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How to Introduce Sign Language

Using sign language (or sign approximations) facilitates verbal language development.

When we use signs paired with spoken language, we are giving the child visual AND auditory cues. Signing gives children a way to express themselves before they have spoken words; it can, therefore, be a great tool for alleviating frustration.

Here are some tips for introducing sign language to your baby:

First, you will want to choose the signs that will be relevant to your life and daily routines.  Think about words that you and your family use most.  Mealtime and playtime are a great place to start!

Some of the most common signs used in mealtime for the baby/toddler age group include: “More,” “eat,” “water,” “milk” “all done” and “please”

Some common signs in playtime might include: “help,” “open,” Mommy,” “Daddy, “book,” and “play.”

Other daily activities that could be helpful might include: “diaper,” “bath,” and “sleep.”

Try to choose signs that are not too difficult. You can lookup how to properly sign all signs through a simple google search, or through websites such as lifeprint.com.

Now that you’ve chosen your signs, learned how to do them, you are ready to start teaching your baby! Here are some basic tips to follow:


1. Start modeling the sign (and saying the word) during your regular routine. If you are handing your child strawberry slices, say and sign “more” each time you give her a new slice. The more she is exposed to the sign, the more likely she is to pick it up.


2. Use hand-over-hand assistance to show your baby how to make the sign. Move your child’s hands to help them learn how to produce the sign themselves.


3. Use wait time – or pause for just a few extra moments – to see if they will sign by themselves. For example, try giving your baby just a couple of cheerios and wait for them to request “more.” If they start reaching for the box or grunting to request, you can ask “More?” (accompanied with the sign). Give them more wait time to see if they will use the sign by themselves.  If they are still not signing, but reaching for them, use hand over hand assistance and help them use the sign.  Then give them a few more cheerios. Repeat this process several, several times.


4. Don’t expect your child to start signing immediately. It can take some time. Be patient and consistent.


5. Don’t worry if their signs are not exactly like your signs. Their fine motor skills are still developing, and it is okay if their signing is not exactly like yours. Still encourage and model the correct sign.


6. Pick one sign at a time. Start with the most useful and simple sign you can. Once they can use this sign, add another, and then another.


Sign language is such a wonderful way to facilitate communication and encourage verbal language development! These basic tips can help you know how to begin using sign language with your baby.


— Victoria Lovett MS, CCC-SLP

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