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How to Teach Your Baby Sign Language

Baby Sign Language

Did you know?

Your baby can start baby sign language around the age of 8.5 months? This is almost a full month earlier than the the average recognizable spoken word. Babies also naturally use their hands first to communicate before they can talk, so teaching your baby sign language can be a great tool (Goodwyn and Acredolo, 1993).

Teaching your baby American Sign Language (ASL) has many positives. Not only does baby signing come earlier than speech, but it solidifies information for your baby by utilizing both hemispheres of the brain to process language, thereby helping them visualize and remember the meaning of words (Vallotton, Decker, Fusaro, 2010).

Some other fun facts about baby signing are:

  • Muscle memory forms which helps cognitive development
  • Better language skills
  • Improves baby-parent bonding
  • ASL is classified as a world language, so your baby will be considered bilingual!

Baby's who learn sign language have fewer tantrums and have better language skills which reduces frustration for both the baby and the parent.

We all know that being a parent can drain your energy fast. The constant crying, holding and guessing what your baby needs throughout the day can be hard.

For example: if you just changed your baby's diaper and your baby continues to cry, you would be less likely to change their diaper again, and more likely to try to feed your baby to stop the crying. However, there could be a time during the day where there aren't any situations to work off of, like when your baby is just hanging out and all of a sudden starts crying.

During these times, we wish we could understand which cry this means: a hungry cry, a tired cry, a thirsty cry, you name it. The truth is, crying is a limited form of communication and when your baby is not yet talking, this could start a guessing game.

Like vocal responses, signing can provide specificity to allow tailored parenting responses. A simple sign like "all done" to cue the parent they are done eating, or "milk" when they are thirsty can be a game changer. This can relieve your baby's frustration by being able to express themselves which reinforces their learning and desire to learn more signs.

It's a compounding effect.

How soon can I start training my baby to learn sign language? It is recommended that signing be taught to babies during their first two years of life (Acredolo & Goodwin, 1996; Garcia, 1999). This way, you can maximize the time you and your little one can communicate and start bonding.

On average, the first recognizable sign is at 8.5 months. However, the earliest recognizable sign is at 5.5 months (Goodwyn and Acredolo, 1993), so start early and start today!

Research shows that you can effectively teach your baby sign language in under four hours (Thompson, McKerchar, Dancho 2004). This may seem long at first, but it's actually pretty simple.

We break it down here in a 5 minute, 5 step session:

The training procedure is called Delayed Prompt & Reinforcement          

Procedures      Square Icon     Circular Icon

  1. Model prompt: say the baby sign to your baby and perform the sign yourself at the same time. If your baby did not copy you and perform the sign, wait 5 seconds and move to step 2. If your baby did copy you and perform the sign, move to step 3.
  2. Physical prompt: say the baby sign again to your baby, but this time manually move your baby's hand/fingers to mimic the gesture of the sign
  3. Reinforcement: perform the action of the baby sign
  4. Repeat: steps 1-4, several times
  5. Add/Increase Delay: Add 5 seconds of delay between step 4 and step 1

Example      Triangle Icon     Star Icon

The scenario is if the baby sign is "more" and you are giving your baby snacks

  1. Model prompt: say "more" and gather your fingers on both hands and tap them together. If your baby did not copy the sign "more", wait 5 seconds and move to step 2. If your baby did copy the sign "more", move to step 3.
  2. Physical prompt: Cup your hands over your baby's hand, so that their fingers close together and tap their hands together to mimic the gesture and say "more" at the same time
  3. Reinforcement: give your baby the piece of snack
  4. Repeat: steps 1-4, several times with the same delay before moving on
  5. Add/Increase Delay: Add 5 seconds of delay between step 4 and step 1

Did you notice?

  • Once you added the delay after the reinforcement step, your baby may start independently signing to ask for more snacks before you even get to do another model prompt. If so, that's a success!
  • If you start adding the delay before your next model prompt and your baby is not consistently signing independently, don't worry! This takes a little bit of time and effort, just keep at and be consistent.
  • Don't be afraid to continue adding time to the delay if your baby does not independently sign right away. Work with 5 second intervals (delay of 0 seconds, 5 seconds, 10 seconds, etc). Some times, your baby just needs to crave that snack and work for it to start independently signing!
  • The sign "more" is probably one of the easier signs because you can perform it as often as every feeding/snack time and the reinforcement step is simple - with food. Some other signs are harder, like "all done" since you can only really do this when your baby is all done eating, drinking milk, etc. But don't be discouraged, just remember to be creative in the setting of when you can use the sign and then be consistent and persistent!

As mentioned earlier, this can take a sum total of close to 4 hours to learn, but if you break it down with each session only taking about 5 minutes (or longer if you want), a 3 session per day routine will take roughly 1.5 to 2 weeks.

You feed your baby at least 3 times a day anyways, so it could be a great time to introduce baby sign language!

Want to learn more? Click here to see the Top 10 Baby Signs

Our goal at Finturely is to build dexterity and finger strength so your baby can work on learning and communicating baby sign language. We find the right toys to make this easy for you and your baby. 

Remember to consistently change toys to continue stimulating their senses. Haptic habitation will allow memories to form which are the building blocks of cognitive development.

Related Topic: Baby Grasp Reflex