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
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:
- “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.
- “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…
- “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!
- “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!
- “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.
- “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!
- “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.
- “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.
Books to read
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Photo Credit: The Art of Making a Baby