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. Christina Beeghly

    Hi! My son is almost 18 months old. We’ve been working on signing for a while now, but he’s only caught onto 3: all done, more, and wash hands. What would you guys recommend I do? He hasn’t started talking yet, but knows what is being said to him. I want him to be able to sign so he can communicate, and we can reduce the amounts of tantrums. What should I do next? I’ve been trying to sign car, water, ball…things that interest him, but he’s not catching on. Help is appreciated!

    ADMIN – Hi Christina,

    One thing that worked for us was signing in the context of songs and rhymes. We used the Baby Signing Time collection that comes with the Premium kit.

  2. Alison

    My daughter is 17 months old and knows about 40-50 signs. She had moderate hearing loss that was recently corrected by ear tubes. So she only has five or six words and communicates mostly through sign, though her verbal communication should pick up soon. She loves the Signing Time videos and has been watching them since she was tiny which is how we’ve both learned signs. Should she know more signs than that by now? Do toddlers tend to show less interest in signing once they learn to speak? Thank you!

    ADMIN – Hi Alison,

    We humans always take the path of least resistance. As your baby becomes verbal she will rely more in the spoken words than signs. 40 to 50 signs is incredibly high in terms of concept comprehension and communication. Most kiddos know and say only about two to three words by this age. I would encourage you to continue teaching her signs as well as words in order to promote expressive language.

  3. Emily

    My daughter is 7 months old and I have been using about 7 consistent and relevant signs with her for a couple of months. You say to add new signs once the baby has mastered the basic set. Since she is not yet signing back, how do I know when she has “mastered” the ones I’ve been using? She seems interested when I use them but I don’t know if she’s, for example, looking at daddy because I’m saying it at the same time, or if she’s familiar with what the sign means.

    ADMIN – Hi Emily,

    Mastering is defined as the ability to use the sign contextually. Once she signs daddy when daddy is around you can mark that sign as mastered. Similarly when she asks for milk when she is hungry you have achieved the learning objective.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)