How to Teach Your Baby Sign Language: Helpful Tips & Resources

how to teach your baby sign langauge

When it comes to languages, English has always been it for me.

I took enough Spanish in high school so I could later test out of my college language credit requirements. And I remember enough to say, “Hola, que pasa burrito?” with a smile.

When I went to Ethiopia, the word “ambasa” stuck because the group members thought I had the strength of a lion.

And in my travels to Rome, it was, “Accettate carte di credito?” So I knew if I could swipe my credit card, like the young twenty-something I was.

Why I Chose to Teach My Baby Sign Language

During my time as a nanny, the mom I worked for had introduced a few “baby signs” to her youngest.

We stuck to the basics, using what we needed: words like,“more, please, thank you, and milk.” As effective as the practice was, it wasn’t long before he was off chasing his siblings, using English, and leaving the basic signs behind.

Again, my deeper connection to a new language fizzled out.

When our daughter was born, I knew had found a second chance to finally solidify my knowledge of another language by using American Sign Language (ASL) with her.

Once more, I started with the necessities: “please, more, milk, and thank you.” It was helpful and convenient as I tried to sort through her confusing cries.

And then I discovered using ASL meant I could decipher her needs without words in a way that acknowledged her for the intelligent, tiny human that she is.

I’m not sure I remember her saying “momma” for the first time, but I can tell you I will never forget being in the middle of cooking dinner watching her lift her hand to her face to make the motion of signing and saying, “momma” all at once. It was so rewarding after months of practicing with her.

It may be easy to think we can’t communicate with babies just because they don’t have words. But the reality is, love doesn’t need words to have a voice.

I think using ASL is just one of many ways we can choose find meaningful connection with our children.

If you’ve found yourself pondering if ASL would be worth using with your family, I’ve included a few resources below to help you begin.

Getting Started with Sign Language 

Keep it simple.

Think about words you find yourself using with your baby that are relevant. Start with two to three words and attach the motion of the sign to the word as you use it.

Once you feel like your baby has a solid understanding (by being able to repeat the sign or comprehend your use of it), find a few more to incorporate. For example, we started with “please, more, and milk” but now have been able to add in more complex ones like, “play, stand up, and potty.

Give it time.

Depending on how early you start, it may take some time for your baby to grasp the concept, but repetition is key.

I started with the basics around nine months to start creating the connection, but she didn’t start signing back to me until closer to 12 months.

Find resources that work for you! I started with what I knew, but to expand my vocabulary I had to find outlets that would fit with my lifestyle. Here’s what I have found that I have loved.

ASL Resources

1. App-based: ASL Pocket Sign.

There’s built-in lessons and a pictured ASL alphabet. But most importantly, if I want to know a specific word, there’s a dictionary I can search! This app has been my favorite, by far.

2. Online resource: Club Tiny Signs.

Club Tiny Signs is a fantastic online, membership-based community created by sign language expert, Lane Rebelo.

Some of the very cool resources include bimonthly Zoom calls to learn signs, songs, and more activities with other young families. The website also includes printable sign charts and a signing course. 

3. Local resource: Vineyard 2nd Generation.

We all love to support local, so next time you are looking for a childcare option, consider Fargo-based Vineyard 2nd Generation.

Vineyard 2nd Generation is a sign language immersion school. It’s meant for all children, whether they use sign for necessity or simply want an opportunity to experience a new language!

My daughter isn’t quite ready to be on her own yet, but it’s definitely a resource I’m going to consider for building our sign language skills in the future.

Have you used sign language with your kids? If so, what are some of your tips? Let us know in the comments below!

And if you’re looking for more resources on connecting with your child, check out our post on Parenting Classes in Fargo & Moorhead.
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Jessica has recently taken her Montana roots and re-planted them here in Fargo! She is a wife, mom (of course) to a 1 year old daughter, and a companion to her 2 dogs plus cat acquired by marriage. She spends her career time working in her passions of leadership development and connecting to others through written word. When she's not hunkered down in her basement office, you’ll find her out on her latest Fargo adventure with her daughter and dogs in tow! On her rest days, you’ll find her binging Law and Order SVU or getting tangled up in her latest knitting project!

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