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What is Baby Sign Language?

by Tiffany in Birth & Baby

Baby sign language is American Sign Language, only cuter. And there’s often some drool thrown in for effect.

Seriously though, American Sign Language is the official language of the deaf community in the United States. You probably learned the American Sign Alphabet at some point in school.

The baby version of American Sign started in the 70’s when Joseph Garcia observed that the hearing babies of deaf parents learned to talk at an earlier age than the hearing babies of hearing parents. This intrigued Garcia, and prompted him to start a program that trained hearing parents to teach their babies sign language.

And Garcia’s original observation held true. Babies who learned to sign learned to speak at an earlier age than those who didn’t learn to sign. But that wasn’t all. Many other, unexpected benefits popped up. Babies and toddlers who signed showed less frustration, seemed to enjoy closer bonds with their parents, developed larger vocabularies early on, and even learned to read faster and more easily than their non-signing peers. I know, crazy right?

And it’s so simple! It is easy to teach your baby to sign. You don’t have to be fluent in American Sign Language. You can take it one sign at a time (or two, or three)!

A baby’s cognitive development is always ahead of his speech development. Many babies show proof of understanding what we say long before they are able to speak. Baby sign language can bridge this developmental gap. Signing with your baby will help her to communicate her thoughts long before she is able to verbalize them.

Many parents and caregivers choose to only teach a few signs, and that is fine! Some parents teach their babies to sign “diaper,” “down,” “eat,” and “milk” and stop there!

Imagine how much easier it would be if every time your baby wanted to nurse, she simply signed “milk.” She could sign before she cried. Wouldn’t that be great?

And many parents and caregivers teach their babies dozens of signs, so your baby could actually sign, “More applesauce please!”

Speaking of which, baby sign language is a great way to teach manners early. The signs for “please” and “thank you” are very easy to teach, and just as easy for your baby to learn.

A popular misconception is that babies who learn to sign will have no need for speaking, but this just isn’t the case. Study after study has shown the opposite to be true. Baby sign language encourages a baby to communicate, and fosters the skills and builds the confidence that he needs to do so.

It is easy to teach your baby sign language. The signs are all available for you at Baby Sign Language. If you are even thinking about it, you should give it a whirl. Your baby will thank you. She might even do it with a sign.

Guest post by Misty Weaver, Chief Editor, Baby Sign Language

  • Kimberly

    One word of warning – if caregivers are going to teach baby sign language for the love of Pete tell the parents and teach them the signs.

    Sis called me extremely frustrated. Her at the time 18 month old had been making the same motions with her hands over and over. Finally Sis figured out her DD wanted milk. She sent me a video of the motions niece was making. I know some ASL. A quick check and I confirmed that the sign was more milk.

    Sis talked to th the caregivers at the daycare. A new worker had several deaf/hearing impaired family members and tended to sign as she spoke. The school ended up sending home a letter explaining what had happened, and included a dictionary.

    When my nephew started going to the day care Baby sign language was considered part of the program.

    When you think about it, Baby sign is simply a more standardize version of what parents and children do naturally. My sister would always put her hand over her heart when she said I love you to her kids. They both would do that same motion if someone else said I love you to them.

  • andiscandis

    RE: Kim’s comment… After my parents watched my daughter for a few hours, they totally yelled at me. “If you teach your kid sign language, you have to teach it to the grandparents too!” Apparently, my kid was asking for milk for quite a while before they figured it out.

    What shocked me is that now my daughter is 2 1/2 and talks (and talks and talks and talks), but yesterday she saw a plane and busted out the sign for airplane! We haven’t used signs in a really long time!

  • I wanted to add to the benefits of signing with your child. Not only does it make easy to transition through the terrible twos and to communicate overall with your child, it also increases literacy skills through out life!
    I have a child with special needs and it has encouraged him to communicate with me more than he would have had I not taught him!

  • Great Article! I too have noticed the positive affects of sign language with my kids as well as the kids I teach. It boosted my little boys verbal skills a ton!