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  • Hayley Wilson

Baby Sign Language: 13 Signs to Enhance Communication with your Baby

Updated: Sep 29, 2023

I am currently studying American Sign Language (ASL) with the intention to be fluent. My brother in law was born deaf; therefore, my husband and his family can all sign. My goal has always been to learn alongside our children starting with baby sign, so here we are!

We started signing to our daughter a couple months after she was born and she began to sign back to us at six months. Teaching her baby signs was an absolute game changer for communication and came way before her words! Because this was such a helpful tool for our family, I wanted to share the signs that we used as well as some helpful tips for getting started.


What is American Sign Language (ASL)?


"American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, natural language that has the same linguistic properties as spoken languages, with grammar that differs from English. ASL is expressed by movements of the hands and face. It is the primary language of many North Americans who are deaf and hard of hearing and is used by some hearing people as well." - National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders


Benefits of Baby Sign Language


There are so many benefits of teaching baby sign language! For our family, baby sign language has felt like a communication life hack. Here are just a few reasons why we chose to teach these signs at an early age.

  1. Provides the Ability to Communicate Earlier than Speech

  2. Minimizes Frustration by Giving Baby Tools to Communicate

  3. Increases Cognitive Development

  4. Early Communication Provides Psychological Benefits, such as Enhanced Confidence and Self Esteem

  5. Learning Sign Language Aids in Speech Development and Language Skills as well as Visual and Attention Skills

  6. Enhance Hunger and Satiated Cues

  7. Signing with Your Baby is a Wonderful Bonding Experience


Tips for Teaching


You do not have to be fluent in ASL or do a ton of studying to teach your baby signs. I love these tips that were shared on the Huckleberry website, so I wanted to elaborate a little more on them.


1. Choose commonly used words

The best way to use this tool is to teach words that your child will want to use to

communicate, so use words that are common for baby's needs. I also recommend

starting with just a few words so you or your child are not overwhelmed and sign

can be easily woven into daily communication. In this case, less is definitely more.

2. Repetition

Children learn and pick up what is consistently modeled to them. When your baby

sees a sign modeled over and over to them, they associate that sign with a

specific action and understand that this is how to communicate it when they are

able.

3. Say the Word

If you have a hearing child, it is helpful to say the word as well as you sign it so that

your child is learning both the word and the sign. I also found this helpful for me

as I was learning each sign.


4. Be Patient

It does take some time for your baby to learn and be able to communicate signs. In

the beginning, I remember wondering if we were every going to be able to

communicate with sign and was pleasantly surprised when it came before her

speech and we were able to communicate so well when she was so little. It was so

worth sticking to the repetition of using the signs consistently.


5. Include Others

My husband's parents are fluent in sign language and usually sign as they speak to

our daughter, as well as her aunt and uncle on that side. My parents do not know

sign, but they love learning alongside our daughter and picked up the baby signs

that we taught early on. I also love Ms. Rachel on Youtube. Depending on your

child's age, Ms. Rachel is a great tool for teaching and practicing signs. She is

educated in early childhood speech and language development so all of her

episodes are designed to facilitate communication in a fun way.


13 Baby Signs


Commonly used signs can be different for each family, but these are the signs that we used the most. They are all generally universal for baby care and our daughter is now able to communicate most of these signs back to us at sixteen months, or at least her version of the sign to the best of her ability.


1. Milk


2. More


3. All Done


4. Sleep


5. Water


6. Eat


7. Help


8. Hurt (Boo Boo)


9. Bath


10. Change (Diaper)


11. Mama


12. Dada


13. I love you


More Resources


If you are interested in learning more, here are a few resources recommended by my brother in law who works in deaf education, as I have learned some of the signs you find on Youtube or Google aren't always correct.


  1. Lingvano - free dictionary with in app purchases for studying ASL

  2. SignSchool - free dictionary with in app purchases for studying ASL

  3. PocketSign - free dictionary with in app purchases for studying ASL

  4. The ASL app - free dictionary with in app purchases for studying ASL

  5. The Gallaudet Children's Dictionary of American Sign Language

  6. Oklahoma School for the Deaf - offers free virtually self-paced ASL 1 & 2 classes in the fall


Teaching our daughter baby sign language feels like such a parent hack for communication. My advice to new parents is usually take every piece of advice with a grain of salt and do what's best for your family, BUT if I could share one tip it would be to teach baby sign because it can make communicating with your child so much easier. Thanks to this tool, our daughter was able to communicate with us well before she could speak verbally and we almost always knew her needs- which I am sure saved us all from a lot of tears and frustration. I am so deeply grateful for this tool so I had to share it! If you have any questions with the signs, feel free to reach out.


With love and gratitude,

Hayley

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