Baby Signing: Thumbs Up!

by Jacqueline Bodnar

What could be better than an infant who hasn’t developed language skills yet being able to communicate with his parents? Today many children can do just that because their parents are teaching them sign language.

Teaching sign language to babies not only has lasting benefits but also has now caught on across the country and has become an innovative way that some parents are working to help their child get ahead.

Signing Explained
“Although signing with babies has been around for more than 20 years, in the past couple of years interest has steadily grown,” explains Jenny Hodges, a certified district manager for Baby Signs, a national company that offers baby sign language classes. Teaching sign language to babies gives parents the ability to communicate with them before they develop language skills.

Most programs that teach sign language use everyday terms that are useful and relate to a baby’s life. Hodges explains that the most common first signed words usually include milk, more, eat and other terms related to meals, bedtime and bathing. Other common early signed words include cat, dog, baby, mommy and daddy.

Once the baby is a bit older, words such as phone, play, colors, rain and car are introduced. There is no set number of words. Parents can simply choose a few common terms or they can work to build their baby’s signing vocabulary.

Most of the words taught in baby sign language programs have been adapted from American Sign Language. Other families choose to make up their own signs for items they routinely use around the house. The practice of signing gives babies the opportunity to label objects, to express their needs and to explain how they are feeling. Babies get the chance to help choose what they want to do and talk about.

Benefits of Signing
Very young children often throw temper tantrums when they become frustrated because they can’t express themselves.

As if cutting down on those temper tantrums isn’t motivation enough, baby signing has additional benefits. Research has shown that it stimulates intellectual development.

Contrary to what some believe, children who are taught sign language actually have an easier time learning to talk and have enhanced verbal ability when they get older.

When babies can communicate their needs, their self-esteem and confidence increase and the bond between the parent and child strengthens. Learning sign language as a baby also provides a foundation for early literacy.

Getting Started
“All babies are different and will sign when they are ready,” says Hodges. Usually within a couple of months, you should see results from your teaching efforts. Keep in mind that the older the baby, the faster she’ll catch on to the signs.

The recommended age to start teaching sign language is around eight months, although some people get started as early as six months. Even if your baby is a year old or more, it’s not too late to start teaching sign language.
Parents have a variety of ways to get started. There are books, videos and websites that offer information on baby sign language. There are online dictionaries that show you how to sign.

Parents can also attend a local workshop or class with their baby to get a live demonstration by a certified instructor. “Attending a workshop or class will provide support for parents to be successful,” advises Hodges.

Jacqueline Bodnar is a freelance writer and the editor of, an online magazine for work-at-home moms.