read” the book to himself doing the signs on each page.

    My son was talking very early and would do both the signs and say the words at first and then eventually just dropped off the signs. My daughter that is now two talked a little later than my son did (she was more focused on developing her large motor skills to keep up with big brother) so it was awesome to be able to use some signs with her to help communicate before she really learned to use her words.

    I say go for it and don’t worry about how much or how little you do. Just do what works for you and your family!!! 🙂

    December 2, 2009 at 3:20 am
  • Reply Michie

    My daughter (now 4) and I also learned sign together through the Signing Time videos. I have told people it is the best thing I ever did. She was able to communicate with me before she could speak, and I truly believe that her advanced vocabulary now is due to the fact that she learned at such an early age that things have names, and about communicating.
    Once, she was in her crib, crying, and she signed “bear” and pointed – right to her bear who had fallen out of her crib. I gave her the bear back, and she calmed down. She pointed right to the bear, but would I have been looking for it if she hadn’t told me what she was looking for? Right then and there I started thinking how wonderful this was, and I remember thinking, “why doesn’t everyone do this?”
    As she learned to speak, the signing just filtered out, although a few stuck with her – we always use the sign for “silly” and sometimes she signs “game” when she tells me she wants to play a game. Sometimes she asks me the sign for something again.
    It truly is a great thing – and I think you’ll be able to keep up with it once you see how great it is – and it really doesn’t take that much effort. Good luck!

    December 4, 2009 at 7:25 am
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