Have you ever wondered what your baby would say if they could speak? Whether your baby is hearing or deaf, using American Sign Language (ASL) will have positive and rewarding impacts on their everyday lives. Using ASL leads to earlier and clearer communication, promotes cognitive development, and gives babies the opportunity to share their needs and wants before they can speak. Other benefits to teaching babies sign language include:
- Larger vocabularies
- Increased self-esteem
- Higher cognitive and emotional intelligence
- Opportunity for bonding
- Easier communication
- Reduced frustration
- Earlier speech
Because vision is a baby’s most undeveloped sense, it takes a few months for a baby to develop their focus, hand-eye coordination, and depth perception. Once your baby can maintain eye contact, it’s a great time to start introducing signs. Of course, you can start signing from birth, since it’s never too early.
Establishing a structured time to teach your baby sign language is unnecessary.
Signing regularly during day-to-day activities should be incorporated into your daily routine to avoid overwhelming yourself and to keep it enjoyable for you and your baby. Eventually, your baby will start using the signs you model. If necessary, keep the signing sessions brief. Remember, your baby is learning a new skill and prolonged demonstrations could be overwhelming and exhausting.
Once you’re ready to begin teaching your baby sign language, start simple. Teach them signs for words you use everyday. This will likely vary from family to family, but in general, most parents use similar vocabulary with their babies. Begin by incorporating these significant signs into your interactions with your baby:
|eat||drink||hello||I love you||baby||please|
Now that you know where to begin, here are some helpful hints to keep in mind when teaching your baby signs:
- Establish and maintain eye contact.
- Use your facial expressions, energy, body posturing, voice, etc. to keep your baby’s attention.
- Remain in your baby’s line of sight and within appropriate proximity.
- When babies are under six months of age, sign within 8-12 inches of their face, because they have a limited field of vision.
- Over time, your child can pick up your signing in their peripheral vision, but direct line of sight is always best.
- Use your dominant hand when signing.
- If you hold a pencil, pen, or fork with your right hand, then sign one-handed signs with the right hand as well.
- For two-handed signs, your dominant hand will be the action hand.
- Repeat signs often.
- The more your baby sees you modeling signs, the sooner they will learn.
- To encourage signing, tap or mold your baby’s hand to form the signs.
- If the baby resists, stop and try again another time.
- Encourage imitation from your baby by signing with other adults in the baby’s presence.
- Sign at home, when visiting family, and in public.
- Your location should not impact your baby’s exposure to sign language.
To learn more about teaching babies, toddlers, and children sign language, refer to some of these suggested books:
- The Parents’ Guide to Baby Signs: Early Communication with Your Infant
- My First Baby Signs
- Baby Signs: A Baby-Sized Introduction to Speaking with Sign Language
- Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk
- Teach Your Tot to Sign
- Baby Sign Language Made Easy: 101 Signs to Start Communicating with Your Child Now
- Baby Sign Language Basics: Early Communication for Hearing Babies & Toddlers
It’s impossible to predict exactly when your baby will start using signs. All you can do is model and wait. Once they make their first sign (even if a crude approximation), take the opportunity to celebrate the moment and reward your child to reinforce it. While recognizing and understanding your baby’s attempts to sign can be difficult at first, with your acknowledgment, modeling, and repetition, their signing will become more precise over time as their coordination and dexterity develops.
I commend you for seeking to enrich the life of your baby. Using ASL with babies provides an array of beneficial experiences and an additional avenue for communication, especially since visual and muscular coordination develops long before vocalization. When communication improves, frustrations decrease and bonds strengthen.