At first blush, the idea of teaching a hearing child about sign language might just sound like a lot of "extra work" for a parent. Don't you have enough on your plate without having to basically learn another language? Fortunately, learning how to teach your baby sign language is a pretty simple undertaking that can make life for you and your little one much more pleasant — not to mention, in a world filled with people with different abilities, it doesn't hurt to raise a child who can communicate in different ways with the people they meet.
It should come as no surprise that the idea for baby sign language originated in the deaf community. According to Baby Sign Language, ASL interpreter Dr. Joseph Garcia noticed the babies of his deaf friends could communicate through signs at 6 months of age, long before the one-year mark at which most children start using words. After studying this phenomenon in-depth throughout the 1980s, Dr. Garcia advocated the use of sign language to parents of hearing children.
In general, baby sign language can be a fantastic way to communicate with your baby long before your little one gains the ability to speak. As noted by the Mayo Clinic, children between 8 months to 2 years of age can understand what they want, although their ability to express themselves verbally can still be a few months off. With this in mind, sign language may help your baby indicate thirst or hunger from a younger age, reducing frustrations and miscommunication for everybody.
When you and your baby are first starting out, it's smart to keep things simple. According to Baby Sign Language, it's a good idea to start out with about 5 signs when your child is around 6 months of age. As with most things related to your baby's learning, repetition is key. Starter signs, such as "Mom," "eat," or "more," are especially helpful, as further explained by Baby Sign Language. You may have to consistently make the sign during your daily activities for your baby to catch on, but you and your baby will likely be on the same page in no time. For further resources, you may want to check out the book Baby Signs by Joy Allen, or The Baby Signing Bible by Laura Berg. Hopefully you and your little one will be signing up a storm soon.