The following is a guest post by Elizabeth Sprague.
Why should I teach my baby Sign Language?
Even with the rise in popularity of Baby Sign Language, many parents still wonder why they should teach their baby if they can hear just fine. Most babies get fussy or cry to signal that they need something, but what if they could tell you without having to cry? Teaching them to communicate using signs gives babies that aren’t talking yet the opportunity to tell you what they need without frustration. Babies naturally use gestures to talk to you before they can speak. They point, wave and many make up their own signs for favorite items. By teaching them Baby Signs you are expanding their vocabulary resulting in some amazing benefits.
Baby Sign Language Can:
*Boost Social and Emotional Development
*Reduce tears and frustration
*Create a stronger bond
*Help your baby talk sooner
*Help in a bilingual setting
*Help potty train before the age of two
*Give you a window into the life of your child
One of the biggest Baby Sign Language myths is that it can delay speech. Exactly the opposite is true! Compare it to crawling before walking. Once they figure out that they can communicate they start looking for more ways to do just that! You can read the study on the benefits of Baby Sign Language here.
When should I start teaching my baby Sign Language?
Generally anytime between 4-12 months is a good time to start. If you start younger it may take longer for your baby to sign back, but they may also have a larger signing vocabulary.
Below are two videos of Joshua signing at 14 and 17 months old. I started teaching him at 12 months old.
How do I teach my baby to sign?
Teaching a baby to sign is as easy as teaching them to wave “Bye-Bye.” Most parent teach their baby to wave goodbye by taking their hand, waving it and saying the word “Bye-Bye.” That’s exactly how you teach a baby any sign!
*Get your baby’s attention
*Say the word and make the sign (It is important to always say the word while you sign it!)
*Help your baby try to make the sign
Which signs should I start with?
The easiest signs to start with are the mealtime signs. Mealtime is an important time in every baby’s day. Signs for “Eat,” “Drink,” “More” and “All-Done” are great starter signs. Pick signs that fit into your daily routine and match your child’s interests. If he loves watching the cars and trucks on the road teach the sign for “Car.” If she loves watching the birds and smelling the flowers then teach the signs for “Flower” and “Bird.”
As your child learns more signs you’ll be amazed at what they have to tell you! They will point out a dog at the park that you didn’t even know they were looking at, they will tell you they want to go down the slide when you though the swing was their favorite!
Keep in mind that some signs are difficult for babies to master so they may use a simplified version or their own version. Some parents want to use strictly ASL, they may want to continue teaching Sign Language as a second language. In this case think of the simplified signs as saying “ba-ba” before mastering the word “bottle.” Keep showing your baby the correct sign and they will get it eventually. Other parents are using the Baby Sign Language strictly as a way to bridge the communication gap until their baby can speak. In this case I encourage parents to let their baby use simplified signs and make up their own signs; as long as everyone is being understood! Be sure care providers are aware of any signs that are baby’s creation 🙂 The benefits are the same either way you want to go.
Signs can also help keep your baby safer. Teaching signs for words like “Hot,” “Hurt,” and “Help” can help you detect ear infections, fever or help you warn baby of potential dangers.
Baby Sign Language is extremely beneficial in a daycare setting, serving as a universal language for all babies and caregivers. Many parents know their child’s “hungry” cry from their “tired” or “hold me” cry, but a daycare provider with more than one infant may not. I can tell you that after realizing how much my babies could communicate their needs without tears I would never leave them with a provider that wasn’t at least willing to learn these simple signs. I strongly believe that every daycare provider should use Baby Sign Language in their center.