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Baby Sign Language

Titus signing milk just after waking up in the morning, he still looks all sleepy

I have done baby sign language with all 3 of my children and so I thought I would share some of my experiences with you in the form of answering some questions that people often ask

1) What age to start?
I would say that it is better not to be too enthusiastic and risk to starting too early. Babies are not dexterous enough to start signing back to you much before 9months and some only really get going after a year. Titus is 16 months now and from about 13-14months he really started to use the signs. There is no problem in starting early it is all about you, and if you think that can sign for months before they first sign back then that is fine but if you might get demotivated if you have been signing from 3 months and have months to wait until they sign back, rather start later.
The only time that this is not the case is when you are in a family where a memember of the family uses sign language to communicate. Then it is good to use sign language with the baby from young and let baby see it being used by all the family as a communication that extends past the baby years.


2) Which type/language/version to use?
This is a personal choice, when I had Rachel I was keen to use South African Sign Language as I hoped that she would be able to learn the language and then use it one day if needed. I struggled to find stuff on line in South African sign language except expensive courses and books. So I just went with what I could find in books and on line. This happened to be mostly American Sign language. Although a lot of the signs are quite similar.

What I realized with Rachel was that babies drop the sign and start using the words as soon as they know the word. When Caleb came along Rachel who signed a lot as a baby could not remember any of her signs ( except I love you, which we still use) For a family that does not use sign language as part of the normal communication most children will not remember their signs and so it is not really a useful language for later it is just a tool for communication while they are small. This is obviously not true for a family using sign language for other reasons. Then it is important to use the same signs as the rest of the family are using.


3) Will sign language slow down or interrupt their speech development?
No, not at all, it actually stimulates the centers in the brain used for speech and communication and babies often start to speak early or totally on par with babies not using sign language.

4) Can babies make all the sign properly?
Well no not always, it is a bit like they might mispronounce words when they first start talking but you as a parent who are tuned into what they are saying can understand them. Titus’s signs are often not perfect but I know what he wants and this is the most important thing


5) Bilingual families
Titus is the first of my 3 that is being raised bilingual and so I did not know how sign language would fit into this but it has been great. The biggest reason that I think Titus signs so much is that both The Geek and I sign to him but when we say the word I use English and he used Afrikaans. It has been great in helping Titus see that the different words in the 2 languages have the same sign. I am expecting him to talk later as bilingual babies often do, so for him sign language really helps him communicate and be less frustrated.


6) Why use sign language?
I guess I should have started with this one but I need to take the kids to swimming and I don’t feel like remumbering the whole post ( how is that for honesty)
Why sign – becasue babies are dexterous and able to use their hands to communicate before they are able to speak and so it help give them a way to communicate during the toddler stage when they are finding their independence and are often frustrated that we don’t understand their gurgles. Being able to know when Titus is hungry and when he wants to go to the potty or has finished eating is great.

There are course available which I am sure you can find in your area if you want to go for a course.
I just used google and looked for signs. I also used a small book I found at Exclusive books which had some basic baby signs.
There are lots and lots of baby sign language websites, some that want you to buy the course but there is a lot for free too.
You can also make up your own signs as long as you all use the same signs.
Makaton is specific sign language for those who battle to communicate and is often used with children with learning or developmental difficulties. If you have one child using this or feel it might benefit a family member then this is a good version to use. It also uses more simple and easy to do signs that are perfect for babies.

Most of all enjoy communicating with your baby.

5 thoughts on “Baby Sign Language

  1. We also did sign language with Little OL. It has been great and has avoided a lot of frustration. She could tell us the sign for milk, food etc.

    However, it has not promoted speech with her. She is one of the slower talkers in our group and still prefers the sign over the word, although is beginning to say more words. She is now 26 months old. I started with her when she was about 6 months but it was really only later that she got enthusistic about it. I still sign and sign new words and things but less and less. I would recommend it.

    We also did American Sign Language as it was the easiest to find information on, and if I did no know a sign it was the quickest for me to find it out.

    • Pamela it is great to be able to communicate. I just imagine how frustrated my kids would have been without it.

  2. I was skeptical about baby sign language at first but I was singing a song with my 1-year old one day and he was doing hand signs along with the song. He forgot the next part of the song so I did the hand sign and he immediately remembered and picked up singing again. I started thinking that if he could sign out a song, he should be able to sign other things as well. So for a couple of days, I signed “please” and “thank you” every time I said them. I started looking online to learn more about baby sign language but those were the two that I used consistently. After a couple of days, my husband started making fun of me and I eventually slacked off and stopped doing the signs. Then it happened. DJ pointed at his cup one day and said “More”. I said “How do you ask nicely?” and he got a big smile on his face and signed “Please”! I hadn’t used the sign for several days at that point but there was no doubt that’s what he was doing. So I got serious and started signing EVERYTHING. Everywhere we went, he’d ask me the sign for various things. If I didn’t know the sign, we’d make something up and that was OUR sign. DJ’s speech was VERY advanced and he generally learned new words and signs at the same time. It was mostly fun for us, and as I learned later, good practice.

    When DJ was 2, his little brother was born. I didn’t make a big deal about signing to Baby James, but DJ and I continued signing to each other as we had been. I don’t remember when I first noticed it but James had a tendency to curl his fingers as if he were waving “bye-bye” while he was nursing. I never really thought much about it but DJ saw him one day when he was about 7 months old and said, “Look, Mommy…he’s saying ‘milk’!” I was doubtful but it *could* have been the sign for milk. When I said “milk” and showed him that I understood, he started making the sign more vigorously and smiling. Grandma didn’t believe until she saw it for herself. Every time she’d hold up a bottle, he’d sign “milk”. When she put it down, he stopped. We soon realized that when he put his hands over his eyes when he was sleepy, that wasn’t just a funny quirk, it was the sign for “sleep”. Over the next few months, he picked up more signs…sometimes slowly, sometimes faster than we could keep up. James was tongue-tied and had some other issues so his speech was very delayed. He was well over 2 years old before he said anything discernible and even at that, only his brother and I could understand him and only about half the time. Even now, he’s almost 6 and we struggle to understand some of his words. But he’s been using sign language to communicate all this time and he’s not frustrated or self-conscious about his speech. These days, he talks non-stop but if I can’t understand what he’s trying to tell me, he reverts to signing.

    I’m remarried now and my husband and three step-sons don’t know any sign language. We have a new baby on the way in September so I’ve been talking to them about signing. I figure I’ll start signing a few key words to the new baby from the start and when he really starts showing some recognition, I’ll begin adding more. I know it will come back to DJ and James easily and hopefully the other boys will pick it up as well. With five older brothers, this baby’s going to need some way to communicate because Heaven knows he won’t be able to get a word in with all the chaos here! 🙂

    • what a great experience Barbara, thanks so much for sharing.
      Good luck with the new baby. I thought it was busy around here with 3!

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