Babies develop hand-eye coordination early on, so while your baby might not be able to vocalize her needs, she can learn to sign things like “hungry,” “diaper change” or “I want teddy” with her hands!
You can start teaching infants as young as 6 months old. In fact, Dr. Joseph Garcia, author of Sign with your Baby and creator of the Sign with Your Baby program for Baby Sign Language, based his 1986 graduate thesis on the study of teaching infants sign language. In this research and his subsequent studies, Garcia discovered that babies who were regularly exposed to signing beginning at 6 months could use signs by the time they were 8 to 9 months old.
So what does this mean for you? It’s possible to not only teach your child sign language but also to alleviate stress and frustration that come from not understanding what your baby is trying to tell you. Even better, studies have shown that babies who are taught to sign early on have higher IQs, develop larger vocabularies and benefit from increased bonding with parents. Plus, it’s an enjoyable activity you can have fun with.
Start with 5
If you aren’t sure where to begin, start with just a few signs, no more than five, and practice them with your baby on a regular basis. Use your own signs, do a Google search for “baby sign language,” or look for American Sign Language (ASL) charts. You’ll get the most out of teaching your baby to sign words like:
Once you identify the five that are most important to you, it’s all about practice, practice, practice! After you feed your baby, teach her a sign for food. You can also show your baby the sign before and during the event. Experiment with this until you find the most effective way for the baby to make the connection between the event and the hand gesture.
Remember to show positive encouragement and reward your baby’s efforts. In the beginning, for example, the baby might not be able to physically do the gestures perfectly but will naturally attempt to copy you. Praise your baby and show encouragement for these efforts! And by all means, try not to get frustrated, even on days when your baby just isn’t in the mood for signing. It should be a fun experience for both of you.
If you’re considering teaching your baby sign language and looking for additional resources, many websites offer helpful tips and advice. Babysignlanguage.com and Dr. Garcia’s book, Sign with your Baby, offer full programs with training, flash cards and more. For in-person support, look for baby sign language classes that teach parents how to sign with their babies.