On Using Baby Sign Language

When I started working as a Training and Curriculum Specialist I was really excited to see some of the fun programs that were being implemented in the Child Development Centers. During my initial training I was introduced to Baby Signs. I was immediately drawn to the program and I was amazed to see one year olds using signs for more and milk. Not only was it neat to see them communicate, it was also so darn cute. I decided right then and there that I wanted to try to teach my children baby sign language when they came along.

Once Emerson was born I had completely forgotten all of the signs I had learned while working, but I decided I still wanted to try to do it. I found an online resource and learned a few basic signs: milk, more, Mommy, and Daddy. I read at that time that it was helpful to learn signs for basic routines that were used with your baby every day and to implement them as you did the daily routines.

When Emerson was about six weeks old I started signing milk to her every time she ate. I also signed Mommy and Daddy to her a few times a day. Now I knew at that time that she wasn't going to learn any signs but I figured it couldn't hurt to expose her. I kept this up for many, many months! Then when she started eating solid foods I added some other signs, like eat and more. Finally when Emerson was 8 months old she signed milk to us for the first time. Of course I was super excited! I thought my diligence was finally paying off. After that she would sign milk occasionally but it definitely wasn't consistent. I had read that this is when many parents become frustrated but its important to stick with it because eventually it will just click and your baby will sign back! So I just kept doing the same signs over and over and watching for her to do them back.

Then when Emerson was around 10 months old she finally signed the word more during dinner time. From then on she had "more" completely mastered. It was also around this same time that she learned the sign for dog. We were dog sitting and I just kept doing the sign every time we were around the dog. Before the weekend was over she had it down. She signed dog every time she saw a dog whether it was in real life or in a book.

Once she finally made the connection that there was a sign for everything she started picking them a little bit faster. I bought the Baby Signing Time videos and we would sit down together a few times  a week and watch it for a few minutes at a time. I loved it because I learned a lot of new signs this way and she absolutely loved the music.  I don't think the videos are a necessity for teaching your baby to sign but I do personally really love them. Emerson still gets excited when she hears the theme song come on. I do have to say, however, that the videos are designed to be watched together so that you can learn the signs along with your baby. They are NOT a substitute for signing during daily interaction, but they are one more way to reinforce signing. 

Around the same time that I bought the videos, I also bought a book so that I could continue to learn more signs.  I have to admit that I didn't find the signing dictionary in the book all that helpful because the illustrations aren't always clear. I really prefer to use a video signing dictionary so that I can actually see the sign in action. (I've shared some of my favorite resources below.) I did, however, enjoy reading parts of the book- especially those related to the benefits of signing with your baby.

When Emerson showed interest in certain objects, I would show her the sign. I also continued to use signs during our daily routines such as eating, bathing, and diaper changing. Again, I knew that she wasn't going to learn all of those signs at that time but I knew that it was important to continue to expose her to signing as much as possible. I also tried to use signs when we were reading books. This was especially important for learning animal signs. She had never seen a tiger or monkey in real life but she learned the sign by being shown the signs every time she saw those animals in books.

When she was 11 months, it really started to click with her and her signing vocabulary increased by about 10 words. From then on I felt like she was learning signs faster than I could. I am constantly using online dictionaries to learn new signs.

Emerson is now 14 months and she knows approximately 45 signs. It has been so neat to watch her use her signs to communicate with those around her. I really think that it has helped to eliminate tantrums because she can tell me what she wants when she wants it. I also love that she consistently uses please and thank you. I believe that it is so important to teach good as manners as early as possible and baby signing has helped us get on the right track.

Now that Emerson is talking more and more, it's easy to let signing fall by the wayside. However, I would like to try to keep teaching her as many signs as possible. The truth is that it is often much easier to sign a word than say it. For example, Emerson can do the signs for butterfly and watermelon but I doubt that she could say either word at this point. Because she is starting to pick up signs pretty quickly, we are starting to work on putting two signs together to form simple sentences (like eat and banana.) I believe that continuing to sign has longterm benefits (check out some of the You Tube videos below!) so I hope to continue as long as Emerson shows interest.

So now that I've shared our super long little story, I want to share  a few tips I've learned along the way:

If you decide to try signing you will see that there are many different ways to implement baby signing with your baby. You can use strictly ASL, only modified baby signs, or a combination of both. I personally have used a combination. I do try to find the correct ASL sign to show Emerson but most of the time she will modify it herself. Some of the ASL signs are pretty complicated so I try to leave it to her to do the sign the way she wants to. It's also important to note that you should always say the word as you are signing it. You want your baby to make the connection between the spoken word and the sign.

Of course, I am no expert when it comes to baby signs. I'm just a regular mom and I have been learning as I go. I have utilized tons of resources and read quite a bit of research related to baby signs. While it can seem overwhelming at first, it really isn't once you get the hang of it!  Using signs has become second nature because we have been doing it so long. And I do have to say that Jesse was a little bit skeptical of it all at first, but once he saw Emerson do her first few signs he agreed that it was pretty neat!

Along the way I have been asked several times if I am worried about sign language delaying her speech. The answer is NO!! There is quite a bit of research about the use of baby sign language and there is not a single study that indicated that baby signing delays language. In fact, it usually enhances speech development. If you are interested in reading more about this please visit some of the resources listed below. 

I also have to tell you from a personal standpoint that it has NOT affected Emerson's speech in any way.  She has reached the typical speech milestones for a child her age and will often sign and say a word at the same time. Now that she is getting more verbal there are some words that she says instead of signing, which is to be expected. Overall I feel like signing has really helped her make the connection between speech, naming objects, and even written words.

Even though I started signing with Emerson when she was a newborn, I want you to know that you can start with older babies too! If you have an older baby and you are concerned that it is too late to start using baby sing language, I promise that it's not. You can start any time! If your child is waving bye bye then she is probably ready to sign and she will most likely pick up signing very quickly. Also please don't feel that you need to buy anything to be able to do signing with your child. You absolutely don't! There are tons of free resources on the internet and they are every bit as helpful as anything you can buy.

That being said, here are my favorite resources related to baby sign language (most are free, but a few are items that I purchased)

Baby Signs by Doug Abrams and Linda Acredelo 
Baby Signs board book by Joy Allen
My First Signs board book by Annie Kubler
My First Animal Signs board book by Anthony Lewis

Sign Language Dictionary from My Smart Hands (This is my go to dictionary. Love it!)
Baby Signing Time
My Smart Hands You Tube channel (tons of video resources)

FAQ about using baby sign language
Picture dictionary
Sign Language Glossary
Getting Started with baby sign language  (great tips here! I used this before I bought the book.)
15 Easy Signs to Teach Baby
Baby Signs Quick Reference Guide
Speech Milestones

Benefits of baby sign language
Baby Signs research

And a recap of the tips I've learned throughout our signing journey:
And of course, I can't have a baby sign language post without a video of my sweet girl using some of her signs. I apologize in advance for the length. I know none of you are interested in watching E sign for a whole 7 minutes but I did want to include it so that you can see what some of her modified signs look like. :) This was taken last month when  Emerson was 13 months old. It was done on the spur of the moment so it's not the best quality, but I think it gives you an idea of what signing looks like with a one year old.  (For some reason once I uploaded it, the video and the sound don't quite match up. You will hear me tell her good job before you see her do the sign. I'm not sure why but I can't seem to fix it! Sorry guys!)

As I mentioned before, I am no expert but I am a big believer in using baby signs. I just think it's such a neat way to learn and grow with your little one. If you have any questions at all, please don't hesitate to contact me. If I don't know the answer, I will do my best to find it for you. 

Andrea @ Life in Dawleywood said...

great post girl!! We did some signs with Gracie, but only a few. I wish we would have done more.

Lyndsey said...

What a cute video, it is amazing all the signs E knows! You make me want to be better about it, I'm going to try!

Sarah said...

Thanks for this post! I'm interested in doing signs, so this gives me some great resources!

Amanda said...

what wonderful information in this post! we have not done baby sign with stella merely because we did not know anything about it. we should have given it a try! and what a cut video :)

xo, amanda

Christine said...

Tami! Thank you so much for posting!! I am going to look into those books right now! Emerson is so smart and she really does know a lot of signs/words! Wish me luck on my baby signing journey once she gets here in November!


Stephanie said...

I think this is great! I have often thought about using signs with Chloe, and do it periodically, but definitely not often enough for her to catch on. I know the daycare we plan to take her mentioned using it so I'll be curious to see if I start more at home, and the daycare does it too, how quickly she might pick up on it. That's amazing that Emerson knows 45 signs! Way to go!!

Emily said...

Oh my goodness, she is just so adorable! :) I love her little camera shyness... Such a smart girl!

Natalie said...

That's so awesome! Thanks for sharing...I didn't sign with Nolan but am thinking about doing it with baby #2 :)

Megan said...

I need to do baby signs more often, I slack! I loved the video and how awesome 10 words by 11 months, since Vince is that age that is crazy to me and I wish I would have kept up with it. Today I will start doing more! My elementary school had quite a few deaf children so I learned a lot and I haven't forget them. It is such a neat gift and I hope one day E will get to be able to communicate with someone who is deaf, that will be so amazing!

ajs {of MN} said...

this is SO great! i took ASL in college as my required language and was fluent in it! we sign the ABC every time we sing them and I try to do some with her here and there milk/puppy/baby/more/please, but nothing to the point where she will get the hang of it fast unless i were to kick it up a notch- i love that you have been working so hard on this with E- it is adorable!

Mallorie Gayle said...

Oh we are totally going to start this!!!!! I LOVED this video!!! Question...I know you nurse and I don't know about E but Emma Claire will NOT take a bottle. So was her sign for milk for a bottle or for nursing??

Mallorie said...

Leaving another comment just because. I seriously love this post. I'm bookmarking it :-)

luvbnmom said...

I loved this! I wish I had the time to teach my son sign language, but I don't think I would be able to be consistent enough to be helpful 😞 you have done a gret job!

Sarah C. said...

Oh thank you so much for posting about this! I'm just starting out signing with Judah ( he's 5 months) and I've been looking for resources. So far all I'm doing is milk, more, and all done. I'm trying to be consistent with those three, and I'll start adding more signs soon.

Sarah C. said...

Oh thank you so much for posting about this! I'm just starting out signing with Judah (he's 5 months) and I've been looking for resources. So far I'm only doing milk, more, and all done. I'm trying to be consistent with those, and will start adding more soon. It's encouraging to know that it does eventually pay off!

Little Miss Alizzi said...

Great post & thanks for the tips =D I'm so going to start with my little one.
I'm your newest follower =D

Sarah C. said...

Oh thank you so much for posting about this! I'm just starting out signing with Judah ( he's 5 months) and I've been looking for resources. So far all I'm doing is milk, more, and all done. I'm trying to be consistent with those three, and I'll start adding more signs soon.

Sarah C. said...

Haha... I don't know what my phone is doing, sorry for the three posts!

the workaholic momma said...

SO cool!!!! Thats wonderful that Emerson is able to sign so much...Addie has learned some of the basics that they teach at school and I totally agree that it has helped me better understand what she needs and wants!!!! Thanks for sharing:)

Marissa said...

Hey Tami!

So glad that since your blog is well read you put out some great info about baby sign. You might not know, but I'm a speech language pathologist and have signed with Lyla since day 1. She signed 'milk' for the first time at 6 months. Her receptive and expressive language skills are really, really good for her age now and she still signs all the time. We keep adding more and more signs, and even though she can generally express things verbally, it's still a nice form of communication when it's loud or things are going on - she looks at me and signs and I know exactly what she needs. I love signing and the power it gave her at such a young age to communicate. (Again, as a SLP I value this immensely.) I can't wait to sign with our next baby very soon!


Jeremy and Megan said...

This is awesome!!!!!! Omg!! How cute is she signing?! I wish I would have started this when Olivia was smaller!!! So now that she is talking does she do the signs with her words? I saw her do it when she said night night!

allie-mac-fallie said...

Amazing post girl!! Seriously! Coming from someone who took 3 years of ASL in high school and 3 semesters in college - almost minoring in deaf Ed- I'm so proud of you!! Y'all are doing a great job!! Thanks for sharing the benefits with the world too!! ;)

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