Step Four:
Expand Your Baby’s Signing Vocabulary

Expand your baby’s vocabulary, adding more signs after your child masters the basic set. Here’s how:

Expanding Your Baby Signing Vocabulary

1. Introduction

Once baby learns his or her first few signs, start adding a few more signs, and then when those are learned, add a few more. The first ten or so signs will come very gradually, but the rate of learning will accelerate after the first few months. Baby will soon become more proficient at signing and will even start prompting you for new signs.

Follow your child’s interests when adding new signs, taking advantage of their natural curiosity about their world.

Adding signs gradually makes it easier for baby to learn. And while we add new signs, we still want to keep giving the old signs a workout to keep baby from forgetting those old signs.

Janina Expanding Her Vocabulary

2. Follow Their Interests

Observe what kinds of signs are most interesting to baby, and focus most of your vocabulary expansion on these topics. For example, if your baby is fascinated by food signs, make most of your new signs about types of food.

Particularly at this early stage, it is much more important to get momentum and keep it fun than it is to learn any particular signs. Just like when a child is learning to read, you just want them to read, and shouldn’t be too concerned about what they are reading. There will be plenty of time later to balance out their vocabulary and start following their interests.

Tilly Signing Along to a Favorite Story

3. Extending Along Themes

It is easiest to teach new signs in groups of related concepts. For example animals, foods, vehicles, people, colors, etc. Selecting a theme that interests your child, and then add new signs to that group. The contrast between the items in the group help baby understand the meaning of the word. For example, teaching hot and cold together is easier than teaching the signs separately because the meanings of the two words are related and understanding one illuminates the other.

Numbers and letters are also good themes, but are too abstract for the early stages of baby sign language and should be saved for more advanced toddlers.

Xaviera Learning Animal Signs

4. Teaching Aids

Once baby gets more advanced, you will start learning words that you don’t have a lot of exposure to in real life. To facilitate the learning of these words, you can start using teaching aids to help you.

  • Flash Cards – print out some of our baby sign language flash cards to add groups of signs, such as animals or colors.
  • Picture Books – sign along to your baby’s favorite board books. Very simple books where each page has a clear theme that can be signed are best. For example Eric Carle’s Brown Bear has one animal on each page of the book.
  • Props – figurines are another great way to teach signs. Figurines representing different animals, vehicles, or people are common choices. For small children, select figurines that are small enough for them to hold, but big enough so that they are not at risk of being swallowed.
Brinkley playing with Flash Cards

Start Signing with the Baby Sign Language Kit

Our award-winning Baby Sign Language Kit gets your baby signing faster.

  • DVDs – baby learns to sign while being entertained by the music of Rachel Coleman & the Signing Time Crew
  • Flash Cards – extend baby’s vocabulary to topics like household items and animals with these sturdy flash cards
  • Teaching Guide – covers advanced topics for faster results, potty training, and transitioning to speech
  • Signing Dictionary – always have the right sign at your fingertips to satisfy your child’s curiosity
  • Wall Chart – help grandparents, babysitters, and caregivers understand the basic signs

13 Responses to “Step Four: Expand Your Baby Sign Vocabulary”

  1. Danielle

    Hi, I’d love to order your baby sign kit but am based in the uk. Do you ship internationally?

    ADMIN – Hi Danielle,

    We do ship internationally.

  2. Laura

    My son is 10 weeks old and I have been working on the milk sign for a week now and he is already making the making the “milk” sign with his hands when I do it, I am sure he is just copying me at this point and not realizing what I am doing at this point but I am sure that it wont be long that with me showing him his bottle and doing the “milk” sign and repeating the work milk to him everytime I offer him his bottle he will associate the two soon and realize what he and I are both doing. I am hoping that within a few weeks I will be able to incorporate a new sign like “all done” or “more” and have the basic signs down by 6 months or so.

    ADMIN – Hi Laura,

    Great to hear that he is starting to recognize and imitate signs, those are the first two steps. Keep us posted on how it goes!

  3. Kelly

    Hi, I was wondering how you sign names of people, like our child’s name. He doesn’t need to know ours, we are mum and dad etc. but what do we use to sign for him?

    ADMIN – Hi Kelly,

    Usually names are finger spelled, but for young children this is too difficult, so we make up a sign for their name. You can also use something generic like baby or sunshine.

  4. Stacy

    What is the sign for “upset tummy” ? Thank you so much that I can learn how to sign to my little boy. Sometimes, its difficult to try and understand what my son wants or needs when he can’t talk yet; ( 1 years old). It seems it has been working with the sign language. Thank you!!

    ADMIN – Hi Stacy,

    I would use the word hurt, and make the sign over the body part that is hurting to communicate where you are feeling sick (so here, sign hurt over your tummy). You can also use the sign for sick.

  5. Erin Webb

    My son is 13 months old and he knows 8 signs. I’m excited to teach him more signs, especially since he appears to be understanding and communicating more and learning faster and with more ease. How many new signs do you recommend teaching at a time?

    Hi Erin, we generally try to practice all the signs baby has already mastered as we introduce 3 to 5 new signs.


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