How (Not) to Teach Your Baby Sign Language


When my daughter, Laila, was 6 months old, I began to introduce some baby signs to her. I picked a handful of words that I thought would be helpful for her to be able to communicate to us: eat, drink, milk (formula), more, all done, play, sleep, mommy and daddy. I had read that it could take up to a couple of months for her to start signing back to us; and so, for months, I signed the above-mentioned words as often as they came up in our daily routine.  But, Laila didn’t sign back; so, after awhile, I backed down.

Laila wants “more”!

I began signing sparingly, if at all. I cut back to just the signs for eat, drink, more, and all done, and introduced the sign for “stop”. But, Laila still didn’t sign back.  Until, one day, after she was already 1 year old, she signed “more” while she was eating.  I cheered and clapped and did a happy dance, and then I gave her “more” 🙂

Now, at 15 months old, Laila signs “more” whenever she wants something, and then usually follows-up with the sign for “eat” or “drink”.  While she’s eating, she’ll sign “more” or, if I ask her, “all done”.  She also signs for “milk” for her nightly bottle, and while she’s impatiently waiting for it to warm.  She still isn’t talking yet, so although her signs are far from perfect (or maybe even accurate), they have been a really helpful way for her to tell us what she wants and for us to avoid many meltdowns.

I definitely recommend baby signs, and plan to try them out again if/when we have a second child, but based on our experience over the past 9 months, I’ll try a new approach:

  • Start introducing signs at 8-9 months.  Although the recommended age for introduction is 6-9 months, I think 6 months was too early for us.
  • Start with just 4-5 words. Eat, drink, milk, and more, have all been really helpful.  Mommy and daddy would have been so cute, but aren’t really necessary.
  • Your signs don’t need to be perfect.  Laila seems to think “more” means “want”, but I know what she means, and that’s what really matters.
  • Be patient.  There’s a reason why they say that it should take 2-3 months for a response.  Because we started early, Laila was probably right on track, but when I backed down, so did she.

Below are resources that have been recommended to me by other moms who sign with their babies:
The Baby Signing Bible
Baby Signs Board Book
Baby Einstein My First Signs (YouTube)
Signing Time (YouTube)

Lastly, to keep it local, I’ve had this “class” bookmarked for awhile, but have yet to check it out:
Baby Sign Language Workshop (Free)
Giant Steps Toys in Fairfield
Tuesdays from 9:30AM – 10:15AM


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