The 5 Best “Baby Signs” to Teach and How They Lead to Verbal Communication

Although there is considerable debate about the benefits of baby signs, numerous research studies have proven that baby signing is positive for communication as well as other areas such as emotional development and self-regulation (i.e. sleep/wake cycles, feeding, etc.). Results from the Original Baby Signs Study by Drs. Acredolo and Goodwyn showed that those children who received signs averaged a three month advantage in their language capabilities versus children who did not receive signs. Similarly, children who received signs had longer sentences thus putting them a full year ahead of their peers. 

To be effective, caretakers should begin signing when their baby is, at the latest, 8-9 months old; however, signing can begin as early as the caretaker prefers. Signs are very easy to learn (the five most common are explained below), but they must be produced correctly in order for the child to learn from them. They should be always be accompanied by the caretaker’s speech (e.g. signing while speaking the word) and repeated often. This will provide the maximum input for the child, thus the most opportunity for the child to imitate the caretaker’s speech and signs.

The baby may begin to sign back between 10-14 months, with vocalizations beginning soon after. Signs will begin before speech and then will gradually fade when speech becomes the prime mode of communication. Baby signs are a simple boost that a caretaker can give their baby to kickstart their speech and language development. See below to get started!

Milk

  • This sign is done with the baby repeatedly opening and closing his fist.
  • To teach your child this sign it is best to use it before, during, and after feeding your child. Make sure the child maintains eye contact while signing and make it clear that you are referring to “milk.” At first, make sure the milk is present while signing. After a while your child will be able to do the sign without the milk present.
  • This is generally taught to help your child recognize symptoms of hunger. It can be used for breast milk or formula, and it helps your child let you know when they are hungry. This often prevents fussing and tantrums because instead of crying, your child uses signs as communication to let you know that they are hungry. Using this sign along with verbal language will help develop your child’s communication skills.

All Done/ Finished

  • This sign is made by turning both hands to alternate palms up and down.
  • To teach this sign, look for indicators that they are finished with their meal (fussing, throwing food, etc.) Ask them if they are “All done?” while doing the sign repeatedly. Soon, your child will recognize this context and copy you.
  • This is a great sign to use at the table, or while nursing your child. Babies dislike being overfed so this may let you know when they are finished. This prevents fussing and throwing food, but also facilitates communication between you and your child. This sign can transfer into other activities throughout the day as well.

More

  • This sign is made by putting your fingertips towards your thumb and repeatedly moving your hands together and apart, letting your fingertips touch each time hands are brought together.
  • This is a great sign to do at the table when feeding your child and also to facilitate play, such as asking for “More blocks?”. To teach this sign, look for cues that they want more (such as reaching for the food, toy, etc.) and demonstrate the sign while asking them if they want more, encouraging them to shadow your movements. If they are still having trouble, it may be helpful to gently help put your child’s hands together to sign.
  • Using this sign along with verbal language will help your child to communicate more efficiently during play and at the dinner table.

Please

  • This sign is made by putting your hand to your chest and making a clockwise motion.
  • This is a great first step in teaching your child manners! This sign can be done in any context, whether it be at school or during bed time.
  • Do this sign while you say ‘please’ and encourage them to imitate you. Soon they will associate the sign with the verbal cue.

Eat

  • This sign is made by having one hand’s fingertips touch your thumb and repeatedly putting your hand to your mouth.
  • Do this sign whenever you are asking your child if they want to eat or encourage them to respond with this sign (after it has been learned).
  • By pairing this sign with the verbal cue and positively reinforcing the behavior with giving them food, your child will start associating the sign with the desire to eat.

Check out the website www.babysignstoo.com for more information!

Sara Lowczyk M.S. CF-SLP

**If you have any concerns with your child’s speech, language, and/or feeding development, please contact Deborah L. Curlee Communication Consultants at (865) 693-5622. We have a team of experienced speech-language pathologists that would love to meet with you and discuss options for your child. **