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Should You Teach Your Baby Sign Language?

Published June 21, 2011        by Sarah

Image by basykes on FlickrMany parents are curious about the benefits and efforts involved in teaching baby sign language. Will she understand? How young should you start? Is it helpful?

While experts always have differing opinions about everything, they do agree that most babies can start to understand sign language at about six months of age. The main concern is that baby must be able to keep eye contact with you. She also must have control over her hand movements in order to participate. Every baby is unique, so if you have a baby who is making eye contact and able to wave hello and goodbye on her own at five months, go for it. Judge readiness by your own baby, not a textbook example.

What are the benefits of sign language? Well, obviously if you have a non-hearing child and a hearing child, they would eventually be able to communicate with each other. But also, if you want baby to be able to communicate earlier with you—whether she hears or not—sign language can be a good way to get that flow of communication going. She’ll be more apt to tell you in signs what she wants even before she can verbalize it in words.

Young children have an amazing capacity for learning languages. Sing language is no exception. The teacher needs to be consistent, however. If you find you are pulled in twenty different directions and won’t be able to devote enough time to sitting with baby and teaching her signs, you may want to join a group that meets weekly for a baby and me type signing class. Then you can reinforce during the week instead of having the entire job on your shoulders when you’re already busy. There are lots of videos and books out there to help, these are great ideas to put into baby gift baskets as well.

By no means should you feel pressured to teach your baby to sign. It’s something you should enjoy doing and should not be undertaken to keep up with anyone else. Babies have grown up fine for centuries without signing and yours will too. Think of it as an extra bonus that you’re bestowing on your baby—an infant gift of language she can use now and into the future—not a requirement of babyhood.

It’s never too early and never too late to teach signing. If you want to start your infant early and keep at it, definitely give it a try. Just remember, most babies won’t sign back until around six months. So don’t get frustrated if you don’t see any progress for a while. Baby may be taking it all in and one day she’ll surprise you when she makes a sign for hungry when she wants lunch.

It can be very rewarding to have a sign language communication going between you and your baby. Get the whole household involved as this will not only make everyone feel included, but it will give baby extra practice throughout the day.

There are entire companies and web sites devoted to teaching babies to sign. Start looking for a resource you like. Learn the basic signs yourself and then begin pointing to objects and signing their name. Baby will get the hang of it and so will you. It’s fun, educational and exciting to sign with baby. If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll see big rewards in the near future.

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