Baby Sign Language

by Kelsey Norwood

in Education, Media, & Literacy

It’s funny how once you learn about something new, you start to hear about it and notice it everywhere! This is how baby sign language has been for me. I’m sure people have been talking about baby sign language for a while, but I only caught on just recently because I have a young baby and have looked into teaching him sign language.

My sister introduced me to baby sign when her daughter was about 6 months old. She taught her daughter just the basic signs, those that she could use to communicate needs. They used just a few signs like those for “milk,” “more,” “poo-poo,” and “all done.”

Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical at first about a baby’s ability to pick up on signs and actually use them to communicate. I was amazed when I saw my niece using signs to communicate at 6 months old! I’ve always known that babies are really smart (look how much they learn in just a few short years!), but I just figured that communication, verbal or otherwise, required a maturity level not reached until a certain age. I was wrong.

Infant sign language is brilliant because a baby does know what he or she wants and can express it using signs until his or her cognitive skills are mature enough to facilitate the formation of verbal language.

I have a 5 1/2 month old son now and I’m starting to teach him the sign for milk. Every time I nurse him I say, “milk,” and show him the sign. We’ll see how long it takes for him to be able to do it on his own. In another few weeks I’m going to start giving him some solids so I’ll also be able to teach him the signs for more food/hunger related words.

My husband and I were having a discussion the other day about how much sign language to teach our son. I’ve heard that teaching babies too many signs for things other than basic necessities can delay verbal communication. I’ve been concerned about that because it makes sense that our son would use the sign rather than bother learning how to say the word because signing is easier and he learned how to do that first.

My husband did a little research to find out and he discovered that sign doesn’t delay speech development. In fact, in many cases signing actually helps verbal development, especially in children who have some developmental delays. “Research indicates that children who have been taught Baby Sign have increased and early spoken vocabularies and improved cognitive and communication skills throughout childhood (”

This bit of information put my mind at ease. After all, communication is communication and giving an infant the tools to convey what he or she wants will mean much less frustration for all involved. Teaching Baby Sign gives babies early practice in communication, which will help them later with verbal communication.

Additional Baby Sign Resources


1 Britt B September 28, 2009 at 11:25 am

I just found this post. I know it was made a while ago, but thanks for sharing this information. I have started teaching my little girl sign language. I have a brother who is hard-of-hearing and sister-in-law who is deaf, and they have 5 children who can hear. It has been interesting to see them all learn sign language before learning to speak, and how it has helped their verbal development. Thanks for the info!

2 Annette W October 1, 2009 at 11:13 am

Though I taught my daughter sign language before there was a concern, it’s been a life saver! She has a speech disorder and because of the disconnect between the brain and mouth, signs actually help her to remember words.

For my normal son, he will learn signs too. Children naturally can use their hands to communicate long before having the words to do it.

3 Libby November 2, 2009 at 12:29 pm

I’m screening 18monthers for various developmental disorders, it is part of a research study through our children’s hospital and quite a few of the children who have speech delay problems use sign instead of speaking. The principle investigator (she’s a Speech-Language Pathologist) says that research is showing that it is delaying speech. (and she’s a much more reliable source than wikkipedia will ever be)

4 Elizabeth August 20, 2010 at 11:14 pm

Baby Sign was a lifesaver for my son who had a severe speech problem. I didn’t know that when he was 6 months old but he chatters nonstop now, at age 4, and doesn’t even remember that he used to sign everything. The signing did not cause his speech problem. It was not a delay, but something different, similar to a movement disorder of the speech muscles and nerves. Signing helped us communicate for the first 3 1/2 years of his life.

5 Kelsey August 21, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I am so glad I was introduced to baby signing too. It just makes sense! I’m glad your son outgrew/overcame his speech difficulties!

6 stephanie p. October 25, 2010 at 12:06 pm

I am so thankful for sign language! my middle, a very intense boy, has always found it challenging to communicate,verbally. i began teaching him to sign at about 6 months, and it has truely been a God send! his first sentence was “more please”…referring to icecream. i figured, if you can sign it, you can have it!…well, in moderation, that is! i have tought our youngest and she has done beautifully! to those nay-sayers, i simply say”spend a little time with my kid, and then decide”…praise-praise to sign language!

7 Kelsey November 3, 2010 at 10:12 pm

I am with you Stephanie. The more tools we can give our kids to communicate at that age, the better!

8 jeremy April 8, 2011 at 6:35 am
9 Baby Sign Language October 26, 2012 at 3:10 am

Baby sign language is great fun. Thanks for sharing. The more parents that know about its benefits the better.

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