Sign language is a great way to communicate with an infant who hasn’t yet started talking. But when you should start teaching it to them? There are many variables, from manual dexterity to brain development. Here is how to figure it all out.
Most babies begin to make associations around six or seven months. That’s when they start to understand that vocalizing gives them power. They make a sound and you come running. Once that happens, they begin to realize that signing is powerful, too—and that it’s much more effective than crying.
A baby learns that when he cries, you’ll appear on the scene but you may not give him what he wants, at least not immediately. When he signs, however, he discovers that he gets much better results. If he makes the sign for EAT, he gets a cracker. If he makes the sign for MORE, voilà—instant service!
But before any of that can happen, his cognitive skills must be developed enough to make the association between a certain sign and what it represents. He must also have enough memory to recall the signs and sufficient motor ability to produce them.
Now I don’t need to tell you that all babies are different. While seven months may be the average age that most babies are first ready to be exposed to signs, not all babies that age will be. Some will be at the starting gate at six months; others, not until 10 months to a year. How can you tell when the time is right for your future signer? Look for clues that he’s interested in communicating:
If you answered “yes” to five out of seven questions, then it’s time for you to get to work. If you answered “no” to the majority of the questions, wait a few weeks and review them again. Remember that babies are making major strides very quickly at this stage so a few weeks can make all the difference.
Want another tip to help determine if your baby is nearing the signing stage? Look at his hands. Because a baby’s hands must be agile enough to make the signs you are showing him, it’s another factor you need to consider. While there are numerous resources available about a baby’s developmental stages, there’s hardly any focus on how a baby’s hands develop.
If you’ve discovered that your baby isn’t quite ready to begin, why not put the wait time to good use? Start learning the signs yourself, teach them to your family, and be ready when he is. Want an even better idea? Put your baby in training!
Here are some simple activities that will stimulate your baby’s interest in sign language, improve his motor skills, and promote his verbal language development at the same time:
How soon until you see results? There are variables that you need to factor into the equation. It depends on how old your baby is and how regularly you sign with him, among other things.
While there are no crystal balls in this area, the following timetable will help to give you a general idea of what to expect and when to expect it. Again, let me stress that this is based on an average and doesn’t apply in all cases.
There are many great reasons to sign with your baby; one of the best is that experts believe parents who sign with their babies tend to talk to them more, so your baby will be bombarded with aural stimuli in that area. For more information on baby sign language, be sure to check out our Quick Guides Teach Your Baby Sign Language in Two Weeks and Teach Your Baby Sign Language: The First Three Signs. Happy signing!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Baby Sign Language, Second Edition, by Diane Ryan