By one year old, your child may have uttered his first word, and will display a newfound wonder for every object upon which he lays eyes. This excitement will translate into an eagerness to communicate, but being able to voice the necessary vocabulary probably won’t happen fast enough for your little explorer. That’s where sign language can bridge the gap.
“All babies are candidates for learning sign language,” explains author and educator Lee Scott, Chair of the Educational Advisory Board for The Goddard School for Early Childhood Development. Scott says the prime time for teaching sign language is between intentional babbling and when little fingers start pointing. “We found the best age to start is around six to eight months old when the child has exhibited better hand control. Parents and caregivers can start using the signs anytime even if the child can’t sign back right away.”
“An additional benefit is that sign language can boost not only language skills such as vocabulary, but also support cognitive development,” Scott says.
The good news is that you need not be proficient in signing to do it with your child—you can learn together. Scott recommends starting off simple, learning words that can communicate basic needs, like milk, eat, more, mum, dad, all done, sleep, and help (“brother” or “sister” can be a handy addition, too).
The top tips for teaching signs to your baby are to:
Use signs while talking with the baby—but not at the expense of words; integrate signing into a language-rich environment.
Understand that some babies will adapt the signs to what their little hands can accomplish. Perfection is not the point—if you can understand the modifications, your child is being heard, and that’s perfect.
Most importantly, Scott emphasises keeping things positive and uncomplicated: “You want to use signs that fit with your child; keep it simple,” she says. “Relax and have fun with your child. The greatest benefit is the close interaction with your baby.”
For baby sign language resources, check out My Smart Hands on YouTube or BabySignLanguage.com. Alternatively, see what your library has to offer—or what baby signing classes are available in your local area.