Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008...9:07 pm

Baby Signing: Not just another fad

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Charlie Brown knows American Sign Language

Creative Commons License photo figure credit: A.M. Kuchling

Take it from us: Save yourself some frustration. Teach your toddlers to sign. I know it probably sounds crazy and same naysayers may think it prevents or delays speech, but the facts are your babies are able to gesture before their speech is such that you and others can understand them. Babies often wave long before their first birthdays and may not say their first words until 18 months. A friend of ours recommended baby signing (we basically use American Sign Language with a few shortened signs for ease). We have prevented a lot of tantrums this way and have probably saved a lot of frustration, as well, on both of our parts.

I started signing with our daughter around 6-8 months and must admit I was frustrated by around 1 year. I think you could start around 1 year and still get the benefits. At around 1 year something amazing happened, she started signing back! At first they were very common and necessary ones: Milk, More, Eat, Baby and Bath. In 6 short months her signing vocabulary has grown to include all kinds of signs: Help, Drink, Cracker, Water, All Done, Daddy, Mommy, Dog, Please, Thank You, Bird, Train, Plane, Cat, Hat, and ones that hopefully will become very important in the next few months to a year: Potty and Diaper! By having her know what she needs and being able to sign it, we have avoided a lot of frustration. She is also very proud when we tell her what the signs mean. She knows she is able to communicate with us. She does babble and has a few words in her spoken vocabulary, but it’s quite normal for her age and until all the words solidify this is an excellent way to get over the hump of toddlerhood.

One important note: you may want to show babysitters and grandparents some important signs or they may feel like they are hearing/seeing a foreign language. Some helpful ones for them are her favorites: Milk, Help, More, Please, and All Done.

The teaching video I recommend is Baby Signing Time. There are two main volumes and if you are lucky your local PBS station may carry the show. As Michelle commented on another post, it probably would be a good idea to show your support and buy the video and I am ashamed that I haven’t done so yet as I really love its approach to teaching babies to sign. The family that produces the video has a great, captivating and educational style and I feel that I should better support their business. But alas, this is a frugal blog as well, so we save when we can (but hint, hint to the grandparents for gift ideas!). The format of the video separates signs into groups and each group has a catchy song that goes along with the signs. This way it’s easier for mom and dad to remember the signs as well, since you are learning too! During the song Rachel, the singer/signer, tells you why signs are the way they are; milk: like you’re milking a cow, eat: like you are bringing a piece of food to your mouth. Then the song is accompanied by toddlers (under 2) signing and demonstrating the action. I believe the babies signing really helps captivate our toddler and lets us see variations of the signs when performed by babies. For a while our daughter was tapping her nose and I had no idea what she meant, but she was signing bird, which is actually your thumb and forefinger forming a beak at your mouth, but I realized she did it every time we heard birds singing! Just like speech, their first sign attempts may be cryptic! We were able to use Netflix to rent a few other signing videos, but they were not nearly as good as this series. We also have a board book that has signs in it.

So although it doesn’t have a lot to do with finances, getting your child off to a good start with communication is a great thing. Whether you teach a second spoken language or sign, you are taking advantage of the fact that children at this age are sponges and love to learn and imitate you. Also they say it is great for old people like us parents to exercise our brains as well by learning new skills. So drop me a comment and tell me if you have had experience signing with babies/toddlers and if your child is older, how you may use that now. Our friend who recommended sign language to us has told me that, “We love sign language and although he is fully vocal, sometimes we use it for games (guess the sign) or when we need to speak to him “in private”!” So have fun with it and even if you only pick up a few, you may find it’s a great tool.


  • Thank you for your post today. I want to tell you that when people like the Baby Signs pioneers, (Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn) and the Signing Time family (Rachel, Sarah, and Lex)read about your experiences, it brings us a feeling of deep satisfaction to know that the work we do to promote the use of signing with hearing children is enriching lives.

    I want to respond to one thing you brought up in your post:
    “So although it doesn’t have a lot to do with finances, getting your child off to a good start with communication is a great thing.”

    Actually, signing with your baby CAN leave you with more money in your wallet. It has to do with potty training. You see, before disposable diapers, 95% of all babies in the US were potty trained by 18 months. Today, the average age for potty training is 37 months and we don’t reach the 95% mark until 46 months.

    So why has this happened? We’ve been told that it is best to “wait until our babies are ready” to potty train and parents delay potty training until after 2 when their child can communicate with them. But that’s exactly when babies naturally start to exert their own will and become less cooperative. (They don’t call it the terrible twos for nothing!) Then, when preschool deadlines loom and the habit of eliminating in a diaper is firmly entrenched, we expect that potty training will proceed smoothly because surely our 3-year old is finally “ready”. When the battle of wills ensues, weary parents are often left wondering where things went wrong.

    Still today, babies around the world are routinely potty trained by 12-18 months, sometimes sooner. So it stands to reason that babies ARE fully capable of potty training before 2. The biggest challenge for potty training a preverbal baby is that they don’t have a way to TELL parents that they feel the urge to pee or poop. And that’s where signing come in.

    Dr. Linda Acredolo and Dr. Susan Goodwyn have a new program that helps parents apply the power of signing to potty training. The program has undergone extensive field testing and the results are amazing. Parents are excited about the YEARS worth of diaper money they are saving, but they are even more excited about the enormous sense of pride and accomplishment their babies experience as they take this huge step toward becoming a “big kid.”

    So the “bottom line” here is that using signs to facilitate early potty training is easier for parents, good for babies and great for the environment. AND it can put money in your wallet!

    Linda Easton
    Director of Product Development
    Baby Signs, Inc.

  • That’s a great point. At 18 months our daughter is starting to sign diaper when she needs her diaper changed. We have started leaving her in the buff and letting her sit on the potty as part of her daily routines. Yesterday she actually sat down with a book and made a deposit, so hopefully that is the first step! We hope the combination of her being able to tell us that she has gone and then needs to go and getting her accustomed to the potty early, will have her diaper free soon!

    All the work that is done by the entire Baby Signing Time family is excellent. The production is top notch and I highly recommend it to everyone I know. Thank you for your commitment to the early learning of babies and toddlers.