Sign language is a great way to communicate with an infant who hasn’t yet started talking. If you have an infant who is 11 months or older, and two weeks in which you can make signing the primary focus in your household, you can have them communicating in no time. Here’s a blueprint for your baby sign language immersion program.
The first sign you will teach is the sign for MORE. To make the sign, the fingertips of one hand come in contact with the fingertips of the other. Check out our Quick Guide Teach Your Baby Sign Language: The First Three Signs for an illustration of how to make the sign.
The general concept is to identify something that your baby really enjoys, then stop during the activity, and ask if he wants you to continue—always verbally stressing the word MORE. “MORE? Would you like MORE?” Repeat the question with the sign a few times during each activity. After you ask the question, wait a few seconds as if you are expecting a response. Then give him more of what he wants—before he gets angry or frustrated.
In order for your baby to “get it,” vary the signing contexts. Don’t just use MORE at mealtime; use it throughout the entire day in as many circumstances that you can think of. More books, more peek-a-boo, more silly games. Keep asking him if he wants MORE. Keep in mind that once you start signing in a particular situation, continue to do it. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repetition is the key to enlightenment!
You made it through the first week. You have been signing MORE to your baby and repeating the activities whenever possible. Your family members have been doing the same thing. Your babysitter has joined you in the effort. What do you do now? Relax. Take a deep breath. You had a great week, right? Everyone takes this subject so seriously. You can’t really make a mistake as long as you have your baby’s best interest at heart. And you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t. So relax and keep going. Success is only one hand signal away.
At the beginning of the second week, start paying closer attention to your baby. You will probably notice that he will be paying more attention to his hands and yours—and maybe playing with his own hands more often than he usually does. During this time he may also make his first sign—or attempt to test it out and see if anyone’s paying attention.
It’s important to be aware of the fact that your baby’s initial attempts at making the sign for MORE may not be as perfect as your own. He may clap, touch one finger to his palm, or open and close his fingers. Regardless of how your baby makes the sign, you should continue to produce it correctly. Do not adapt to his signing variations because they may change as time goes by. As he gets older, your baby’s signing proficiency will improve.
Many parents liken the day their baby makes his first sign to the day he said his first word or took his first step. It really is a thrill and something to record in his baby book. Once you enter the event, however, it’s time to get back to work. But it will get a little easier. When a baby makes his first sign, the others usually follow more quickly.
But just because your baby has made the sign for MORE, you can’t cross that one off your lesson plan. It needs to be continually reinforced. It’s the “use it or lose it” theory. Use the sign as before in all the previous situations—and make sure when your baby signs for MORE, you give him more of what he wants. Remember that you are reinforcing the association as well as the sign.
While you’re reinforcing MORE, you are also going to be teaching two signs now—EAT and MILK.
If you have yet to see progress, don’t get discouraged. Your time will come. Believe me when I tell you that you are making progress even if your baby’s hands are still stuck in his mouth. Remember that your baby’s receptive abilities at this age far outshine his expressive skills. That means he is listening. He is paying attention. And he is just trying to determine what the best time will be for him to make his signing debut. The sooner you realize it, the better—you’re not the one in charge here!
What you need to do now is exactly what you have been doing. Keep reinforcing the sign for MORE as you have been—and consider incorporating the following attention-getters into your routine. Your baby may just need some variety in order for him to start signaling for attention.
Now here’s some news you may find surprising. Even though your baby doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what’s going on, after one week move forward. That’s right. Even though you may not have seen any visible progress, your baby is paying close attention—and he’s ready to take in more than MORE. (Pun intended.) Now you will teach him EAT and MILK.
Remember, it’s important to make sure to enlist the help of anyone else who comes in contact with your baby—the more immersion with the sign language, the better! Be sure to also check out our Quick Guide Teach Your Baby Sign Language: Hurt/Pan, Help, Diaper Change. Happy signing!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Baby Sign Language, Second Edition, by Diane Ryan