First 8 Signs to Teach Your Baby

Why teach your baby sign language?  Babies can understand verbal communication before they develop the skills required to verbally communicate themselves.  Teaching your baby how to sign can provide them with a valuable communication skill that will enhance, rather than delay, their overall language development.  Signing may also help you gain a better understanding of how your child views the world around them and in turn lead to less fussiness and fewer meltdowns due to communication misunderstandings.

BOOKS TO HELP YOU


500-separator-grey Don’t worry, Mom, you don’t have to know the entire American Sign Language (ASL) dictionary before you start teaching your little one.  You can both learn as you go and have fun learning new signs and integrating them as you go about your days together.  Begin signing commonly used signs that are important to your baby as well as fun for both of you to learn together.  Make sure you are consistent in your usage of signing, making sure to use the appropriate sign whenever possible, upon waking, eating, playing, or exploring. Try starting with these first 8 signs to teach your baby about the world around them:

Milk:

 

“Squeeze one or both hands, imitating a farmer milking a cow.”  Possibly the most important sign in your baby’s world!  No matter what type of milk they start with, they will associate milk with a full tummy, comfort and closeness to mom or dad (or any long-term care provider), and this is a sign they can pick up quickly because it is a sign in which they will receive almost immediate gratification for learning.

Eat:

 

“Simply bring your fingers to your mouth as if you are holding a piece of food and are going to eat it.”  Another high-impact sign for your baby is “eat” once they begin solids.  Your baby will get a lot of use out of this sign telling you when they are ready to eat…

More:

 

“Bring the fingertips of both hands together in a repeated action.”  …and when they want more!  More to eat, more to drink, more to play.  Mommy, swing me again…more!

All Done:

 

“Hold both palms facing upward, then flip to a downward position.”  This sign is also helpful for your baby to communicate when they are finished with a meal or activity rather than throwing the food or crayons or toys across the room or onto the floor for you to pick up for the billionth time!

Bath:

 

“Scrub your chest with your two fists with thumbs up, as if you were washing yourself.”  This is a practical but fun sign to learn if your little one loves the bath.  Whether or not your child likes the bath, communicating to your child what activity is coming next is important in preventing over-stimulation and diffusing meltdowns.

Hurt:

 

“Bring your two index fingers together in front of your body.  Be sure to use a facial expression that shows you are in pain.”  This is an excellent safety sign that will enable you to assist your child in ways you wouldn’t as easily be able to if they couldn’t communicate with you through signing.  You will be able to tell the difference between when their ear or tummy is truly in pain or if they are simply pitching a fit because their left sock is lower than their right one, or something equally as detrimental!

Dog:

 

“Pat your thigh as if you were calling a dog to ‘come here’.”  Learning a fun sign by incorporating a family pet can be especially enjoyable for your baby as they build their signing vocabulary.  Babies and young children are usually fascinated by animals so teaching them how to use the sign for their favorite furry family member will be a fun sign for all.

Book:

 

“Hold palms together, then open them as if they are a book and you are opening it.”  Again, it is important to learn signs related to baby’s interests so they can communicate what they enjoy doing and so you can participate in their most loved activities early on in life.  “Book” is a simple sign and one your baby will learn to understand and use quickly.

  Most importantly, choose signs that are relevant and fun for your family.  Provide your baby with lots of encouragement by giving them your full attention when they communicate with you, acknowledging that you understand them.  And expand with new signs whenever you and your baby are ready, you’ll be surprised at how easy building your own sign language vocabulary can be and how often you will enjoy using it every day.

For more information about baby signing, including video demonstrations and pictures, check out some of Daily Mom’s favorite books, websites, and smartphone apps: Babytalk by Monica Beyer – A Guide to Using Basic Sign Language to Communicate with Your Baby (Descriptions of signs quoted above taken from “Babytalk”) www.babysignlanguage.com – This site has a wealth of baby sign language knowledge on it and while it sells kits for your signing enjoyment, it also provides a visual video dictionary with hundreds of signs, printable flash cards, and wall chart.  This site is a must-visit for learning sign language with your baby. Learn American Sign Language app ($1.99) – This app contains 9 video lessons that you can follow along with and take a quiz after each lesson. Baby Sign ASL app (Free lite version with 34 signs or $4.99 for 200+ signs)-  This app presents signs in a video dictionary format and provides quite a bit in the free version to get you started on your signing journey.  The free version includes a quiz feature as well.

Books to read


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To learn more about how to connect and communicate with your little one be sure to check out NURTURE.

Photo Credit: The Art of Making a Baby

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Valerie

Valerie lives in Atlanta with her husband, son, and 3 pups. She is a biologist by education but is most passionate about her family and in supporting other women and their families during their own journeys to parenthood as a childbirth doula, educator, and lactation consultant. She is also very interested in nutrition and has extensive experience preparing meals for those following the paleo lifestyle. She has an intrinsic love for writing and you can find her thoughts throughout her own journey to parenthood at www.faithfullyfollowing.wordpress.com

Comments (18)

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    Lindsey

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    Sleep, or “night night” is a great one to teach as well. Just lay your head on your hands like a pillow. My son used that a lot before he talked. Oh, and seeing your baby sign “I love you” is like the sweetest thing ever- he’ll still sign that one from time to time even though he dropped all his other signs over 8 months ago.

    Reply

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    Linara

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    At what age should one start signing to a child?

    Reply

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      Elena

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      You can start as early as birth, but the optimal age is 6 months because you won’t burn out and get tired of signing without any response back. Most kids sign back at 9-12 months of age, so realistically you don’t HAVE to start till 8-9 months if you’d like.

      Reply

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    Joelle

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    I started signing to my Little One at 4 months. By 5 months she was signing “milk”, “mum” and occasionally “daddy”. She’s 9 months now and Shea added the signs “more”, “all done”, to her vocabulary.

    Reply

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    Leanne

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    these are great! But I’m surprised book and dog come before please and thank you. My children are now 6 & 3 and I had taught them a few signs. Most of what’s on this list but please and thank you came 3 & 4 I think manners are more important then dog and book.

    Reply

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      nelita

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      I agree. My daughter is 15 months and the first signs she learned where more, all done, please, and thank you. She can say milk, bath, dog, and papa (food) so I didn’t teach those signs. Great list but please and thank you should be added.

      Reply

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      Karen lynn

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      I know this is an older post, but I felt compelled to respond in case another parent happens across it. “Please” and “thank you” are socially driven language; where as, foods, actions, pets, etc are personally motivating. When teaching a child language, whether sign or vocal, it is important to focus on what THE CHILD is motivated by, not manners, as this will increase success and reinforcement of meaningful language and the concept of communication to get what you need/want. Focusing on please and thank you prematurely can cause frustration because they don’t give the child any intrinsic reward (that’s rewarding for the parent but has no value to an early learning child). For an easy example, If your child is developmentally capable of learning 6 signs at a given point, that is an opportunity for them to be independent with 6 FUNCTIONAL signs/vocalizations; if you teach please and thank you, 1/3 of their teaching will be on language that carries no value to them. With that said, older children and children with a larger repertoire of signs/vocalizations should absolutely be taught manners :).

      Reply

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        Ally

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        The reason why I don’t teach my work children (I work with children with SEN) please and thank you is because those signs can be used for EVERYTHING. A child wants more food, please; a child wants the thing they’re pointing at, please. It limit a child’s vocabulary in the months to come because they quickly discover that ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can be used instead of using the actual words they need. I actually had to ask one of the daycare centres my work children attend to stop getting him to sign ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

        But I do agree than dog is a little out of place, unless you actually have a dog. I would recommend ‘up’ or ‘toy’ or some other item or action that they enjoy.

        Reply

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    Donna

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    I taught my oldest son to sign because i read an article that said if kids are taught to sign, they are more likely to have better vocabularies, talk earlier and talk more … turned out that having a violent abusive father screwed with my son’s ability to talk, such that even now at age 12, he has the speech, language and learning ability of a 6-7 year old …

    However, teaching him to sign was the best thing i could have done for him because, even though he wouldn’t talk, we could still communicate 🙂 I taught him food, drink, all done/gone, come here and a few others and he would often let me know that his drink was all gone, or that he was finished eating – it saved a LOT of hassles that’s for sure …

    Reply

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    Lydia

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    I feel that please and thank you are a must, as well has help. My daughters ability at 12 months to ask for help rather then scream has been so calm!

    Reply

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      Ally

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      Please and thank you are signs that shouldn’t be taught at first. In my experience (five years of working with children and two years work working with SEN children), once a child learns the signs please and thank you, the other signs are dropped by the child. Why sign what you want when you can just point at an object and sign please. It limits the children’s vocabulary. Instead of teaching the sign, teach the word once the child has a spoken vocabulary.

      However, the sign ‘help’ sounds like a good idea instead of ‘dog’. Unless you have a dog.

      Reply

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    Joann

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    Begin signing from birth! All that eye contact you get before they become mobile is so useful. This is what the Deaf do and it works really well. I did this with my 3 kids and began signing back at 4mo, 7mo and 2mo respectively. Also, start with signs that of interest to your baby rather than the signs that make it easier for you to take care of them because it will take longer for them to pick up those abstract signs. My favorites to start with are FAN, LIGHT, DOG, RATTLE, KEYS, MILK, BATH, WATER, DUCK, BUBBLES, REMOTE CONTROL, PHONE, BIRD, BALLOON, BALL https://youtu.be/Z-Wngkl3j3A

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    Jane

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    i had planned on doing signing with my baby, but never got around to it. In all honesty, I’m glad I didn’t put all that time in! At 13 months he could say all the words on this list, and now at 14 months his vocabulary is up to like 30+ words! I know every baby is different, but I loved learning his own unique cues and body language.

    Reply

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    aisha

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    can you help me with sign languages for an autistic toddler? he doesn nit talk at all..he is2 years 8months old..many thanks

    Reply

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    Tina

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    I have learned the Eat and Bath sign to my baby so far.

    I never tried Milk and Book sign in front of my baby but I am going to try to learn him these signs soon.

    Great article by the way!

    Reply

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