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When I was pregnant with my daughter, I read a lot about teaching sign language to your baby in order to help them communicate. Until I researched it, I thought that it could be a bad thing because it would prevent her from learning to say the words and she would be less vocal, but everything I found said the opposite. Research shows that children will have a higher vocabulary and will speak earlier when they learn sign language. So I decided I would teach it to my daughter.
Most websites recommended starting at about 6 months, but that the child wouldn’t start picking up on it and doing the signs for a few months. When we started feeling our daughter solid foods at about 6 months, we started working on the sign “more.” With her going to daycare and to our mother’s houses while we were working, we were not very consistent with keeping up with the signs. We often were just trying to get her fed (and eat while she was eating, too!). We didn’t keep up with it.
When she was about a year old, I decided to show her a sign again. When we were finished with food we would always say the words “all done.” I showed her the sign for that, or really “finished.” After a day or so, she started doing it also! I was shocked. In such a short period of time she picked up the sign! We immediately started teaching her more signs, such as “milk,” “more,” and “eat.” (See our video towards the bottom) She learned all of the new signs very quickly and her spoken vocabulary started growing quickly as well. As she learned the signs for these words, we would also say the word, so she soon started saying the words as well. She still does the sign and says the word every time she wants something.
I never taught her signs for things she had words for, although many people do. It may have been because we starting really teaching her sign language later than many and she had words for so many things already. Many people start with “mommy” and “daddy,” but since she could say the words we didn’t feel the need to teach her the signs.
We still continue to teach her signs when we feel that there is a word that could help her (or us!). As we would go on walks, we would see and hear birds but she wasn’t able to tell me what she saw, so we taught her the sign for bird. She now says the word and signs it. In the summer when she was drinking water all day long, we taught her “water.” Within a few times showing her the sign she was doing it (or at least her version of it). One word that we have found very useful was the word “help.” It is much harder to teach concepts than nouns, but she still caught on very quickly. She would often make noise when she wanted something and I got tired of hearing that noise. Teaching her the word “help” allowed her to do something like say mama to get my attention and then sign “help” instead of making that noise.
I then knew she needed something and she would be able to show me what she wanted or needed. We also taught her “please” and “thank you” to start teaching her manners and when the appropriate time was so say those words.
I really feel that teaching her sign language not only helped her to better communicate with us but also helped her increase her spoken vocabulary. At 15 months, my daughter can clearly say almost 50 words and there are plenty of others that she says unclearly (as well as repeate any one or two syllable word we say). That is about 5 times the amount that many pediatricians expect a child to be able to say by that age. I can’t say that it is because of the sign language, but I really feel as if it was a contributing factor.
I’m sure if we had started earlier, she would know a lot more signs, but I am happy with the ones she knows. As more things come up, I can look it up and find what I need. One resource that I have found very useful is http://www.babysignlanguage.com/. It has a dictionary where you can find videos for how to do the signs. There are also a lot of videos on YouTube that kids can watch. My daughter rarely watches any TV, but has occasionally enjoyed watching videos that teach different signs.
Our Daughter Showing her “All Done”, “More”, “Please”, and “Milk”.
If you have any resources that you have found helpful, I’d love for you to share them!