Baby sign language is something I’ve been really passionate about teaching Ollie.
I read a lot of information about it when I was pregnant, and thought the benefits with regards to improving communication and decreasing frustration sounded great!
Children’s ability to understand language and communication is often a lot more advanced than their ability to speak. And if you’ve ever been around a tantrumming toddler, you’ll know how this can be frustrating for them – and how often it can lead to total meltdowns. Baby sign language gives children a way to communicate using gestures and signs.
When you start talking about baby sign language, people always want to know things like ‘does baby sign language really work’, ‘when will my baby sign back’ and even ‘will baby sign language delay speech?’.
Baby signing and Makaton use symbols and gestures, along with speech, in spoken word order to help support communication. They are different to British Sign Language. They are becoming more popular with parents as a way to help their children learn to communicate – whether they have hearing difficulties or not.
As a parent who has tried and loved baby signing, I want to share my personal experience.
DOES BABY SIGN LANGUAGE WORK?
For us, baby sign language has been a fantastic way to communicate. Ollie was able to learn and use signs long before he could speak so it helped us understand what he needed.
WHERE TO LEARN BABY SIGN LANGUAGE
There are a few different options you could go down, such as group classes, books, DVDs or YouTube tutorials…and let’s not forget Mr Tumble!
I found a bit of information online, but a lot of the websites and videos seemed to be based around American Sign Language.
Group classes are really popular, but I just couldn’t afford them as I was already paying for 3 baby groups a week.
Instead, I chose to get a few books from Amazon. After reading reviews I ordered a couple of the Child’s Play series and I was so pleased! They’re the perfect design for babies and toddlers, as they are colourful, illustrated board books. Each sign comes with a description and cute illustration of a child signing it. If you’re on a budget, these books are really good value for money, as each one is less than £5 – which is about what you would pay for one class! I started with My First Signs: BSL (Baby Signing) and Play Time (Sign About).
I’ve also just bought some flash cards which are great for toddlers and older children – signing isn’t just for babies!
We also watch ‘Something Special’ on CBeebies. While I do limit TV time, we watch Mr Tumble pretty regularly. I don’t know what it is about Justin that kids love so much, but Ollie is OBSESSED with him! We pick up new signs and he always has a dance to the ‘friends’ song 😂
HOW TO START BABY SIGN LANGUAGE
Choose a couple of signs to start with that will be relevant to your baby – such as ‘milk’ or ‘food’. Use the sign alongside the word. So each time you give your baby a feed, ask them if they want food/milk while making the sign. Repetition is key here! You need to make sure you’re consistent and it may take a while before baby starts signing back, especially the younger they are.
Don’t introduce too many new signs in one go or you will just overload them! I never introduced more than 3 signs at a time and found this worked pretty well.
WHEN WILL BABY SIGN BACK?
Common consensus is that babies will start to recognise and interact with signs from about 6-9 months. But, the earlier you introduce them the better. I started with ‘milk’ around 4 months and would sign it to Ollie at every feed. He learnt to associate the action and word with the result he wanted and could sign it himself by 6 months.
As soon as we started weaning I introduced ‘food’ and ‘all gone’, then later ‘water’. All were picked up within a few weeks.
The older Ollie gets and the more signs he learns, the quicker he picks them up. I recently taught him around ‘more’ which he mastered in one day along with the word!
Don’t worry if they aren’t perfect. Ollie has adapted a couple of signs to make them easier for himself! We understand what he wants so that’s all that matters!
BENEFITS OF BABY SIGN LANGUAGE
From personal experience I can say the biggest benefit has been decreasing Ollie’s frustration. Although his speech is developing well, there are certain things he just can’t yet say or ask for. So signing has helped him communicate with me and reduced his tantrums.
A lot of people wonder if baby sign language will delay speech, but research shows that it actually helps them develop communication skills.
In my experience, Ollie’s speech has not been held back at all. He can say more words than average for his age, and he’s even started making his own gestures for words he can’t say. I think this just shows how baby sign language helps develop communication skills, as he realises for himself at 15 months that if he can’t verbally ask for something, he can find another way to communicate his feelings or needs.
It also helps develop social skills, fine motor skills and concentration.