Baby Sign Language QuickStart Basics
This Quickstart Guide gets you ready to start teaching your child Baby Sign Language. Begin by learning your first five signs (mom, dad, eat, milk, and dog). Then teach those signs to your baby using the four F.R.E.E. principles: Fun, Repetition, Encouragement, and Expansion. Finally, follow the roadmap to learn more about all all the resources available on this site.
2. Your First Five Signs
Lets jump in and learn our first five signs. We want to start with words that your child is highly motivated to learn and words that can be frequently used throughout the day. A good starting set of signs are mom, dad, eat, milk, and dog. (If those signs don’t make sense for your family, there are more good starter sign options on the Top 10 Starter Signs page.)
Parents are the most important people in a baby’s life, so mom and dad make great starter signs.
Mom is signed by taking your open dominant hand and tapping the thumb against your chin.
The signs for mom and dad are similar, however, the mom sign is performed on the chin and the dad sign is performed higher up on the forehead.
Dad is signed by taking your open dominant hand and tapping it against your forehead.
In ASL male signs are usually performed above the nose and female signs are performed below the nose). For example grandfather, and grandmother are also the same sign, with grandfather performed on the forehead and grandmother performed on the chin.
Babies are very interested in signs related to food, making eat and milk good starter signs. The sign for eat looks like you are holding some food and bringing it to your mouth. To sign eat, hold your fingers and thumbs together, then move them toward your mouth and then away from your mouth.
Eat is an example of a natural sign, the sign resembles the word that it represents. Babies find natural signs particularly easy to learn and remember because the signs are so intuitive.
The sign for milk looks like you are milking a cow. You start with an open hand, then you make it into a fist, then open the hand again and repeat. You can use the same sign for breast milk, formula, or cow’s milk depending on which one you are using at the time.
We end with a fun sign, dog. Take your dominant hand and pat it against your leg as if you are calling a dog.
3.0 Teaching Using the F.R.E.E. Method
There are four principals to teaching sign language to a baby or infant. Make it fun. Provide lots of repetition. Encourage all progress and use incremental expansion. To remember the four principals, we use the acronym F.R.E.E.
3.1 Fun: Make Signing Fun
Babies naturally enjoy learning new things and discovering the world and you want to nurture that joy by keeping it fun. When they enjoy learning from you, they will want to do more. To keep it fun, we want to incorporate signing into the things baby already enjoys. Sign when you see the cat or whatever your child is naturally drawn to. Also, incorporate signing into games, like naming colors. Sign at meal time when they are eating, drinking milk, or want more. And sign along to their favorite songs.
Now, fun does not mean hyper or rolling on the floor in hysterics. If their energy level is too high, it is hard for them to concentrate. But, they should enjoy spending the time signing with you. If baby is not in the mood or is resistant, don’t force the issue and return to signing when they are feeling more receptive.
Click this link for more ideas about keeping Baby Sign Language fun.
3.2 Repetition: Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
The secret sauce in teaching Baby Sign Language is providing baby lots of repetition. Babies learn by imitations, so provide them with lots of opportunities to see you signing. The best way to provide lots of exposure is to integrate signing into your daily routines. Sign mom or dad every time you see baby. And sign eat and milk before, during and after feedings.
The more repetition and the more exposure to signing you can provide, the quicker baby will make the connection. Think about the amount of exposure babies get to words before they learn to talk.
To hear us repeat more about repetition, see here.
3.3 Encouragement: Reward Signing
Every time baby signs, particularly in the early days, provide them with lots of encouragement so they know that they are on the right track. In the early days, the signs will be rudimentary approximations of the true sign. Nonetheless, encouraging them will get them to keep signing and will lead to improvements in the sign. This isn’t the time to be a perfectionist
The best type of encouragement you can offer is to acknowledge the sign by giving baby your full attention, saying the word and making the sign back to show baby you understand. For the baby, there is no better reward than being understood. If possible, fulfill any request they make.
To learn more, see here.
3.4 Expansion: Add Words to Your Signing Vocabulary
As your baby starts to learn the starter signs, keep adding new signs. As some of these new signs become mastered, continue adding more signs. The more signs a child can add to their vocabulary, the better.
Signs should follow your child’s interests. A lot of children are interested in animals, foods, or colors so these make excellent starter signs.
For more on growing your signing vocabulary, see here.
Roadmap to Baby Sign Language
Now that you know the basics of Baby Sign Language, you can continue onto our more advanced topics where you can learn more about Baby Sign Language, techniques for teaching Baby Sign Language, and learn more signs.
- About Baby Sign Language BSL
- What is Baby Sign Language – an introduction to baby sign language, and videos of Baby Sign Language in action
- Benefits – the developmental and social benefits associated with Baby Sign Language.
- Research – the evidence and research behind Baby Sign Language
- History – how Baby Sign Language was invented and it’s rise in popularity.
- Frequently Asked Questions – common questions and answers about Baby Sign Language.
- Teaching Baby Sign Language
- F.R.E.E. – a more detailed explanation of the four core principles of teaching baby sign language (fun, repetition, encouragement, and expansion)
- Learning More Signs
- Dictionary – the dictionary includes videos and diagrams for over 600 words, the alphabet and numbers. You can use this resource to learn new signs. To get you started we also have a list of common first signs.
- Flash Cards – print out relevant flash cards to help baby learn new signs. The flash cards are particularly useful for teaching words that you don’t encounter in everyday life such as elephant. Each words is illustrated by a clear real life image illustrating the word.
- Wall Chart – the wall chart is a handy reference to help grandparents and caregivers learn the basic signs. The chart is printed on six regular sized sheets of paper and then taped together.
Want Faster Results?
Our award winning baby sign language kit has been designed to help you get your baby signing faster. It covers advanced teaching methods for faster results, and includes teaching aids like flash cards. The kit includes over 600 signs to help you grow baby’s vocabulary.
Deluxe Baby Sign Language Kit
The Deluxe Baby Sign Language Kit, bundles together everything you need to get started with signing in one box. The kit includes:
Beginning with a Quick Start Reference, the guide teaches you your first 10 signs and and shows you how to start teaching your baby. As you progress, delve into more advanced topics like combining signs to make phrases, using props, and transitioning to speech.
52 sturdy board (4×6 inches) flash cards, covering a variety of basic signs. The flash cards help you teach baby new words. The face of the flash cards shows the word and image for the child. The back of the flash cards show how the sign is performed.
The dictionary contains over 600 signs including the most common words, the alphabet, and numbers. The dictionary helps you expand your child’s vocabulary as you follow their child’s interests. Each sign is generously illustrated with two or more diagrams making learning new signs easy.
The large format (24 x 36 inches) wall chart includes 22 basic signs, and makes a handy reminder for caregivers. The Baby Sign Language Wall Chart covers basic signs, like eat, drink, and sleep. Hang the poster in Baby’s Nursery to help babysitters, or other occasional caregivers learn and decode the most commonly used baby signs.
Baby Sign Language Guide Book
Learn the best techniques for effectively teaching baby sign language. Including:
• Quick Start Guide – learn the first 10 signs and the basic principles required to start teaching your baby to sign (Chapter 1).
• Advanced Teaching Methods – use teaching aids like books, flash cards, and toys to keep lessons interesting and challenging (Chapter 5).
• Phrases – teach your baby to combine signs and communicate more complex thoughts (Chapter 6).
• Taming the Terrible Twos – reduce frustration and tantrums by enabling your toddler to communicate (Chapter 7).
• Transitioning to Speech – use sign language to expedite and improve speech development (Chapter 8).
Sarah learned her first 10 signs at six month and it made our lives much easier. Instead of screaming, she could tell us when she was hungry, thirsty, or tired. She learned another 50 signs by nine months and that was a blast.
Now she is talking much earlier than the other children in her preschool and we think it is because of her signing.
We can’t imagine missing out on all the little things she shared with baby sign language. Thank You!
- Bennett & Melissa Z., California
Baby Sign Language Flash Cards
52 high quality flash cards (4 x 6″). Featuring:
• Clean Images – real life pictures, isolated on a white background to make learning easier.
• Signs on the Rear – diagrams on the back illustrating the signign motion in case you need a reminder.
• Baby Friendly – printed on thick stock so little hands can play with the cards and they will live to play another day.
Baby Sign Language Dictionary
The Baby Sign Language Dictionary includes :
• Words (500+) – learn signs for nearly every topic of interest.
• Letters – sign the alphabet and teach basic spelling.
• Numbers (0-10) – introduce counting and basic mathematics.
Baby Sign Language Wall Chart
The full color wall chart (24 x 36″) includes 17 everyday signs. Use the wall chart for:
• Caregivers – help babysitters and other caregivers learn the basic signs so they can understand baby’s signs.
• Family – teach family the basic signs so they can join in the fun.