Teaching your Baby to use ASL Signs: Intro

Success Through Play™ :

When people hear the terms "Signing with your Baby" or teaching your baby to use sign language, the first thing most parents will say is "But my child is not hard of hearing, why would I want to teach my baby to sign"?

Teaching your hearing baby to use sign language can be one of the most rewarding things that you can do. Many people haven't even heard about the concept or think that it is just some "trendy thing". On the contrary, we at Success Through Play are so convinced about this concept that we have decided to dedicate several days to this topic alone. We can only recommend programs, classes etc that use true ASL Signs, because ASL is a language that already exists and is not a "made up language". Look for the terms "ASL" when seeking out programs/products. You would never consider that English is much too difficult for your baby to learn and instead allow your baby to create her own spoken language that you will learn from her, so why would anyone consider allowing their baby to make up their own sign language “secret code.” Sure you could learn their code but what good will it do in helping them to communicate with anyone else other than you?! ASL signs are typically iconic (they physically resemble the concept that they convey) and so are easy for adults to learn and to remember. Babies will also learn them well if we are simply consistent in the way we show them to our babies

What is it all about?

As you are well aware, typically developing babies learn to gesture with their hands, long before they can talk and express themselves verbally. Hand development comes before speech development. Thus there is a gap between when babies know what they need and when they can actually verbally express themselves. It is very frustrating when your 9 month year old is trying to communicate his needs to you, but doesn't have any tools to express his needs. Wouldn't it be fantastic if there was a way for him to communicate with you: to communicate that his tummy or ear is sore or that he is hungry or that he wants more of something? Well there IS a way, and it's called teaching your baby to sign. Many speech and language pathologists, doctors and educators have used this method on their own babies. It is important to note that when you teach you baby to sign, you will verbalize/say the word at the same time that you reproduce the sign, while simultaneously making eye contact with your baby. While some parents are at first concerned that teaching their hearing baby to sign might delay their speech development, the exact opposite is typically the case and should be expected. This is pretty easy to understand when you consider that babies who start signing at six months are practicing both receptive as well as expressive communications as much as a year or more before the fine-motor skill required for verbal speech even begin to kick in! It seems pretty obvious but most people stop crawling as their ability to walk develops. They typically choose to walk in most circumstances because walking tends to be quicker, easier and more efficient than crawling. That same relationship holds true between signing and speech. Speech is typically easier, quicker and more efficient in most instances if speech is an option! The end result is that babies who have the physiological tools for speech will gravitate towards speech and tend to drop the signing unless we encourage them to continue signing in conjunction with their speech, which we do. Remember that signing and speech are using opposite sides of the brain, in sync, when they are employed simultaneously. This combo of speech with synchronized motor movement offers additional benefits in terms of brain development. This is a complete misconception and many experts believe that the opposite may be true. Signing with you baby when you are reading him/her a story can really enrich her experience. There is a vast difference between reading a book without signing and reading it while adding signs. Babies/children learn through experience and adding signs can only enrich their learning experiences. From an occupational therapy point of view, teaching your baby to use sign language will allow them the opportunity to practice their newly developing hand skills. Baby will be working on motor planning while signing as well as learning about his body and increasing his awareness of his body.

How soon can you start? Some speech pathologist recommend starting early, around 4-5 months of age, when babies are able to show clear preferences for things. Mom/dad grandparents will use signs during their activities and thus baby will be seeing the same signs being repeated over a period of several months. Babies need to first be exposed to the signs and then a few months later, they will start to reproduce the signs on their own, which is VERY exciting for parents. Patience and consistency is really key. Your baby will first produce approximations of the signs in the same way that their first attempt at saying, “hamburger” will probably not even be close. The important concept here is that you will always model the signs correctly and not as your baby produces them. This is the same progression that is typically experienced when a child begins to sign. Approximations at first followed by developing finesse! Three key words . . . consistency, consistency, consistency!

Many leading child development experts recommend exposing your baby to signs at 6-7 months, so the decision is yours. The danger lies not in harming your child by starting the process too early but rather in a situation where the parent drops the process when their three-month old doesn’t respond right away. That would be the biggest mistake that could be made. Almost every child will sign if you simply give them the chance!

Adults will find many uses for using ASL Signs amongst themselves! Many adults find it so useful to be able to sign to each other when the one is on the phone, when one partner has lost their voice, or even when they are sitting across the room from one another or at an event when silence is preferred!

We asked Sign2Me®, a highly respected company for some insights into the concept of teaching your baby to sign and some tips on what to look for when selecting products or programs.

Sign2Me® on the benefits for baby:

  • Signing allows your infant to clearly communicate specific thoughts as much as a year or more before they are physiologically ready for verbal speech.
  • Signing reduces frustration for your baby and for you.
  • Signing with a preverbal baby dramatically impacts screaming, crying, and tantrums and as a result can provide an important impact on child abuse.
  • Signing won't delay verbal language development; in fact, it typically accelerates it! Research shows that babies who sign pre-verbally typically begin to speak sooner and develop larger written and spoken vocabularies than non-signing babies.
  • Signing reinforces verbal language by adding visual and kinesthetic emphasis to auditory input.
  • Signing children tend to be more interested in books.
  • Signing builds on babies' natural tendency to use gestures.
  • Signing can help parents and pediatricians identify injuries, pain, and other ailments.
  • Signing children can direct parents' attention toward potential dangers or concerns.
  • Sign language can serve as a language bridge between English and non-English speakers.
  • Signing may actually improve a child's IQ!
  • According to the company "Sign2Me®": Sign with your Baby® is specifically designed to help parents teach their preverbal babies how to sign as a form of very effective, early communication. This amazing means of communicating with a preverbal baby can begin as early as 6 months . . . long before babies develop the fine motor skills required for verbal speech.
  • Sign2me uses and has always used 100% ASL signs! This is critically important as made-up signs are secret codes that offer no value to helping your baby communicate with anyone but you! You would never choose to avoid teaching your baby spoken English in favor of making up your own spoken language for the same, obvious reasons!

We asked Sign2Me® why they have chosen to use true ASL Signs with Baby vs made up signs?

  • Using true ASL Signs facilitates social opportunities as their circle of friends and acquaintances grow through participation in playgroups or other childcare settings. The use of ASL signs in these settings allows children who sign to easily communicate with one another. Everyone is communicating on the same channel. However, the use of non-standard, or made-up signs in these settings can be problematic. Imagine the confusion in a classroom full of toddlers who each use a totally different set of signs and gestures! Everyone is “speaking” a different language!
  • Signing with ASL signs offers educational advantages in both the establishment of early literacy and the foundation for learning a second language. Research shows that adding a kinesthetic (movement) element to verbal and written language learning will positively impact early literacy skills. It is comforting for us to know that, if our babies learn to use ASL signs, the usefulness of those signs will not end when our children learn to speak. They have been learning signs from a rich and beautiful language that they can continue to use and explore as they grow. Considering the growth of ASL programs from preschool through college, it is nice to know our children will already be comfortable with signing and can build on the foundation established during infancy.
  • Signing reinforces motor-development milestones. There is well-documented research indicating that the gross motor skill of bringing the arms and hands together at the midline of the body is one of the most significant developmental milestones in infancy. This motor skill, paired with the visual skill of gazing toward the midline, is reinforced by the use of sign language. The ASL signs for "more", "book", and "shoes" encourage the development of this important skill.
  • In addition, Signing provides great opportunity for inclusion of nearly all children regardless of their specific physical or behavioral challenges. It can impact the incidents of child abuse by facilitating clear communication instead of screaming, crying, and tantrums!

Sign2Me® offers group classes, hospital and library workshops, and private classes. We are international. Our international and national presenters are shown under the “Classes” link on We have a constantly growing network of instructors that currently numbers over 600 worldwide.

Success Through Play:

Does your baby use sign language to communicate with you? We want to hear from you.


Anonymous said...

Your blog is probably too professional, but I tagged you on my blog... :) I will now read your interesting postings on sign language.

Success Through Play said...

Thank you for your comment! We mainly attract readers who are parents and teachers, and try to post in user friendly languages. We hope that everyone will be able to find something interesting to read! We have many readers who aren't yet parents, but are interested in purchasing quality products for family and friends!