I first heard about baby signing from an online mom’s forum I was a part of. I wasn’t even pregnant yet, just trying to conceive, but the idea intrigued me. At first I didn’t believe it…can you really teach babies as young as six months to sign? Around that time, I had to write an article for a journalism class I was taking. I decided to write it on the recent phenomenon of baby signing. I did lots of research and interviewed several moms about their use of sign language with their babies. I knew for sure after that that I wanted to teach my own baby sign language.
Fast forward about a year, and I had a beautiful little baby girl. When she was about a month old, I tried out a few signs on her, like ‘milk’, ‘mother’, and ‘father’. I thought I might as well get a head start, but I felt silly signing to her! I had never seen anyone else doing it. I thought people would think I was weird or eccentric. So I gave it up for a while. Finally, around 6 months old, the age when some babies are making their first sign, I went back to signing with her. I wasn’t very consistent at first, but I kept at it. By 9 months I was regularly signing ‘milk’, ‘eat’, and ‘sleep’ with my daughter. Around that time she started copying the sign for ‘milk’.
One day at 10 months old…my daughter made her first sign and meant it! It was milk, not a surprise since that’s her favorite thing! From then on, her signing abilities took off. Before long she was signing ‘eat’, ‘drink’, ‘play’, ‘diaper’, ‘sleep’, ‘book’, ‘bath’, ‘hot’, ‘cold’, ‘nose’, and lots more.
She even made up her own sign once! She had just finished eating her snack and she toddled up to me, rubbing her hands together. She did it a few times before I understood what she meant. She wanted me to help her wash her hands! She continued to use that sign regularly after that. She also made up her own sign for nose…she crinkled up her nose and sniffed a few times. She uses it when she has a stuffy nose or to mean tissue. She’s even used it to describe a picture of an elephant! It’s surprising how creative your baby can be!
I never used any of the DVD’s or flash cards that are available for teaching your baby to sign. Of course if you wanted to get more into signing than I did, those would probably be helpful to look in to. I did borrow a book on baby signing from the library, which helped because I learned what to expect while teaching my daughter to sign.
Whenever I wanted to learn a new sign to teach my daughter I looked it up online and we both learned it together.
Signing has helped our communication greatly. My daughter has almost always been able to tell me what she wants because from about 10 or 11 months on, she knew all the basic needs-signs as well as some of her favorite wants-signs.
Baby signing doesn’t last forever, though. ‘Milk’ was the first sign to come, and also the first one to go. It was kind of a bittersweet moment when my baby, in her squeaky little voice, first asked me for “mik.” I was so happy she said the vocal word. She made the sign along with the word, but I knew it was only a matter of time before she completely lost the sign.
Now, at 18 months, she has lost a lot of her signs; they’ve been replaced by words. She still occasionally signs sleep, cold, more, dance, and book, as well as a few new signs she’s learned. So whoever’s scared that teaching their baby to sign will delay their speech…don’t worry! It won’t! When your baby is physically able to speak the words they usually sign, they will move on to speech. My daughter has lots of words in both English and Arabic (her dad’s native language). She has also recently learned a few new signs, like the signs for happy, sad, light, brush teeth, and hurt. Teaching her feeling signs was beneficial because now she’s aware of her feelings and lets me know when she’s happy or when a character in a book is sad. I plan to teach her more signs for the words she doesn’t know yet or ones that might be too hard for her to say yet.
At her 15 month checkup, her pediatrician asked how many words she was saying. “About 40 or so.” I replied. “Wow, that’s good! Usually by this age we expect them to say about 10.” Of course I was happy! Right now, at 18 months, that number is much higher, I have to count all her words when I get the chance!
In all, my daughter knows about 30-40 signs. (Although now she only regularly uses about 10 of them.) Some babies learn much more throughout their signing phase, some only a few. Do what’s right for you and your baby…but I do encourage at least giving it a shot! It worked for me and my daughter, even though I got a late start.
So where to go from here? I’ll continue teaching my daughter new signs every once in a while, especially feeling signs, abstract concept signs, and signs that she doesn’t have words for. I’ll definitely be teaching baby signs to any new babies I may have. I think with my next baby, God willing, I will start earlier, be more consistent with signs, and add more signs earlier. I will also have my daughter help me teach the signs she knows to any new brother or sister she may have. Hopefully she remembers her signs!