Baby Sign Language

I realized today that I have a lot of posts where I mention our sign language adventure (like here, here, here, and here), but not an actual post about it. So here we go!

First off, I definitely recommend teaching your child sign language. There are all sorts of benefits regarding IQ and what not, but honestly what I like best about it is being able to communicate with Peanut. Of course I could still communicate with her without sign language, but definitely not as much as we do now.

We started signing with Peanut when she was about 5 months old. We started with “milk”, “change”, “I love you”, and “more”. Later on we added “all done” because she would get really upset when we would stop giving her yogurt so we needed something that would tell her that it was gone. This is where our first issue came up—we taught her a sign that isn’t really a sign. I thought that I was on a good site, but obviously wasn’t. I can’t even remember where I got the sign, but if you want to teach your child real ASL, you need to watch out. Sites that say “baby sign language” often aren’t real ASL. They use a modified version of sign language that is “easier” for babies. I honestly don’t see a point in teaching my child a fake language.

The first thing she started signing back was “more”, though it didn’t recognize it as such at the time. She probably started signing back at around 9-10 months. First she hit the table, then she’d clap her hands, then eventually she moved to putting her hands together in an obvious sign. Really, she still doesn’t do the sign right (at 14 months), but it’s obvious that it’s what she means. She points one finger to the palm of her other hand over and over. It’s entirely normal for them to do their own modified version of the sign and if you keep doing the sign right, they’ll eventually do it correctly too.

I wish I would have started blogging about her sign language journey earlier, because honestly I can’t remember when she started doing specific signs or even all of the ones she can do. It’s normal for them to do a sign for a while and then “put it in their pocket” for a while. Like she used to sign “yay” or “applause” a lot, but now she never does it. I know she still understands it because if I do the sign she claps, but she just stopped doing it herself.

Signs I know she can do: yay, milk, more, food, book, shoes, blue, and dog. I know she can do more than that, but I can’t think of any more right now. Still, that’s more words than any non-signing kid her age would have and she uses them a ton. She’ll come up to be and sign “book” because she wants to read one. When she was sick she signed “milk” about every fifteen minutes because that’s how often she wanted to nurse. Also, she started pulling on my shirt to tell me she wanted to nurse and I explained to her that it wasn’t nice and she should just sign milk. Now she rarely pulls on my shirt and when she does, it’s because I’m not paying attention to her signing.

The only disadvantage I can see to signing is that she may have less spoken words because of it. I think she just doesn’t feel the need to find spoken words for things because she has signs for them. This doesn’t bother me, but I can see how it could bother other parents. She does say “mama” and “dough” means dog. Also when she sees my breast she points at it and says “dat” in an excited voice. It could also be that she would have been just as slow with words if we didn’t sign, who knows? Studies do show that kids who sign actually have more spoken words than kids who don’t sign so this might just be Peanut.

I’m going to try to keep a more active log of Peanut’s signs and when she does them. She comes up with a new one every week or so and I want to document our success. So be ready to hear a lot about Peanut’s signing! Starting now!

Peanut signed “food” this morning for the first time. I was giving her a Mum Mum and asked her to say “Mum Mum” because she used to say it a while ago, but has since stopped probably because we don’t give them to her as much. Rather than saying “Mum Mum”, she signed “food”! Food looks like this:

Isn’t that cute?!? My Smart Hands is actually a really good site when you’re beginning with ASL. It doesn’t have many signs, but it has the ones that you’re likely to use and it has the baby doing the signs too so you can see the approximation of how yours might sign it.

She just hit her open hand to her mouth, but she was trying to sign “food”. How do I know that? You just figure out how to recognize your child signing something after doing it for a while. Like when I sing the ABC’s, but don’t sign it, she moves her hands as if she’s trying to do the signs. It really doesn’t look anything like the signs, but she does it to the rhythm of me singing. If I weren’t used to recognizing signs, I might think she was dancing.


9 thoughts on “Baby Sign Language

  1. I love this! We have been doing the “milk” sign since about month five but that’s about it. He doesn’t do it unless he’s really desperate but when we do it for him before nursing him he FREAKS OUT with excitement so clearly he recognizes what it means.

    I probably need to start expanding our vocabulary. I want to start including “more” but since we’re still not doing a lot of foods I’m not sure what situations it would really fit in to- more toy? more nap? more nursing? If you have tips and want to expand on this I’d love to hear them.

    • Peanut used to get excited about the “milk” sign too. Really within a week or so of using it she realized what it meant and smiled really big. Then she would pull at my shirt after I signed it. Then she actually started signing it back. Then she signed it to me to tell me she wanted it. Now when I’m gone from her for a while, she comes running at me signing “milk” the second I walk through the door!

      Peanut uses more for everything. At the park she wants more slide. While eating she wants more food. While nursing she wants more milk (which is switching to the other side). You would be surprised how much “more” is used. It’s probably our #1 used sign.

  2. We did alot of sighing with my first. It was super helpful but she is/was a late talker. As you said, not sure if that’s because we signed so much or that’s just her. If I could know if her signing made her speech delayed I would not have signed as much. But I will never know. Having delayed speech has been a big problem for her I think because she couldn’t communicate like she wanted to so she hit. I choose to teach the basics to #2 like more, all done, eat, water, and thank you so far.

  3. I’m so thankful we chose to sign a little with my daughter. She knows “milk,” “eat,” “all done,” “bath,” “diaper,” “more,” along with several others, and she’s made up several of her own (including “bed” or possibly “tired” or “bedroom”… she uses it when she wants us to go upstairs into her room). Her verbal words seem right on track so far (she’s 19 months and is starting to link word pairs for simple sentences). To think of having to have negotiated the past year w/out signs (even just “milk” and “bath”) makes me wonder how much unhappiness we avoided by being able to communicate via sign verses wailing/guessing–we used them daily! But yes, I realized at one point that the “dog” sign we’d been using wasn’t a real ASL sign. It was in a baby sign book, but was a fake sign. Disappointing to say the least. We double-checked all the signs after that with ‘adult’ ASL sites. If you’re learning words from a different language, might as well learn them right!

  4. From the research I’ve seen on signing, it can either be beneficial or detrimental to oral language development, which is super important to reading. If you use signing exclusively, it can keep kids from speaking, because they don’t need to. However, if you make a point of saving the word while you are signing it, and while the baby is signing it, they are supposed to end up with the oral vocabulary of a 4 year old when they are 3.

    • Thanks! We actually made sure to say to words along with the sign for exactly that reason. I’m thinking Peanut wouldn’t have had a huge vocabulary by now without signs anyway.

  5. Hi…I loved your post. As a mother of a baby signer and an instructor of baby sign language, I can tell you that signing has been an absolute blessing in our home! Our little one was extremely high-needs and very impatient, which is why we started signing with her. Did it completely stop all the tantrums and make her more patient? Uh, no…BUT, it surly did help! She is now 4 and is way ahead of her peers in language development. She is also reading and writing 3-letter and simple 4-letter words. I attribute much of this to using sign language.

  6. Pingback: Baby Sign Language Update « The Adventures of Lactating Girl

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