When you are preparing to have a child, you have checklists and guides for what you need when you go to the hospital, what you need the first 24 hours with a baby home and what you need to baby-proof in order for the home to be safe.
But there are not many guides out there on how to get started teaching your baby sign language. Of course, it makes sense, because very few babies actually need it – but for those in need, free options and guides don’t seem to be the norm.
Let’s change this today and learn how to just start teaching your baby sign language – and then follow up with the first 5 signs you should teach your baby.
Note: I strongly believe that sign language is important to be learned even by those who can still communicate traditionally. Especially if you have members in your extended family that rely on sign language, take these steps early on to teach your baby as well.
My family’s story with sign language
When my husband and I decided to teach our child-to-be baby sign because we knew the benefits of her learning it, I started to research baby sign and I didn’t see many resources for getting started.
As time grew closer to having our baby, my focus eventually shifted to other preparatory things and baby sign got lost in the mix.
It wasn’t until our daughter was about 6 weeks old. She was asleep in her bed and I was finally taking a minute to myself.
My husband casually asked me if we were still going to start baby sign language and when we should get started.
I looked back in my Pinterest at an article I had pinned and it said to start early. I started to worry that I was starting too late… I was crazy, she wasn’t even 2 months old yet!
I had no idea where to start! I restarted my research and saw websites that sell videos and books, but I really wasn’t prepared to spend that money at that moment. I needed a plan.
So I did what I do best, I started an in depth planning session, that had us researching and planning for several all-night sessions. In the end, after weeks of working at a plan, I finally had come up with a simple way to get started and not feel overwhelmed.
Below I will provide you with the step by step guide that I used when introducing baby sign to my daughter. My hope is that it will help guide you too in getting started with this important, but potentially overwhelming, skill for your child.
5 steps to getting started with Baby Sign
1. Start with a list
Create a list of basic baby signs you would like your baby to know. I just used an index card and pencil and listed about 10 signs I wanted to try to teach our baby.
Don’t go too crazy early on! I initially had about 30 signs on my list and it was way too overwhelming, especially because I had never done sign language in my life! Start slow and work your way up from there!
2. Order the signs
Based on the order you would like to teach them, order the signs. This sounds like an obvious thing to do – but many just try to teach them all at once and it is more difficult this way.
For example: First, ‘milk’. Second, ‘more’. Third, ‘bath’. And so on.
This list will be completely different for everyone. This should be an order of importance for you and your family. It will also help you focus and get those easy wins that will motivate you to keep going.
3. YouTube is your friend!
I started to search on You Tube for these basic baby signs I wanted to teach my daughter. I started with the first 5 on my list (more on that below).
I would watch the videos over and over to make sure I understood how to do the sign. I found Not an Exact Science to be especially helpful. Of course, there are some other channels dedicated to this so pick the one you like the most.
4. Teach through association
By creating an association between the word you are saying, the word you are signing and the action, you make the entire learning process a lot easier.
So for example: When it is time to nurse or give a bottle, say milk, do the sign for milk, then give them the bottle or nurse.
I would even say in the middle of that feeding, “You are drinking milk” and do the sign as I say the word.
5. Start Slowly
Starting with only a handful of signs would be best. If you are starting them as infants, these signs should be the only signs you teach them until around 4 or 5 months.
If you are starting signing around 4 months or older, I would start to introduce 5 at a time for about a month and increase from there.
Consistency is key for teaching your baby sign language. Try to do the sign every time you say the word. My husband and I even started to do the sign for please when we talked to each other without our daughter in the room!
This way, by creating habit where there was none, the entire learning process is easier and your child will learn with ease – as they will learn regular words and life lessons.
The first 5 signs you should teach your baby
When teaching you baby sign language, it is sometimes overwhelming to find where to start. I think it is best to start with 5 basic signs and work up from there.
These are the top 5 suggested baby signs for you to start with. They are easy to do and easy to understand.
1. Milk – This is a great sign to start off with because this is what your baby will be drinking/eating all of the time.
Method: Before you give them the milk via bottle or nursing, show them the sign and say the word, then give it to them. Every time.
2. More – this is a good sign to start next along with milk. We did the sign with milk, but started doing it more with her when we started doing solids.
Good tip: we started using the sign with her when we would play. So when she wanted more books, we would sign “more books”.
We started to notice around 1 year, she was understanding that “more” had multiple meanings – it can be used for food, toys, or anything.
3. Diaper – Even though this is not a sign we expected her to do back, this was a great transition so that she knew what we were about to do.
This helped calm her when we were far from home and I was changing her diaper. This also helped us when we started potty training.
4. Please – We added this on to the end of everything we ended up teaching her. When she wanted milk, we said “milk, please”.
When she wanted more, we said “more please”. This is just the beginning of being polite and we thought it’s best to teach it early.
5. All Done – This is a great beginning sign because it is easy and sometimes kids just need a time out. We taught this by using the sign at the end of everything.
So when we finished having milk, we said “all done”. By doing this sign before we moved on to anything else, she started to understand that it was the signal to be done.
In order to make your life even easier, you can get some sign cards that you can use in the teaching/learning process.
You can download all sorts of cards at BabySignLanguage.com. What I have done is taken them and created some flash cards to use for me and my baby.
I put the cards 4 on a page so that they are smaller, printed them, cut them and laminated them for us to use. It worked flawlessly and I am sure the same would apply in your case too.