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Why Use Toddler and Baby Sign Language?

I have a very cute nephew who is now two years old. He does not speak sentences yet, maybe just some sounds, syllables and phrases. I remember when my children were small at this age. It could be frustrating when I don't understand what they are saying and what they want. Many times, I look at their gestures to decipher what they want to say. 

There are many reasons why the use of baby and toddler sign language is recommended in the communication between parents and their children who are in the baby and toddler stage. Let's explore this very helpful communication technique and understand some basic tips on teaching baby sign language.

toddler pointing at something
A toddler points at an object when he sees or wants something. Image by chadguy, Stock.xchng

Baby and toddler sign language is not really a new idea among parents and their baby or toddler. In fact, it's the most natural form of communication that occurs between them. When a baby or toddler wants something, he usually uses his hands to get his message across.

One of my daughters, when she was 1 1/2-year old,  she was very talkative. However, her words were still incomplete; sometimes she just uses syllables that I could decipher depending on her context of usage. 

I recognize her using some hand signs like when she wants to be picked up, she lifts up her hands in the air. If she wants something, she uses her finger to point at the object. If she wants a hat, for example, she puts his hands on his head as if putting on a hat.

Two researchers by the name of Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn took notice of this baby instincts and saw compatibility with American Sign Language (ASL). They further researched about it and so 'discovered' and developed baby sign language. Today, there are lots of books and products like flashcards and videos in the market that are aimed at teaching this system of communication. There are even daycare centers and special classes that teach baby sign language. 

A baby communicates with his hands. Image by Deniz Ongar, Stock.xchng

Benefits of Using Baby and Toddler Sign Language

Pre-verbal communication

Ever wonder what your baby is thinking or crying about? I think every parent has been in this dilemma. Because the baby has not yet fully developed her speech and language skills, he cannot express himself clearly. However, he has already developed the muscles in his hands, so babies can learn to communicate with their hands. Teaching them sign language is possible as early as 6-8 months.

Lesser stress and frustration

When the baby expresses a need but fails to receive it, his tendency is to cry and throw tantrums. That is very unhappy moment for baby and a very frustrating and stressful time for mom and dad. But if the baby has learned to communicate using sign language, he is quickly understood and his needs are easily met.

Intellectual Development

Babies who used sign language are found to have increased communication skills and vocabulary, increased interest in books and enhanced cognition. There was also a story about the hearing siblings of deaf children who learned to read even before going to school. It must have been due to being exposed to signing and finger-spelling. They were making the connection between manual letters and printed letters thus learning to read earlier.

Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn also compared in a study the IQ of 8-year old children who had signed as babies with those that didn't. The results showed that children who had signed had IQs 12 points higher than those who had not signed.

Closer child-parent relationship

Every moment spent teaching the child sign language is a moment spent strengthening the bond between parent and child. Moreover, when there is effective communication between the baby and parent, the number of positive interactions (meeting child's needs) goes up and the number of negative interactions (crying and tantrums) goes down. When this happens, both feel more connected to each other.

How to teach Your Baby and Toddler Sign Language

If you want to teach your baby or toddler to use sign language, no prior special knowledge is required. But you do need to know what are the signs you will use for signing words. You may use free online baby sign language dictionaries (please refer to the resource links below) or you may want to buy baby sign language flashcards (you can also make your own flashcards, please refer to the video below).

Here are 5 tips for teaching baby sign language:

1. Introduce one sign at a time when the child is less than a year. 

Build his vocabulary as he grows. Up to 3 signs can be taught at a time when the child is over one year old. He can actually learn about 40-60 words by or before the time he begins to speak.

2. Speak and sign at the same time. 

This way he is learning not just the sign but the verbal expression that goes with it. This also encourages 2-way communications.

3. Use signs in context. 

Make it a part of the daily routine. For example, when he is playing, you may teach him the signs of play, ball, airplane, and the like.

4. Be consistent and remain committed

The baby will not learn the sign immediately and he may not do it exactly as you would but with consistency, you will be surprised the moment he responds with a gesture using baby sign language.

5. Have fun! 

Don't forget to make it a fun activity. This will make learning more encouraging.

Check out the resources from Amazon below that could help you know more about using Baby Sign Language. (If you buy any of these, I earn some at no additional cost to you).

Baby Sign Language Made Easy
Baby Sign Language Made Easy

My First Signs
My First Signs


Mom Knows Best said…
Baby sign is amazing. My grandbaby did this with her mom and I loved it
Based on my experience surrounded by babies years ago, we rarely use baby sign language because we speak to babies like adults (no baby talk). We noticed that they learned to speak faster, and smarter.
Lyanna Soria said…
That sounds like a wonderful idea and would help the babies develop their skills early. I didn't have this phase with my 3 kids since we talk to them and most of the time they like to watch educational kids program so they learned to speak at a very young age and communication wasn't a problem for us.
Wanda Lopez said…
I love this post. My girls are teenagers now, but I do remember using some sign language with them as they were learning to develop their speech.
Ivan Jose said…
I never realized the importance of sign language (or encouraging it) in toddlers until I read your post. Thank you for the nice information.
it is a no to go thing to do in my family. Have history of hearing issues running in family so it's very much well known of necessity of easy communication with kids
Katjaaa said…
I never thought about it in that way. I think I used some signs language when my son was a toddles but I read a lot of book to him and exolain a lot, talk to him and he start talking quite early
Jordan said…
Love this! I think this can be so helpful!! I will be referring back to this in the future!
Mosaics Lab said…
I read a lot about how important it is to teach one's baby sign language. I don't have a baby, but if i had one, i would definitely do that, so cool.

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