If you are a parent of a baby or toddler (or currently pregnant) you probably have heard of “baby sign.” But what exactly is it and why would you want to use sign language with your child? How? Where and when should you start? This is one of many posts I am writing this month on the topic of sign language and why I think it’s awesome for babies and children of all ages to learn it!
The last couple weeks, I shared the definition of sign language and why I am thankful I am using it with with my 16 month old son Ev. I also shared the many benefits of teaching sign to your little ones, when to start and why I recommend using ASL, and how YOU can learn ASL. With all this info it is now time to talk about which signs to teach your child first!
Which signs should you start with?
First of all…there are no “right” or “wrong” signs to start with. The signs you choose to start with may vary from the signs your friend will choose to start with for her child. First lets look at some questions you should ask yourself before starting.
Questions to ask yourself when choosing signs for your child:
- What is your child interested in? Animals? Balls? Going outside?
- What motivates your little one? Little ones are usually always motivated by their favorite foods and drinks, but what else motivates your child to communicate to you in some way? If your little one is really little…this may be harder but usually tiny ones are motivated by milk, diaper changes, story time, etc. For little ones who eat things other than milk, what are his/her favorite foods? Favorite toys? Favorite books? Activities?
- What things do you see, do, hear everyday with your little one? Story time, bath time, night-night time?
How to choose your child’s first signs
Read and answer the questions above. What have you come up with? Make a list of your child’s interests and things that motivate him/her to communicate to you. Which signs do you feel you can incorporate into your child’s day?
Some recommendations of first signs from different sources
If you do a google search or read the different books out there on baby sign, you will get some different recommendations on which signs to start with. Here are some:
- Signing Time! recommends starting with four basic signs: milk, more, eat, finished/all done
- Joseph Garcia, author of Sign With Your Baby recommends the signs milk, more and eat.
- Acredolo and Goodwyn, Authors of Baby Signs recommend hat, bird, flower, fish, and more.
- Baby Sign Language.com recommends the following starter signs: mommy, daddy, (and other close family members); pets such as dog and cat; milk, eat, more, all done, diaper, happy, book, and the sign for a favorite toy like ball.
What I recommend
As you can see…there are some common signs listed above: milk, more, eat, all done are the most common recommended signs and for the most part…I agree with these as being good starter signs. But my biggest recommendation is to pick signs that represent words you use often during the day…which means your child’s favorite foods, drinks, toys, and activities. Examples may include:
- Food/Drink/meal time: milk, water, banana, cracker, apple, more, all done/finished
- Pets: dog, cat, fish
- Activities/routines: bath, bed, eat, read/book, diaper
- Toys: ball, car, baby, bear
- People: mommy, daddy, brother, sister
A note about the sign for “more”
One of the easiest and first signs many babies and toddlers with learn first is the sign for “more.” In my work as a speech pathologist, I have taught signs to children with various special needs (speech and language delays, apraxia, autism, Down syndrome, Fragile X, and other intellectual disabilities). In my training as an SLP I was taught when using sign language or any other forms of Augmentative or Alternative Communication (AAC) methods, that we should actually avoid teaching “more.”
Why? Because “more” is non specific. A child may start signing “more” frantically..but more what? More food? More drink? More sleep? This can become very frustrating for both the child and the caregivers. When the context is known “more” is a very effective sign but unfortunately, this is not always the case.
When I was teaching my daughter sign, I did teach her the sign for “more” as one of her first signs and I experienced first hand what I had learned in my grad school classes. My daughter used that sign as a default all the time and there were many times in which I did not know what she was wanting. However…for my typically developing daughter, this phase did not last long. She quickly learned new signs as well as new spoken words and we were past this “more” phase. When I started teaching my son sign, I decided I would make sure he had a few other signs first before we introduced “more.” This worked well for us. Today, if he doesn’t know the sign for a food item he will sign “more” or “cookie” and when this happens I will tell him the word and sign for the item. He now puts two signs together all the time for “more milk” or “more cookie” and he is just 16 months old. If your child is otherwise typically developing, teaching the sign for “more” will probably be fine but I do encourage you to take note of the things he is requesting “more” of so that you can introduce these words and signs to him!
So how exactly to you teach your child these signs? That is coming up soon!
If you sign to your child, what signs did you start with?