Communicating with babies using sign language

What is baby sign language?

Baby signing uses manual sign language to allow children to communicate their needs and feelings before they are able to use spoken language. Children will naturally use gestures before they are able to communicate verbally, and baby sign language is an intentional extension of this development stage, used to benefit babies, and their parents and guardians, in many ways.

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What are the benefits of baby sign language?

Experts have found that children tend to develop the desire to communicate long before they have developed the verbal skills to actually do so. Understandably this can be the source of many a tantrum and much frustration. Baby sign language closes that developmental gap and allows even very young babies to express their thoughts and feelings. Many parents have also found this to help with the parent-child bond.

How does it work?

It has been discovered that any form of signing can be hugely beneficial, but there are a few different methods and versions that you can choose from. In hearing children baby sign language is taught alongside and in conjunction with standard verbal speech, and is not the same as the full Auslan sign language taught to non-hearing children. Baby signs tend to be much simpler, not requiring complex grammar or sentence structure, although some of the gestures are based on those used within the deaf community. One popular form of signing for babies and children is Makaton or Key Word Sign and there are many popular resources online.

What will we learn?

With courses, books, websites, apps and online tutorials you will have lots of choice depending on how much time you would like to dedicate to learning baby signing. Many parents who are only using sign as a complimentary form of early communication simply print the free resources found online or use the apps and videos. With the baby signing craze becoming ever popular throughout the parenting community, babies and toddlers are even enjoying more communication with one another in their early learning centres and group childcare settings. This all helps dramatically with socialisation and making friends, another important stage in your little one’s early development.

Baby signing teaching tips

  • Start with only 3 or 4 simple signs, using something your baby likes and identifies with. Perhaps blanket, teddy, sippy cup or dummy.
  • 6 to 8 months is the optimum starting age, as at this time your baby has started to hold your gaze and observe you, even if only for short periods. Starting now will begin the signing learning curve.
  • Have fun with it and repeat the signs on a regular basis, with other family members joining in too.
  • When your youngster begins to mimic the signs they will realise they can get your attention and ask for things. Once they start catching on you can introduce new signs.
  • When introducing an object to your child like a drink or a toy, give the sign for that object, so they will know what to ask for next time.