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Baby Sign Language
October 24, 2012 1:00 pm | by

I first heard about baby sign language from my sister. She gave me a book on the topic when Vicki was 4 months old. I didn’t start signing to Vicki for another 3 months after that. And then we couldn’t stop.
Baby sign language revolutionized how I was able to communicate with my daughter. Before she could vocalize her wants and needs, she could sign them to me. I had her signing “more” and “please” by the time she was 8 months old and, to this day, I can cut off a cry or a whiney voice by asking her, “What do you say?” She has always known that she just needs to tell me what she wants or needs and she will get it (within reason, of course – I don’t fulfill her every desire, but each reasonable request is met).
I attribute baby sign language for teaching Vicki how communication works and for building the foundation that led her to her enormous vocabulary today. Want to try it? Here are my pointers to move things along.
Get a dictionary or app.
I started with a book: Teach Your Baby to Sign. It has a great basis of signs to use and explains how baby sign language actually enhances a child’s verbal communication instead of inhibiting it. It also has pictures of kids doing signs and explains the toddler interpretations most commonly encountered.
For on the go, I downloaded the Baby Sign app on my phone so I could quickly look up the sign for something when we were out and about. I loved this because it was a 2-3 second video of each sign and really demonstrated the motions involved.

Repetition, repetition, repetition.

The first sign was the toughest for me. It was the act of teaching Vicki to understand that these words and hand motions actually meant something that was difficult. I probably signed to her for a month before she started signing back. After every bite of food, I would ask (and sign) “More?” Over and over and over. It was extremely frustrating. When she finally did it back, I was elated! My baby was talking to me!
Start small.
When you’re beginning, pick out a few signs and work on those alone. For us, it was “more,” “please,” and “thank you.” Use these signs at every opportunity – even when you’re conversing with other kids or your spouse. I found that signs you could use at mealtimes were easier because the baby is forced to sit in one spot and already paying attention to you.
Go nuts.
Once your baby is accustomed to the idea of signing, you can really expand her vocabulary! I remember standing in line with Vicki one day and asking her the signs for different animals to distract her. She must have known 20-30 animals! We would just encounter an animal (or an object, or a food) and look up the sign, then teach it to her. By the time she transitioned to talking exclusively, she could pick up a sign after seeing it once. It really was amazing how she was able to communicate.
Have fun.
Whenever I signed “monkey” (put your hands in your armpits and wiggle your fingers) I would make monkey noises at the same time. I exaggerated the signs for “elephant” and “giraffe” to make Vicki giggle. And it’s not about signing everything exactly right – it’s about communication. For the longest time, Vicki signed “please” while saying “more.” So she was combining the two into “more please” so she could get more food in front of her face faster. Correct? No. Adorable? Absolutely.
Have you done baby sign language? What was your favorite aspect? Any tips or tricks to help your baby learn how to sign? If you live near a Cotton Babies retail store, check our class schedules for the next session of sign language classes.

About the Author

Jessica von Wallenstein is a stay at home mom who chronicles her parenting adventures at She has three children and is buried in cloth diapers.



  • Anonymous said...
    October 24, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    I started trying to sign at 10 or 11 months with my daughter with the “nurse” sign. That was a bad idea. After weeks of repetition, she picked it up, then two weeks later I started weaning her. So SHE knew that I knew exactly what she wanted, and that I was saying “no”. That was unfortunate timing.
    I also tried the “more” sign at about 11 months, but my daughter picked up the word before the sign. So now she just says “moh” when we ask if she wants more.

  • Janet said...
    October 24, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    We used the Signing Time series starring Rachel Coleman pretty much since they started making them. The videos are engaging, and the songs make it so easy to learn and remember the signs. Their story is very inspiring. Apps and other resources are also available on their website. All our kids were talking and signing… really communicating from a young age. It’s wonderful!

  • Ginger said...
    October 24, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    This is perfectly timed as I’ve been looking for some baby signing resources to get us started. My daughter is almost 4 months so I figure we can begin within the next couple of months without expecting much reciprocation for a couple more. I’m also curious if anyone has tips for daycare, was your provider involved in signing or was it only at home?