What is the best age to teach your baby sign language?

From early on, babies interact with their world and communicate their needs through crying, facial expressions, and moving their little bodies. They usually know what they want, but until they can speak, parents can sometimes find it difficult to understand clearly what that is. Babies often then understably become frustrated.

This is why more and more parents decide to teach their baby to sign, which is a useful skill that helps them to convey what they want through a set of simple hand gestures. Gestures are already a natural part of non-verbal communication. You only have to see your baby point, wave goodbye, or join in action songs.

What is the best age to teach your baby sign language?

There’s no agreed consensus on the best age to start teaching sign language, but generally, your baby will have better motor control of their hands around six to nine months. Of course, you can start earlier, but your baby may not be interested just yet.

You could potentially see your baby using a combination of sounds and signs somewhere between nine to eighteen months.

Will signing help or hinder your baby’s speech development?

Research has found that signing may actually help your baby to learn to talk and add new words to his/her vocabulary. Signing doesn’t replace language, but rather it supports and enhances it. The signs are used alongside the associated words so that your baby can make the link between the gesture and the word. It’s part of a two-way conversation, which is very exciting when you’re able to ‘chat’ back and forth with your baby!

How to get started with teaching your baby to sign

You don’t need to study courses, or buy expensive packages to learn baby sign language. Feel free to improvise, and use gestures that come naturally. As long as you use the same sign for each word consistently, your baby will learn through repetition. Alternatively, you could join a class so that you can benefit from meeting other parents.

AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language) recommends starting simple, select 3-5 signs and introduce them to your daily communication, and then build from there. Head to the AUSLAN website for a printout of the most commonly adopted baby signs here.

How to use the signs on a daily basis

  1. Keep it fun, and go at your baby’s own pace without any pressure.
  2. Start with something your baby’s interested in. One that a lot of babies pick up quickly is the sign for ‘more’ in relation to food.
  3. Every time you say the words, use the corresponding sign at the same time.
  4. It’s a fun idea to use the signs in songs, so make some up or look online for videos of baby sign songs that you can teach your baby.
  5. Your baby may try to sign in a few days or several weeks, so be patient. You want it to be an enjoyable and positive activity.

In addition to offering a means of communication and reducing frustration, the most important benefit of teaching your baby to sign is enhanced emotional connection with you. This quality interaction may help with confidence building and self-esteem because your baby feels that you’re making an effort to understand them. Happy signing with your baby!