Baby Sign Language in Six Minutes

Welcome to Day One. Before we go too far, I want to explain why signing works.

The weird thing about deaf families. The history of baby sign language is rooted in a weird observation made in the 1800s. William Dwight Whitney, a Yale Professor, was the first to realize that children in deaf families communicate with their parents at a much earlier than children in hearing families. In deaf families, children routinely communicate at 6 months with signs and children as early as 9 months have significant vocabularies. While in hearing families, children don’t usually speak more than a handful of words until 18 months. Why the difference?

Talking requires a lot of complex, fine motor skills. To talk, a baby needs to be able to control their breath and needs very fine control of their vocal chords. So even though they are mentally ready to start communicating using words at six-months, they have to wait almost another year until their fine motor skills catch up with their brain.

Children in deaf families don’t have this problem because signing is physically much simpler, requiring only some basic gross motor skills to approximate the signs. And by teaching babies how to sign, you get a window of about a year when they can communicate via signing, better than they can with the spoken word.

As babies fine motor skills improve and they start to talk, they naturally start to drop the signs and speaking becomes their dominant form of communication. But what is truly remarkable is that research has shown that the early language exposure seems to give them a long-term advantage. An NIH study reported that babies given sign language training had even bigger vocabularies than children given speech training. And the advantage persisted, with the signers outscoring the control group by 12 IQ points even 7 years later.

History of Baby Sign Language

Quickstart Guide. Let’s jump right in with our Quickstart Guide to Baby Sign Language. This video will teach you everything you need to know to start signing, including the four basic steps of teaching baby sign language and your first 10 signs. In just six minutes you will be ready to start teaching your baby.

Baby Sign Language Basics

In our quickstart, we covered a lot. We learned about the FREE method of teaching Baby Sign Language. And we covered our first ten signs: mom, dad, eat, milk, water, more, dog, cat, & fan. Don’t worry if you didn’t catch all of that. In future lessons, we are going to look into all this in greater depth.

We will leave you with a video of 11 month old Amelie and her mother Julia playing a signing game (in French). Click here to read their signing story.

Amelie Signing

Next time we are going to dig deeper into how to teach baby sign language and look at the four-step F.R.E.E. method. In the comments, tell us the words you would find most useful.

22 Responses to “Baby Sign Language in Six Minutes”

  1. Irina

    I have 2 older girls and a baby boy with who I recently started signing. I want to know how can I sign his sisters, since there are 2 of them and how can they sign him. Is there a sign for “I” or “you” or should we sign every letter of the name? Sounds a bit much! Thank you!

    Dear Irina,
    We just use the first initial plus the sign for sister

  2. Beth

    We just started signing with our little boy. He’s late in the game – 23 months, but we started because he has a speech development delay. We have been incorporating simple signs into everyday activities for about a month? So far he can sign: eat, more, please, mom & dad! We are working with a speech therapist and she recommended this site! Looking forward to growing our son’s vocabulary!!

  3. Ashley

    Hi, just want to know if the signs are the same for Spanish? Its seems like they are but wasn’t sure. Would like to teach my daughter because we have grandparents who only speak Spanish and I would like them to be involved with baby signing. Thanks! By the way love the website!

    ADMIN – Hi Ashley,

    Yes, for bilingual children use the same sign for both the Spanish and English word.

  4. Jessica

    My daughter’s first words will be Mom, Dad, eat, milk, and dog. I think learning “no more” or “full” would be good as well, so I can tell the difference between full and distracted!

  5. Charla

    My baby is 3 months and I started signing to him a couple days ago. The site said 6 months was the minimum. Should I wait until 6 months, or is it okay that I’ve started now?

    Thank you,

    ADMIN – Hi Charla,

    There is no minimum age. Starting at 3 months is great, you just need to be a bit more patient to see results (because 6-month olds learn faster than 3-month-olds).

    Most deaf families start signing with their children at birth, so you are certainly not too early.

  6. Maxie

    We speak English at home when Dad is here, but when is just me and bubba we speak Spanish. Can I teach the signs with both languages? Or should I choose one to start? If I have to choose I’d do English as Daddy can’t speak Spanish haha =)

    Also, does it really matter if I do it with my right or my left hand? I’m right handed, but when I need to teach her the sign of eat I’m usually holding the spoon with my right hand =/ (first world problem I know)

    The first words we chose are Mum, Dad, Cat, Milk, Eat.

  7. Gwen

    Hi, will sign language help in a bilingual house hold or confuse the babies even more? I have a 23 month old girl and a 5 month old boy, we already use a few signs that were picked up from day care ;-)

    ADMIN – Hi Gwen,

    Yes, lots of bilingual families use sign language as a bridge between the two languages.

  8. Nirmala

    Hi. I just found your site a few days ago. Will it be okay to teach my 10-months old daughter to sign now? Looking forward to hear from you. Thank you in advance.

    ADMIN – Hi Nirmala,

    Yes, 10 months old is a fine time to start.

  9. Tessa

    I just read about the sign language for the first time yesterday and I started using the signs immediately. My little girl is one year old. I used the signs for mum, dad, eat, more, milk, all done and brother. Today my little girl already signed “all done” back to me! I love the signing! We are having lots of fun. My son, who is almost four year old has started signing with me to teach his baby sister.

  10. Karine Schiavenin

    Hi! I would like to learn the sign for pacifier. Can I sign ” please” ” ” pacifier” and ” thank you” in sequence or is is too much for babies?

    ADMIN – Hi Karine,

    I would just sign pacifier. The please and thank you is too complex for a young child, and doesn’t really mean anything to them at a young age. I would save the courtesy signs for later.

  11. Alisa

    All done, cat, and pacifier would be good ones for us to also start with. also, how do you recommend teaching a sign for another person? Like “I want Jordy or Staci”…. how can I teach her a name?

    ADMIN – Hi Alisa,

    We usually use a relationship sign, like mom, day, brother, sister, etc. You can also create a sign for a particular person.

  12. cindy

    It was great to see problem posted (ie. mixing up signs) and a response provided (choose alternate sign). THANKS!

  13. cindy

    I am most interested in “troubleshooting” issues. My son is only 9 weeks old but I anticipate signing with him (I currently can do a few like milk, eat, pacifier, mom, dad with him) . I sign now mostly to stay in the habit and not get rusty with it. My concern has been finding answers to problems that may arise. For example, signs that require both hands (ie. More, stop and share) seem so difficult because you always have at least one hand full!

  14. Alexandra

    We added the sign for bath which is something we do everyday and she loves!

  15. Dara

    We are teaching our 7 month old baby boy the signs for milk, eat, mom, dad, and fan. He’s been obsessed with fans since he was a newborn. :-) We started at about 6 months, and he is definitely watching us as we show the signs. Can’t wait for him to sign back! Thanks so much for offering these helpful classes!

  16. Rainee

    I think I know what the 10th sign is! PAU! (2 those familiar w/ Hawaiian language)

  17. Rainee

    Hi Katie
    My baby also uses the milk sign to say hello & goodbye as well.

  18. Jessica S

    We started doing a few signs at around 3 months of age and before 4 months old he was able to respond with a smile when he was hungry. We showed him eat – and he learned to smile when he wanted to eat or he would avoid eye contact essentially when he wasn’t interested. It has been amazing and so fun to see the results!! We are adding a few more to our daily routine to add variety. Looking forward to seeing his reaction to more in the future! Thank you for all of the wonderful tools and videos – I am recommending this to all of my friends!

  19. Katie

    I have a question about my grandson. He already uses the milk sign for waving good-bye and hello. What should I do about that. Thank you, Katie

    ADMIN – Hi Katie,

    If your grandson is already using one of the signs for some other word, I would just create a new sign. Milk for example, could be him rubbing his hands together.

    When they are just starting, it is very confusing for them to have to change the meaning of a sign – so we just sidestep the issue and create a new sign.

  20. Ginger

    You only listed 9 words. Was there supposed to be another word listed?

    ADMIN – Hi Ginger,

    Lets keep that our little secret!

  21. Ginger

    Useful signs are milk, water and eat. Dog is useful if they have a dog so they can start relating to animals as well as humans.

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