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Ready, Set, Sign!

Sign language has been an amazing communication tool for our family. Upon discovery that my daughter has Down syndrome, we were fairly certain that verbal communication was going to be delayed. As a result, we started teaching her sign language at a very young age. Darah is able to tell us when she is hungry, thirsty, hurt, sleepy, and when she wants a bath. She can also participate in “small talk” as well, by naming things she sees or wants like dogs, rain, stars, shoes, airplanes, and yogurt. Darah (at 3 1/2 years old) has over 200 signs now that she uses! Sign language has been such a gift for her and I am so happy that we introduced it to her! When Connor was born, signing was already part of our lives. Connor (now 15 months) learned signs pretty much by osmosis. I am surprised at the number of signs he’s learned just by observing Darah. The other day, Darah was in time-out and he decided to sit in time-out with her. When I allowed Darah to come out of time-out, he stood up and surprised me by signing “sorry.” I then drilled him some of Darah’s signs, and he knew “please,” “thank-you,” “dog,” and several other signs that I never once showed him. He also consistently uses “more,” “all done,” “eat,” “milk,” “bath,” and several other signs.

Babies as young as 10 months old can communicate with sign language. An ideal time to start introducing signs is when your baby is six months old. However, if your baby is older, it’s never too late! Here are some things that you should know when starting to teach your baby sign language.

Sign language will not impede your child’s speech development!

So many people think, “if I teach my baby to communicate with sign language, he is going to take longer to speak.” Actually, teaching your baby to sign will more than likely speed up his verbal communication. Before any child is ready to say their first words, there are some foundational skills that must be learned and some oral motor development that must take place. By teaching your baby to sign, you are teaching him the foundational skills required to communicate. By the time your baby is cognitively and physically ready to start saying words, he will be well ahead of his peers because of the communication foundation he’s already learned. These foundational skills include, but are not limited to:

  • learning the concept of cause and effect

  • understanding the concept of turn taking

  • understanding that two or more words can be linked together, thus creating sentences (as in signing “more milk,” “big ball,” etc…)

Here’s a great article about the benefits of signing with your baby.

Reinforce with your spoken words!

When you sign with your baby, make sure you are saying and signing the word very clearly. Your baby is fascinated by your face; make it interesting by exaggerating your mouth movements. Be sure to talk to your baby all day long about anything and everything. By telling your baby about the train that’s passing by and talking about the yogurt and milk in the dairy aisle of the grocery store, you are reinforcing their receptive language skills.

Start off slowly

Begin by teaching your child 1-3 signs. “Milk,” “more,” “eat,” and “all done” are great signs to begin with because they are things that surround your baby’s daily life. Teach your baby signs that you have ample opportunities to use throughout the day.

Use your signs in context

It’s so much fun to show off our baby’s newest tricks, and sign language is a great way to capture those “oohs” and “ahhs!” However, make sure that when you are modeling or asking for a sign, it is in context. Asking your baby to sign “apple,” when he is neither hungry nor are there any apples around can potentially confuse your baby. The goal of teaching your baby sign language is to teach them a way to communicate their wants and needs, so make sure you keep it in context!

Don’t give up!

It is going to take you modeling a sign many many times before you see your child imitate. Keep going. Help your baby by doing hand-over-hand signing. This is where you take your baby’s hands in yours and do the sign together. Your baby will catch on! Just remember to be patient. Once they learn a few signs, it’ll get easier and easier to teach new ones. The first few take the longest to learn. Just make sure you’re consistent, enthusiastic, and give your child lots of praise for any attempts made. Your baby will have their “ah-ha” moment and will become a signing junkie!

May I recommend?

Baby Signing Time Volumes One and Two

These are excellent dvd’s which incorporate wonderful beginning signs with fun, catchy music. Both of my children love the Signing Times series and the Baby series is top-notch! Their website also has a lot of great information for parents who want to teach their babies to sign.

What has your experience been with sign language and your children?

13 Responses to Ready, Set, Sign!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Mom On The Run
    March 12, 2008 @ 3:21 am

    Wow! Great post! I gave up signing with my first, however DD #2 is now 8 months old and I’ve been signing “milk”, “more” and “all done” with her since 6 months. Last week we were shopping and I swore she whined to get my attention, then looked right at me and signed “milk”. I took her straight to a bench and she happily nursed. Whenever she gets distracted waiting for the milk to letdown and pops off to look around, I sign “milk” and say “Brookie, milkies” and she instantly remembers what she was doing and comes back to the breast. My hubby is rarely home so I’m her only caregiver and my signing is consistent. I hope that in the next few months I’ll see more evidence of her signing back to me. What other signs do you reccommend me introducing to her? When would I introduce them? I’ve found some great websites that teaches the signs, but I don’t want to overwhelm her. Your help and advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

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  • Comment by McKenna
    March 12, 2008 @ 11:07 am

    Hi Mon on the Run! I think you should expand on some of he favorite foods. Mealtimes are such great opportunities to work on signing! I also think you can introduce daily routine signs, like “bath, outside, car, etc…” My daughter is obsessed with animals, so she was excited to learn animal signs. She knows a ridiculous amount of animal signs, but it’s fun for her and gives her an opportunity to communicate her passion with us at her young age! :D It’s hilarious when there’s a animal in real life, on the television or in her book because she really really gets into it and wants to make sure everyone knows that she saw whatever animal it was! I’ve taken zoo trips to focus on practicing her animal signs. Find what your daughter LOVES and build on it!

  • Comment by McKenna
    March 12, 2008 @ 11:08 am

    PS: I strongly recommend the signing times videos! They do the “work” for you on knowing what signs to teach next. They have a list of the signs in their videos on their website, so if you can’t buy the videos, you can follow their signing schedule!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Jenny
    March 12, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

    I read the book Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn when my oldest, Joaquin was about 3 months. They recomend starting signing when the baby is about six months, but they say not to expect anything until maybe 9 or 10 months. They also say to incorporate signs into everything you do. The baby doesn’t necessarily have to be using the sign or “know” the sign before you introduce another one. Baby takes it all in and reproduces when ready. Joaquin started signing at about 10 months and we used them pretty consistently until he began talking. People have often commented about how articulate he is and I think signs have a lot to do with it. Frida is 13 months old and we’ve been signing to her for about 7 months. She consistently signs, “milk,” “more,” “all done,” “sleep,” “down,” “eat”. I love that she is able to communicate her needs to me and I don’t have to always guess what she’s wanting. The thing we have to work on is consistency – because we communicate verbally with each other it takes a little extra effort to include signs in our routine. But the extra effort it is so worth it when your baby starts communicating with you!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Melissa
    March 12, 2008 @ 5:27 pm

    My cousin does sign language with her daughters, and she told me a story about her oldest and their cat. Apparently, the cat jumped on the table and was drinking milk out of a cup…Symma frantically signed “cat!” “milk!” “cat!” “milk!” to her parents until the cat was caught in the act! :)

    Such a cute story, and really shows how kids know what’s going on long before they can speak!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Amelia
    March 13, 2008 @ 8:33 pm

    We did signs with the older two and plan on doing them with Graham too. Ewan at one point knew a bunch of signs. Around 100 I think. We read the same book Jenny read and loved it. Ewan could really communicate with his signs. One time, when Isaac was a little baby, Jon and Ewan had gone on a walk. Isaac and I had been sleeping and I had woken up and went outside to look for them. They were coming back and Ewan signed to me two signs: “Where is it?” and then the sign for “baby”. He must have been about 15 or 16 months old. It was so sweet that he wanted to know where the baby was. Gradually as Ewan started talking the signs decreased but it sure was nice having them as a bridge to talking.

    We started using signs with Isaac and he learned a few but he started talking much sooner than Ewan did and was speaking in sentences at 17 months old. It seemed that every time we introduced a new sign he just learned the word.

    Please and thank you are the signs that have lasted the longest around our house. Just today, Isaac who is 3.5 just used the please yesterday which really surprised me. I think please in particular became part of the boys subconscious and they continued to do the sign way after they were talking. Ewan hasn’t done it since he turned 4 but he still did during his 3rd year.

    I am definitely a fan of baby signs and will use them with every baby we ever have!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Heidi
    March 14, 2008 @ 8:59 am

    Did you hear about the 17-month old that can read? She was on the “Today” show and it was amazing. She actually read phrases! She was 13-months old when she read her first word “corn” at the grocery store. The parents think the Signing Time series contributed. I guess it doesn’t hurt to have parents as speech pathologists as well.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Stacey
    March 14, 2008 @ 1:24 pm

    McKenna, I, too, use Signing Time! I love it. I have 5 children and 1 has a rare brain disorder that has left her with little speech. Using sign and ST! has opened the world of communication to her. I’m so glad that sign is working for you. When my 2 1/2 year old started signing he loved volumes 4-5 of Signing Time!. I recommend all volumes of the series. Have you seen the new ones in Series 2? You can check them out at signingtime.com Your comments on how to get started with sign are great!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by amelia
    March 14, 2008 @ 7:14 pm

    Heidi-I heard about that. My mom sent me a link but I haven’t watched it yet. I am going to right now though!

  • Gravatar June 11, 2008 @ 6:51 am

    [...] wrote a post on signing called, “Ready, Set, Sign” if you are interested in reading more about baby sign [...]

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Luana
    July 9, 2008 @ 2:16 am

    I am from Romania and I have a 14 month old daughter with DS. I am trying to do my mest to help her achieve the most but I face the lack of material and feed-back. Here, in Romania, early intervention is hardly beginning and it is not done at a wide scale. I am going with my daughter to a swimming pool and she gets some kinetotherapy at a private practitioner and ocupational therapy within an association. As for the more “brainy” part the early signing and reading approach is not known. Though, I do find it very interesting and promising. My Erin is sitting (but her back is not stiff enough yet), tries to pull to standing (but, as she avoids putting her knees down, that is a really hard thing to do), walks if I hold her by her arms, babbles but I can´t say we have started communicating otherways tahn through an empathic way (she can make me understand if she wants to be fed or if she´s bored, but …). I wonder if this signing approach is language related or, by trying to get some material I could convert it into Romanian. If so, could you suggest me what you think might be more appropriate (I can´t really afford buying too many things to test or too expensive ones. But if there is something really worth … my daughter deserves her chance!).
    Any other suggestions would be useful to me. Thank you in advance. All the best.

  • Gravatar
    Comment by revmom
    September 15, 2008 @ 11:44 pm

    I have no experience with DS, but my 2 year old has been signing since he turned 16 months. On vacation on my parents’ farm, it seemed to just “click,” and he learned lots of signs in a month. He, too, loves the animals: everything from frog to elephant to cat he signs, and gets excited to point out. He doesn’t talk much yet, but communicates short sentences in sign! He still soaks up all the signs that we will teach him. Makes it challenging for the babysitters, but the church nursery attendant is an interpreter, so that’s convenient!

    I checked out the website listed below, and found it to be helpful and free, with good videos to show you the proper sign (not that the 2 year old does it completely proper!). About halfway down is a “ASL Babies dictionary.” Pick some of the more useful words for your situation, and start incorporating it into your routine.

    Good luck!

  • Gravatar
    Comment by Judy
    October 2, 2008 @ 10:42 pm

    Dear Luana:

    I’m sure that Romanian has its own sign language. Of course, you are welcome to learn ASL and use it, but you may want to learn how to fingerspell in your own language, or use what signs the Deaf community there uses for town names, places, etc. I would definitely recommend visiting a Deaf school (in Bucharest? What town do you live in?), or even a place where Deaf people hang out, and try to pick up the local sign language to teach your daughter. The clear advantage for doing this, of course, is that you would be using a recognized sign language in your country, so that eventually she will be able to communicate with people other than her family who have learned her “code.”

    Good luck–I wish you and your family well.

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