Baby Sign Language in Six Minutes

Welcome to Day One. Before we go too far, I want to explain why signing works.

The weird thing about deaf families. The history of baby sign language is rooted in a weird observation made in the 1800s. William Dwight Whitney, a Yale Professor, was the first to realize that children in deaf families communicate with their parents at a much earlier than children in hearing families. In deaf families, children routinely communicate at 6 months with signs and children as early as 9 months have significant vocabularies. While in hearing families, children don’t usually speak more than a handful of words until 18 months. Why the difference?

Talking requires a lot of complex, fine motor skills. To talk, a baby needs to be able to control their breath and needs very fine control of their vocal chords. So even though they are mentally ready to start communicating using words at six-months, they have to wait almost another year until their fine motor skills catch up with their brain.

Children in deaf families don’t have this problem because signing is physically much simpler, requiring only some basic gross motor skills to approximate the signs. And by teaching babies how to sign, you get a window of about a year when they can communicate via signing, better than they can with the spoken word.

As babies fine motor skills improve and they start to talk, they naturally start to drop the signs and speaking becomes their dominant form of communication. But what is truly remarkable is that research has shown that the early language exposure seems to give them a long-term advantage. An NIH study reported that babies given sign language training had even bigger vocabularies than children given speech training. And the advantage persisted, with the signers outscoring the control group by 12 IQ points even 7 years later.

History of Baby Sign Language

Quickstart Guide. Let’s jump right in with our Quickstart Guide to Baby Sign Language. This video will teach you everything you need to know to start signing, including the four basic steps of teaching baby sign language and your first 10 signs. In just six minutes you will be ready to start teaching your baby.

Baby Sign Language Basics

In our quickstart, we covered a lot. We learned about the FREE method of teaching Baby Sign Language. And we covered our first ten signs: mom, dad, eat, milk, water, more, dog, cat, & fan. Don’t worry if you didn’t catch all of that. In future lessons, we are going to look into all this in greater depth.

We will leave you with a video of 11 month old Amelie and her mother Julia playing a signing game (in French). Click here to read their signing story.

Amelie Signing

Next time we are going to dig deeper into how to teach baby sign language and look at the four-step F.R.E.E. method. In the comments, tell us the words you would find most useful.

14 Responses to “Baby Sign Language in Six Minutes”

  1. Nirmala

    Hi. I just found your site a few days ago. Will it be okay to teach my 10-months old daughter to sign now? Looking forward to hear from you. Thank you in advance.

    ADMIN – Hi Nirmala,

    Yes, 10 months old is a fine time to start.

  2. Tessa

    I just read about the sign language for the first time yesterday and I started using the signs immediately. My little girl is one year old. I used the signs for mum, dad, eat, more, milk, all done and brother. Today my little girl already signed “all done” back to me! I love the signing! We are having lots of fun. My son, who is almost four year old has started signing with me to teach his baby sister.


  3. Alisa

    All done, cat, and pacifier would be good ones for us to also start with. also, how do you recommend teaching a sign for another person? Like “I want Jordy or Staci”…. how can I teach her a name?

    ADMIN – Hi Alisa,

    We usually use a relationship sign, like mom, day, brother, sister, etc. You can also create a sign for a particular person.

  4. cindy

    It was great to see problem posted (ie. mixing up signs) and a response provided (choose alternate sign). THANKS!

  5. cindy

    I am most interested in “troubleshooting” issues. My son is only 9 weeks old but I anticipate signing with him (I currently can do a few like milk, eat, pacifier, mom, dad with him) . I sign now mostly to stay in the habit and not get rusty with it. My concern has been finding answers to problems that may arise. For example, signs that require both hands (ie. More, stop and share) seem so difficult because you always have at least one hand full!

  6. Alexandra

    We added the sign for bath which is something we do everyday and she loves!

  7. Dara

    We are teaching our 7 month old baby boy the signs for milk, eat, mom, dad, and fan. He’s been obsessed with fans since he was a newborn. 🙂 We started at about 6 months, and he is definitely watching us as we show the signs. Can’t wait for him to sign back! Thanks so much for offering these helpful classes!

  8. Rainee

    I think I know what the 10th sign is! PAU! (2 those familiar w/ Hawaiian language)

  9. Jessica S

    We started doing a few signs at around 3 months of age and before 4 months old he was able to respond with a smile when he was hungry. We showed him eat – and he learned to smile when he wanted to eat or he would avoid eye contact essentially when he wasn’t interested. It has been amazing and so fun to see the results!! We are adding a few more to our daily routine to add variety. Looking forward to seeing his reaction to more in the future! Thank you for all of the wonderful tools and videos – I am recommending this to all of my friends!

  10. Katie

    I have a question about my grandson. He already uses the milk sign for waving good-bye and hello. What should I do about that. Thank you, Katie

    ADMIN – Hi Katie,

    If your grandson is already using one of the signs for some other word, I would just create a new sign. Milk for example, could be him rubbing his hands together.

    When they are just starting, it is very confusing for them to have to change the meaning of a sign – so we just sidestep the issue and create a new sign.

  11. Ginger

    You only listed 9 words. Was there supposed to be another word listed?

    ADMIN – Hi Ginger,

    Lets keep that our little secret!

  12. Ginger

    Useful signs are milk, water and eat. Dog is useful if they have a dog so they can start relating to animals as well as humans.


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