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Talk With Your Hands

Sign Language with Babies

By Karin Howard, M.A., CCC-SLP

As parents there are lots of little extra efforts we can make to be supportive of our young children's communication growth. There are many skills involved when children are developing their speech and language. Children learn the ability to make the outward effort to express themselves; they form  a way to understand once they have made the effort; and they develop the ability to understand the information taken in from their surroundings. As we are all individuals with unique strengths and challenges, these amazing accomplishments are carried out in different ways and at different times.

By the same token, there are common threads to this process which present opportunities for you to be proactive. The use of sign language with hearing children is one excellent way to help our little ones along with their development. To get you started, here is a list several signs that are appropriate for children 1-3 years of age - eat, drink, play, good, happy, sad, mom and dad. The following procedures will be a good guideline to use when working with your children.

  1. First, practice these signs by yourself so that you become consistent with the signs you use with your child. Don't worry if they are not exact according to American Sign Language (ASL), just make sure that you use the same sign for play each time you use it. The most important thing is that you are consistent. Remember, your child will replace these signs with accurate verbal productions when he is ready and his use of the signs will then fade.
  2. Begin to introduce these signs to your child. Use the signs when it is appropriate, for example, when your child is looking for food and you know it's time to eat, sign "eat" as you say, "Let's find you something to eat."  Always use verbal productions along with your signed attempts, as this article is addressing hearing children. The verbal and signed communication will allow your child to take in the auditory as well as the visual modality for a multi-sensory and enriched experience.

  3. After continued use of signing your child may use some of these signs expressively. Give enthusiastic verbal and signed praise. Their use of expressive signs may be with or without a verbal attempt. Either way is great. Remember also to follow up by supporting your child's communication attempt. For example, if your child signs "play", then play with them, or at least let them know you understand what they were trying to communicate by saying something like "How great you told me you want to play, okay Mommy will play with you soon".

  4. As stated earlier, when your child achieves a close enough approximation of the verbal production and they are being understood they will usually drop the signed production and move on with only verbal attempts to communicate, which is appropriate.

While there are so many ways you can encourage your child's communication skills, current research has supported the use of sign language to proactively promote expressive language, receptive and expressive vocabulary and much more. The use of signed communication in children seems to decrease  frustration during the acquisition of speech and language development as it provides them with a way to communicate.

So have fun and maybe you will be motivated to take a closer look at the wonders of communicating with your hands!

Karin Howard is a practicing speech/language pathologist in Los Angeles. She has taught "Mommy and Me" classes that emphasize speech and language to aid parents of typically developing infants and toddlers. She is also the creator of "Exploring Language through Song and Play," a CD set with an accompanying lyric and activity book. You can learn more about this CD set here. There is also a Buy Now button on the upper right side bar of this website if you wish to purchase this CD set.

Signing Time DVD of the Month Club

Filed under Birth to 3 years old, Expressive Language, Language Development, Receptive Language, Sign Language by Tami

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Comments on Talk With Your Hands »

December 19, 2010

Mischel Powell @ 11:01 am

As an independent certified instructor for baby signs program I have seen first hand how baby signs helps in young children's language development. In working with parents and caregivers with infants and toddlers, teaching their babies basic signs i.e. eat, more,drink helps reduce frustration and helps to build child-parent relationships. It is great to see sights and articles like yours that address the benefits sign language has on hearing babies and their language development. I enjoyed the article and appreciate the information you shared.

February 1, 2011

Lisa Garrigan @ 8:17 pm

Great article! Kids are such sponges, teach them early and they will pick up on this right away. My 3 year old already has 20+ signs down in less than a month.

February 2, 2011

Tami @ 3:58 pm

Thanks for the nice comments Lisa & Mischel!

February 9, 2011

TM Claude @ 11:42 am

My sister-in-law used sign language with all four of her children. These are some of the brightest kids in the family. These techniques work and help foster the communication skills of children. Thanks for the article.

February 10, 2011

Mario Patov @ 11:46 pm

These techniques helped my son too! Thank you for your help!

February 20, 2011

Loc @ 8:59 pm

I stumble onto your site by accident, and it is a good thing I did. This is valuable information. I have a little one and I will definitely implement this technique. Who knew that sign language helps children improve their communication skills.

Tami @ 10:01 pm

I'm glad you found my website and are finding the information helpful. Thanks for the comment.

July 17, 2011

Claire from Newbury Park Limo @ 1:55 pm

Wow this is a pretty amazing technique! I think this is another great way to communicate with our little ones. =) I think it can also be a bonding moment.

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