I have a little bit of interest and background in sign language because I started in a deaf education program when I was in school before switching to general elementary education, and took a semester of American Sign Language. I also have a sign language interpreter in my classroom this year for one of my students. So it has been fun watching her sign as I relearn it a little bit too. I never really thought about teaching Livia sign language, but then I noticed that she was starting to comprehend a lot but just didn’t have the language yet to be able to express herself. She was probably around 7 or 8 months old when we started this, and it took several more months until she was using signs intentionally. I want to say that I am by no means an expert in baby sign language, or child growth and development. This is just what has worked for us.
Start with one sign: The sign we started with was ‘more.’ I thought this would be helpful as she was starting to eat more solids and table food for her to be able communicate that she wanted more. I would sign more with my hands, then make her hands do the motion, then give her more food. I wouldn’t do this all the time, but just occasionally. Maybe once or twice at dinner
Bribe: Yup, I said it. Bribe. When the ‘more’ sign really started to kick in, I was eating a cookie. She clearly wanted some, so I gave her a little piece, because of course we can’t ever have anything to ourselves anymore, right?? She smiled and giggled as she ate it, then started putting her fingers together in the ‘more’ motion. I was shocked because I hadn’t prompted her at all, or even asked if she wanted more. To be honest I wanted to eat the cookie myself! But I got really excited for her, praised her for doing it, did the sign with her, and then continued to give her more cookie as she continued to sign ‘more.’ It was so fun!
Here she is signing ‘more.’
Don’t stress or push: I approached this whole baby sign language thing in a pretty laid back way. Honestly, I wasn’t sure she would even really pick it up after a month or two of her not really doing it. However, I continue to show her the signs occasionally, making sure to stick to just a few. If she wanted to do them, great, if she didn’t, and didn’t like me moving her hands to help her do the sign, then I didn’t push her. Eventually, she began to use them when I asked her to, and for a few months now she has even understood the context of when to use the signs, and uses them as she needs to communicate.
Don’t expect perfection: Livie does not do the signs exactly how they are supposed to be done, but that is okay. As they are trying to mimic what you are doing, they will usually not be able to do it exactly the same due to their development and motor skills. That’s fine! If your baby knows what the sign means, and what context to use it in, that is what matters.
Livia signing ‘please.’
Add one sign at a time: As I mentioned before, we started with ‘more’ and pretty much stuck with that for a few months. Once she made the connection that doing that motion was a way to communicate with me, we added in one more, which was ‘please.’ After that it was ‘milk,’ and recently we have been working on ‘thank you.’ Now that she understands several signs, and that they are a way to communicate something specific, she seems to pick them up more quickly.
Continue to practice and have fun with it: Now that Livie understands her signs, we practice them often. If she wants her milk, we sign milk together, then I ask her to say please. If she bring me a book to read, I ask her to say please. After I give her something she wants, we sign thank you together. I have noticed that she starts to use them even more often, the more I do things like this to show her the context of when to use them. She also sometimes tries to say the word that goes along with the sign, which is great! It just seems like this is making her language skills that much better. She is also so proud of herself when she does them, and it is so fun to watch!