Baby Sign Language Made Simple – Benefits & how-tos of baby signing

Have you heard about the phenomenon of babies sign language and want to try it with your own baby or toddler? Learn how to teach baby signing within your family, the benefits and choices of classes.

Even if your baby is too young to talk, you can teach her ways to get her message across through the simple act of signing. Numerous studies tout the benefits of using sign language with your hearing baby, showing that using hand motions can accelerate verbal language and literacy while decreasing frustration in both baby and parent. Signing is the hot topic of the day, and in practical use it can open the window to a clearer sense of what is going on inside the mind of your child.

Intrigued? If you’re considering using signs at home, there are a few ways to begin. You can incorporate baby signing into your routine simply by teaching your child and yourself with a book; attending a local class; or, if there are no local classes, you can train to run one yourself! Whichever you choose, there is no magic needed—just old fashioned determination.

Beginning to Sign

No formal education is required to bring sign language into your family. Consistency and repetition—rather than intellectual prowess—are the keys to successfully incorporating signing into your home. A quick trip to your local library or bookstore to pick up a book on signing will provide you with the first of two important tools.

The most accepted and widely used sign language in the United States is American Sign Language (ASL). It is also the third most commonly used of all languages in the nation. Sticking with this language will be most useful in the long run, providing consistency across all child care and educational settings, so you may prefer to get a book using this language specifically. There are also books available that give you ideas on how to start, using games and activities along the way.

The book is the first tool and your own patience is the second (and only other tool you need)! Avoid “teaching” the signs or pushing them on your child, but rather use them naturally during the appropriate times through the course of a day. Start by incorporating two or three signs into your daily speech. Use one sign for one word and always say the word with the sign.

For example, when you ask the question “Do you want some milk?” you will make the sign for milk simultaneously while saying the word milk. Make the sign deliberately but not overly exaggerated, and make the sign near your face where baby looks when you speak.

Begin with only two or three signs most valuable to your understanding of your child. Choose from the most basic words, such as milk, more, eat, sleep, finished, help, share, and stop.

Encouraging Baby Signing

Effective use of sign language can start with infants as young as age six to eight months but can start later as well. Repetition and consistency are best achieved if all parties spending time with the child are on board including mother, father, siblings, babysitters, and caregivers. All should be shown the signs being used so they too can understand baby’s needs and reinforce the signs by using them. The more people who use signs with the baby, the faster the baby will catch on. After days or weeks of hard work the real pay-off will come when your little one uses a sign for the first time. This is so thrilling! It may seem like a long haul waiting for this momentous occasion, but it will be worth the effort.

Once one sign is mastered, the child will realize his new-found power and be open to new signs. It clicks with him that if he makes a special motion with his hands, he gets his point across—wow! For years, children have enjoyed combining the spoken word and hand movements as evidence by the songs we sing to them such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Itsy-Bitsy Spider.”

Use of that first sign and more to come will be relatively reliable, with some variation when the baby is overtired. My son mastered the sign for milk first, and would make it to cover milk or juice consistently unless he was very tired. At those times he would make the sign for milk and then refuse a drink and get upset. This inspired me to teach him the sign for sleep, empowering him to communicate more precisely.

A friend’s child who had mastered a half a dozen signs tended to use them a bit randomly when overtired (and consequently, a little confused), but mainly used signs precisely and with conviction at all other times. As signing can get difficult when our babies are tired, it can get monotonous when parents are tired as well. If teaching baby on your own becomes tiresome for you, try attending a class.

Seeking the Support of other Parents

To help stay motivated to sign with your child even when you are tired or impatient (especially when signing to an infant who has not yet signed back), attending a class is a great option. The other caregivers in the class who are also signing will share their success stories to keep you motivated. The support parents provide each other during class may even carry over outside of class and spawn playgroups and friendship, too.

Some classes will involve weekly themes that are important to baby’s routine such as foods, playtime, animals, outdoors, families, and so on. Some sessions can be much more than a sign language class by including signing, singing, and fun activities.

Class duration can be as short as six weeks and provide enough information to get you off and running. Usually the cost is modest comparable to other mom and child classes. Not all classes being taught are using ASL, so if this is important to you, inquire with the instructor before committing your money and time.

Sign language classes for hearing babies are being offered at more and more places around the country.

Finding a Business Opportunity

If you cannot find a local baby signing class, beginning one may be a great business opportunity for you. According to Jennifer Quigley, a Sign with your Baby and Sign 2 Me certified instructor, presenters tend to be teachers, interpreters, and speech language pathologists, as well as everyday moms with an interest in signing. A certain background is not essential to teach, but you will want to take a course in ASL 1 and/or 2 to prepare yourself for the parents who want to know more than the basic signs. Also, some of the programs available will provide training materials that can help you on your way.

Quigley finds that the best part about being a presenter has been the excitement she feels when parents share “signing moments” when their child has mastered her first sign or a new sign. The hardest part for her is that although running a class offers more flexibility than many conventional jobs, there is still time-management stress when you balance the responsibilities with motherhood. Quigley found that once she taught a class and learned how to get set-up and organized ahead of time, everything ran more smoothly.

If you are interested in teaching baby signing, there are many companies out there to investigate, including Sign2Me, Tiny Fingers, and Signing Smart to name a few. (Be sure to ask about training requirements and the cost for a starter kit.) Presenting a sign language class to local parents may become a fulfilling part-time job that enhances your life and your pocketbook.

Finding the “Peace Sign”

Frustrated infants yell; frustrated toddlers bite, pinch and hit; and frustrated parents need some peace! Baby signing may be the path to a calmer parent-child relationship by providing smoother communication during your child’s first few years.

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