Baby Signs

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I wanted to write a quick post ( as quick as this type of posts can be) about BABY SIGNS.

I was first introduced to the concept by some TTC books I was reading before we got pregnant and then saw a real life example in my friend’s daughter who was a little over a year at the time and using signs freely.

I always thought it was a good idea and was very excited about it, but I didn’t realize how truly awesome teaching your baby sign language can be until Alexis signed her first signs.

I am sure by now everyone has heard of BABY SIGN LANGUAGE, a system that allows your baby to become an effective communicator well before they are actually capable of using real words. This is made possible by the fact that their language center is developed pretty well before they can make their mouth pronounce words. Your baby understands everything, he just can’t say it. Many kids, in fact, invent their own sign language. Signs for hi and bye, yes and no are nothing more than sign language.

As a parent you have two options when it comes to teaching your baby sign language You can use ASL signs, some of which are slightly harder for a baby to sign, but teach a real life skill. Or you can use baby signs developed specifically for baby sign language that help them learn sign language more effectively at a younger age.

Not only do the signs help them express themselves and make your life easier (it definitely beats guessing whether they want to drink or to eat and what it is they are trying to say), but it reduces tantrums and frustrations on their part, as well as helps them with language development and makes communication between you so much more special.

Here is our experience with baby signs.

I read the Baby Signs book by the same author as one of my favorite Baby Hearts book ( I would strongly recommend that every parent reads AND re-reads this book several times over the first 5 years of their kid’s life) when Alexis was 4 months old. Despite the fact that in most cases babies are unable to sign until they are 9 months old (there are super rare cases of babies signing their first sign at 6mobths), I decided to start signing right then, at 4 months.

The recommendation is to start around 9 months so they begin using the signs around 12 months. However, there is absolutely no reason one cannot start as soon as they want. The fear is that one would get discouraged with the lack of response from a younger baby before they are even able to sign. But as far as I am concerned, the extra time is helpful to get parents accustomed to using signs in their daily routine as well as the baby to get as exposed to signing as much as possible.

To be completely honest, I was hoping that Lexi would pick up sign language sooner. I was dying to see her communicate back with me after months of signing to her. Some months I would do a lot of signing, others I’d get tired and forget to sign much. I made sure to really get serious with signing around 8-9 months. She might have signed her first barely recognizable signs earlier, but the true use of signs came right at 9 months when I was supposed to have just begun teaching her.

It is really an amazing accomplishment for such a young baby to be able to communicate and the best thing about it is that everyone can do it. If your baby is over 12 months, it is possible for him/her to start signing back to you within 2 weeks.

The first few signs should be the most frequent ones you use, the ones that are the most important to you and the baby and the ones that the baby is most interested in.

For example, our first few signs at 4 months and on were:

BOOBIE – I used the sign for milk, but said the word for BREAST in Russian. ( the most frequent thing we did)

ALL DONE/GONE – the most important and easy sign for Lexi

MORE – Important from the standpoint of communication.

EAT – Again important for communicating needs

CAT – One that she was interested in.

CHANGE – Important for communicating needs

The first one she picked up were MILK and ALL DONE/GONE. The latter on being the one that she still uses THE MOST and gets the most pleasure from.

MORE came in later and she uses it mostly to indicate that she wants to read more books or recently she signed that she wanted more swinging.

CAT is a difficult one to sign, so she is just now starting to sign it.

She still doesn’t consistently sign EAT or CHANGE. {edit: a few days after writing that she has begun showing eat sign, and a few times attempting change sign, however it’s a pretty difficult sign to make}


After the initial signs came the ones that she was most interested in. Whenever there was an animal she displayed interest in, I’d look up a sign for it. At this point (11.5 months), she can sign or attempts to sign HORSE, BIRD, LIGHT, TEDDY BEAR, BALL, DRINK, DOG, CLEAN UP, BOOK, SLEEP and maybe a few more I am not remembering right now. She attempts to sign (but doesn’t have the right form yet) GIRAFFE, CAT, CHANGE, BALL.

From our early experience, I would recommend incorporating LIGHT, CLEAN UP and SLEEP as some of your initial signs. They are VERY easy to do for little ones and are somewhat important for them. You should see her face when she signs either one of those. Actually, you should see her face when she signs ANYTHING! So proud and happy to be communicating!

LIGHT becomes important because it’s a very simple sign and all babies are fascinated with the “phenomenon” of twinkling lights and lights getting turned off and on. She will point at EVERY single light she sees (even light streaming from the window) and sign LIGHT with an excited expression on her face (even mid-sleep). Whenever we turn on overhead light in her room, she happily signs light.

CLEAN UP is our new sign and she gets such a kick out of it. We love it because it warns Lexi that it’s time to wash her hands and face which she thoroughly despises.

SLEEP is obviously very important as well, especially if your little one likes to fight bedtime and isn’t clear with his/her naptime cues. Whenever I say the word sleep, she signs it back if she wants to nap. She often simply signs it to indicate that we need to go upstairs and go to sleep. She even signs it when she plays with toys and we “put her teddy to sleep”.

So there is not much to teaching your baby sign language, but it is oh so important and rewarding. She won’t be speaking in sentences till she is closer to two, but she has already shown her first sign sentence by asking for “MORE BOOKS”.

Again, I’d recommend the BABY SIGNS book to get you started. It’s simple, it brings up studies about benefits and talks about myths of sign language ( like delayed speech), and it covers both ASL and baby sign language. Once you’ve started the process, you can continue looking up signs online. I use this resource to look up new words on my iphone because it doesn’t have videos with sound but is still clear in its pictures or occasional video, so I can look it up while I am putting Lexi to sleep, which is usually when I learn new signs.



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  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 8:47 AM

    I’ve been meaning to try this, and definitely am behind on looking into it. Evita loves cats too. That was her first word. 🙂

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 10:10 AM

    thanks for posting about this. ive been trying to figure out which I should start with first, my baby can read or baby signs. Good to hear what others are doing at this age

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    As a sign language interpreter I LOVE LOVE LOVE hearing of people teaching their babies sign!!! The reduction in number of tantrums alone would be enough to convince me if I hadn’t already planned on doing so.
    I would like to suggest another resource for parents that are interested in pursuing this. — this company offers some wonderful videos as well as posters and my personal favorite…stroller flash cards!!!
    Happy learning everyone and I’m happy to answer any questions people may have 🙂

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      January 30, 2013 at 12:17 PM

      I looked into signing time, but since we don’t do TV watching, I couldn’t get the DVDs. But thanks for the links in case other parents are interested.

      Also do you know of a better ASL dictionary that has a search for words ( rather than alphabetized listing), other than the one I mentioned?

      • Reply
        January 30, 2013 at 12:47 PM

        The ASL dictionary you have listed is a great one, I also use the one below. It’s a portal so it will link you to all know online ASL dictionaries for any given word that you search

        Signing time has a lot of other great resources even if you don’t watch tv, such as board books ( I know Lexi is a big time book worm!) and flash cards for little ones. Hope that helps

      • Reply
        January 31, 2013 at 2:36 PM

        Quick question…I know I’ve seen pictures of Lexi on your phone/iPad/computer….that counts as screen time in the “no TV before 2” guidelines. If you’re bending it for those things (and I’m sure it’s for Skyping/educational purposes when you do bend it), why wouldn’t you consider the educational DVDs? If you don’t have a DVD player you could play them on the computer. We pretty strictly followed the “no TV” thing with my son until he was 1, other than video chats with the grandparents out of town. After 1, I started letting him watch 10-20 minutes of TV a few times a week – all educational. Baby Sign DVDs are one of the things that we use and he LOVES them – he’s picked the signs up SO much more quickly seeing other babies sign them versus just me and his dad. And babies love watching babies!

        • Reply
          Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
          February 3, 2013 at 5:37 PM

          There are two reasons that I know of why watching TV is not advisable for babies under 2. The first one is the one that everyone knows about: if you sit a baby in front of a TV, they are not getting the parental attention that they would otherwise be getting. {in my opinion, parents do what they have to. If a kid gets plenty of attention throughout the day, but then watches 20 minutes of slow moving realistic designed for kids segment while mommy gets really important stuff done- it’s no biggie)
          The second reason isn’t as well known, but to me is the most important one, is that the flickering (the quick scene changes) of most videos and child and adult programming is too fast for the developing brain and can predispose them to ADHD (there’re plenty of studies on this one if you’d like to research), because their brain will expect that kin of fast pace in real life.

          If you interact with the child while watching a show that is moving with real life speed (no scene changes, just camera moving), then I don’t see anything harmful in screen time. Unfortunately, pretty much EVERYTHING I’ve seen that is designed for little kids is fast moving (not sure about signing DVDs-I’ve never watched those). So what we do let her do on is obviously talk on skype since it’s full no interaction and no scene changes, read Dr Seuss books on the iphone (the pages get flipped at the same speed as a normal book as we read it) and watch real life videos of animals (also no scene changes and we try to narrate as much as we can, though sometimes we just let her watch the animals, like when we need to finish our meal and she’s done).

          I did hear that baby signs DVD is excellent and babies really pick up stuff from it easily.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    I love this, definitely want to try it down the road. It’s fascinating to think about from a neurolinguistic perspective and what the advantages might be of being able to communicate before vocal/productive speech.

  • Reply
    Lidia S
    January 30, 2013 at 12:34 PM

    love this post thanks my son learned to sign ‘Please’ first and I was a happy mama, then he shocked me one day and signed ‘more’ 🙂 and in his sleep he started doing all done now he uses all 🙂

  • Reply
    Jessica Joy
    January 30, 2013 at 12:54 PM

    I love sign language and when I was a little girl I found a children’s book that taught me my first signs. “Come play with me” was my first sentence. ‘Play’ would be a cute sign for LExi, come to think of it! I ended up going to a high school that taught sign language and also took a class in college. I will definitely be teaching my child sign language!
    Thank you so much for sharing this experience with us!

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      January 30, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      I’ll have to look it up! That’s a good idea! All we do is play though, so I doubt she will need it any time soon 🙂 lol

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    thanks for posting! I’ve started teaching my baby and though of course she isn’t signing back yet, she definitely takes note of my motions and I can see her little brain just working. 🙂 We’re doing Milk, Outside/Inside, Dog, Sleep, and Bath right now. I tried to make sure to include some fun ones so she can tell me what she wants to do, since I usually know when to feed or put her to sleep, but I don’t always know she’s wishing we’d go explore outside.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      January 30, 2013 at 1:25 PM

      We do bath too! 🙂 She hasn’t signed it back yet. I have to see if I can incorporate inside/outside sign. When she wants out, she just goes to her shoes or stroller, or bangs on the outside door. At which point I say “let’s go put shoes on” and she happily run over and grabs her shoes and tries to put them on. Blows my min- so cute!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 1:23 PM

    Just a little encouragement to keep it up as it only gets better! Little background: I signed with all my kids but when my oldest 2boys started talking about 18 months I stopped. Big mistake!! They dropped the signing for the speaking. My 3rd son took to signing much earlier than the others (with the help of the older brothers no doubt) and at age 2 could sign more words than the average child could speak. My dr was amazed! He did not officially start talking until age 3 and by this time his signing vocabulary much surpassed any 3 yr olds spoken words. He started talking shortly after 3 and by 3 and a half most people thought he was 5 just by the vocabulary he used. So, keep up the signing and don’t stop even when she starts to speak! It truly was invaluable to us for communication! Interesting now is with my 2 yr old daughter I thought my son would remember most of the signs as we do them with her but he does not. He is quick to pick them up again but it really is lost for the spoken words. When I asked a speech specialists about this they mentioned that it didnt matter as the brain connection was there and only will help in later life! I tend to agree just thought it was interesting! Keep it up it is a truly priceless tool for parents!! And in our area the Signing Time shows recently came back on PBS. I know you said you dont watch much TV (we don’t either) but it is conveniently scheduled right when the older 3 come home from school and holds my daughters interest long enough for me to get them started on the homework! I think TV can be a positive thing when used at a minimum. Plus no DVD’s to buy!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    Interesting. Baby signing is one bandwagon we never jumped on (although I think they are using signs for certain things in day care). I have done NO research on this and my opinion is purely my impression (based on absolutely nothing but may be a few remnants of Psychology classes back in the university) but wouldn’t kids who can comminicate effectively via signing be less inclined to start to speak because they do not have any insentive (i.e. can get their basic needs met using sing language)…?

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      January 30, 2013 at 4:01 PM

      Actually it’s funny you say this and that is exactly the impression I had before I had Lexi even though I was planning on doing signs regardless. That’s one of the things that book touches on- there have been numerous studies showing that there is absolutely no delay in speech due to signs. If anything it showed that signs help with speech development since they are used in conjunction with speech not in place of.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 1:32 PM

    We, and the daycare, did sign language with my daughter. We only did a few signs (change, milk, all done, more and eat) and was more than enough. Not because we didn’t want to teach them more, but because those were her most common necessities, and I can say those few signs helped us a lot. I encourage other mothers to do it, even if they are only a couple of signs.
    I would have been nice you should show Lexie doing more signs, because I’m sure that would encourgae other mothers.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    Loved, Loved signing with my daughter… reduced so much frustration and how cute it is!!!!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    We signed a lot with my first, and we were so excited about how quickly he picked it up. He’s almost 3 now, and some of his first spoken words were things he signed frequently, which was cool to see. We got lazy with our second and our pedi told us the speech delay in our first was probably because he signed so much (we’ve switched drs since then). Turns out, my second is somewhat hearing impaired. He has started speech therapy and we started signing with him at last. It’s funny because when we teach him new signs, big brother seems to remember the ones he hasn’t used in months and months and helps us show little brother. It’s all around really exciting to see!
    One that helped us a lot when he would get frustrated was “help.” Once he would start to get annoyed by something he couldn’t do, he would come to us, sign help, and then bring us to whatever was making him mad. It sort of stopped tantrums before they started, which is nice.
    Good luck with Lexi and signing! I think it’s something they can use for a long time!

    • Reply
      January 30, 2013 at 5:54 PM

      You are right; “Help” was a great word to learn. I was so glad when my babies used that one. It would be fun to hear from others what words really got used and were a help.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 4:48 PM

    We’ve been using ASL with Celia since she was about 6 months and she’s kind of come up with her own version of signs. They are consistent and we understand so it works! I plan on looking more into the signing time the one commenter posted above. Sounds interesting with the books and flash cards.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 5:50 PM

    Thank you for this post. Baby sign has been positive for us, too. I wish everyone would try because it is fun and easy. I casually started using signs at 9 months. Even though I was inconsistent, my twins picked up signs so fast, I had to study up to teach them more. They even adapted signs for other meanings (using “change” to mean “take turns/my turn”, too) and created their own signs. I was perfectly ok with that, as communication, not life-long skill, was my goal. My newest little one started signing at 7 months, though at first I only used “milk” and “all done” (which he also uses when he is tired of a toy/game/etc. & wants to do something else, like being held). My twins (3) have mostly forgotten their signs, now, but still remember some and use them with the baby. {Love!}

    I recommend Sign Babies products to everyone and don’t think any classes or videos are necessary. Though they may be useful & fun, I had great success using 25 flash cards (for me, really) and an ASL textbook to learn the signs and then used them with my babies. It is really exciting to have that early communication and can be accomplished without a lot of parental effort (read: so easy to do with these smart little babies). I loved seeing Lexi sign “more” in your Instagram post. It made my heart leap, just like when my babies first used the sign. Cheers!

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 6:17 PM

    We started signing at 5 months old and now at 10 months, Ryan is signing, sleep, milk and ball. I followed monta briant method I love the dvd where you have all the videos for each important signs. It’s not a video to watch with a kid but for you to learn signs. She also have flashcards and “songs for little hands” that covers all the activities with a booklet with lyrics and signs associated with them. So you have a bath song a potty song, tea party, where is my bear, in the morning etc.:

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 8:01 PM has in IPhone app dictionary that uses full ASL signs. I can’t wait until my daughter starts signing.

    Have you read anything about only starting with 5 signs or so or can you just start using all the signs you know as long as you use them consistently. I guess I’m just wondering if one method would be more effective or efficient

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      February 3, 2013 at 5:43 PM

      You know I SWEAR I did read something to that effect, but for the life of me I can’t remember what. If you pick up the book I recommended, I am almost sure it touched on it.But my feeling is to start with a few to get them used to the concept and ideas, because once they get it and can sign back, then picking up signs is super easy.

  • Reply
    January 30, 2013 at 8:35 PM

    I have heard of some kids, not all, that substitute using sign language for using real words for awhile. That doesn’t mean they have a language delay, they are just “speaking” a different language. It’s interesting.

    Also interesting to me is that my son uses tons of spoken words at home, so I was surprised when his daycare marked on his 18 month progress sheet that he was only saying 6 or so. I talked to them about it the next day, and asked them about the signing they teach him at daycare–apparently, he uses a bunch of signs at daycare. At home, he only uses one, ‘more.’ (Very occasionally, he’ll sign ‘eat.) It was just interesting to me that he chooses to “speak” one language at home and another at daycare!

  • Reply
    January 31, 2013 at 12:05 AM

    Wow! That is so amazing!! Can’t wait to teach Adeline sign language!!

  • Reply
    January 31, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    It really is remarkable how much these little kids can pick up; they really are little sponges for information! My husband started causally signing with our daughter around 7 months (very inconsistently) and by 10 months she was signing “all done” and “more” all the time – so you definitely don’t need to be hard core or start super early for your kid to pick it up! These days (our daughter’s a little over a year old) my husband will introduce a new sign and she’ll pick it up in a few days, and she’s signing little phrases like “eat more” all on her own. Not to mention the fact that she makes up her own signs all the time; a few months ago she started walking over to a chair and hit it with both hands, and that was her “sign” for nursing (since we’d always sit in a chair to nurse). The language abilities of babies really are amazing!

    It’s funny about signing “light” because it’s something we never taught our daughter but she started doing it all on her own (around 10 months I think?). It turns out, she learned it in her weekly story-time class, they would sign “light” while singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star!”

    I’ve also read that it doesn’t delay language, and that is a common misperception. Our daughter had 3 words and maybe 5-6 signs at a year and now has about 10-12 of each a month later; when she goes through a verbal language “explosion” her signage increases as well.

  • Reply
    January 31, 2013 at 10:24 AM

    That’s so funny- I had not done any reading about baby signs at all. A lot of our friends had done it, and it seemed like a good idea. I didn’t know when you were supposed to start, so we started at six months b,c we wanted him to be able to ask for more food and milk and tell us when he was done. Anyhow, we were so frustrated when it took a whole month for him to pick up on “more”! I guess we should have read up about it first. He is now nearly fifteen months and still doesn’t have any real spoken words, so it’s weird that he picked up on signs so quickly.

    • Reply
      Elena @The Art of Making a Baby
      February 3, 2013 at 5:38 PM

      I don’t think it’s weird at all! I think all babies work on something different. He’s focused less on spoken words, more on signs. Does he have a good sign vocabulary now?

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