Friday, September 12, 2008

How Many Baby Signs Should I Start with when Teaching My Infant Sign Language?

While the number of signs you use when you begin teaching your infant sign language, ASL, or baby sign doesn't seem that important, it is. According to Signing Smart with Infants and Toddlers by Anthony and Lindert, the ideal number of signs to begin with is 6-12. When you use less then six, it takes longer for the child to understand that the movement means something and that it is a form of communication. Seeing a variety of signs throughout the day in a variety of contexts helps them understand and begin to sign sooner.

Interestingly, Anthony and Lindert have found that if you use more than 12 signs in the beginning, infants don't sign back as soon. According to Signing Smart,

Using too many signs initially will actually slow your child's signing back in that, instead of signing supplementing and highlighting English, it becomes a new code system to decipher in addition to English.
Once your infant shows that he understands what the signs mean, or begins to sign back, add more signs to your vocabulary.


Michele September 12, 2008 at 4:15 PM  

Signing Smart was the program I used for my girls. It is fabulous!

WeeHands September 13, 2008 at 10:11 AM  

Keep in mind there is no published evidence based research behind any suggestions as to the number of signs that parents should start with when teaching their baby sign language.

The number of signs you should use depends on your comfort level. Deaf parents don't limit the number of signs that they use and hearing parents don't limit the number of verbal words they use.

Most baby sign language programs will recommend a number of between 3 and 20 signs so as to not overwhelm the parents.

When you sign and speak with babies, parents naturally start to use a sing-song rhythm called parentese or 'gesturese' that emphasizes key words. These key words will most likely be babies first words or signs because they are the emphasized and often most important concepts to baby.

Here's what I, The Baby Signing Book and all WeeHands Instructors alway emphasize with parents...

Try to focus on objects and activities that are really motivating to your baby and show her 3-5 signs related to these objects. My son’s first signs were FISH, CAR and TRAIN because these were his favourite things. My daughter's first signs included MORE, EAT and MILK. Her favourite things were food, food and more food.

As well as signs for favourite things, incorporate signs for everyday routines. These may not be as motivating but they happen all day, every day. Signs for EAT, SLEEP, PLAY and CHANGE fit into this category.

Try to sign at least 10-12 signs with your little from each of these categories (1) Motivating signs and (2) Routine signs. Use them before, during and after activities they related to. For example, before having milk, sign MILK, during this time sign and say MILK frequently to your little one and after your baby's drink is complete, sign MILK and FINISH together.

Holly Tried It September 13, 2008 at 11:39 PM  

Thanks for the additional information, Sara. I don't remember how many signs I started with. Probably 2-3. That's all I knew until my sister gave me a baby ASL dictionary for Christmas. After that, I used all the ones I knew and could remember.

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