Posted: Sep 24, 2012 10:00 AM
 
Teaching a baby sign language may sound like a lot of hard work -- or maybe even trendy or silly. Here’s why baby signing can be one of the most valuable parenting tools you will have.

Have you heard about using baby sign language yet? If you haven't, or your daycare hasn't starting using it with your little one, you are in for a real treat. You may wonder, "What's the big deal? My kiddo will talk eventually and that's fine by me." But baby signing can help your baby communicate wants and needs by using signs -- significantly before he speaks a word.

It's easy

Contrary to what you may think, sign language actually spurs verbal development

Some moms may worry that teaching a baby to use sign language is hard to do, or that it's super time-consuming. Happily, it's extremely easy to work signs into your daily interactions with your little one, and most moms simply learn along with their baby. You pick a few signs to start with and generally don't move on to more until your baby has mastered those few. So it's not like you need to go out and take an American Sign Language course at your local community college.

It's fun

Parents usually start signing to their babies when they are around 6 months old -- although starting earlier or later is just fine too. It can take a few weeks for a baby to show that he understands the signs you are making (for example, visible excitement when you sign milk before a nursing session) and a little bit longer for him to sign back to you. But once that happens, you'll find more and more signs to teach that will improve everyone's frustration levels and give you a deeper understanding of the way your baby's mind works.

It's amazing

Once you have a few signs down, your baby will soon learn that there are gestures for just about everything and will likely start soaking more and more in as he grows more mature and refines his motor skills. And this will lead to a signing explosion, where you'll be wise to pack a small sign language dictionary in your diaper bag or get a baby signing app on your smartphone to keep up with him. Your baby will soon be able to tell you when he's hungry, thirsty, tired, done with dinner, cold or has a dirty diaper -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Babies can learn signs for their favorite things: Mom, Dad, grandparents, books, favorite toys, favorite activities and favorite places. And it all can let him communicate to you, effectively, well before he utters a word.

It's bittersweet

Once speech begins your child will begin dropping signs as he masters the verbal words for them -- because sign language actually spurs verbal development (which explains why many therapists start children with speech delays on sign language as soon as they can). It can be bittersweet to see the vestiges of his early communication with you drop away piece by piece -- so be sure to photograph or video as much of his signing as possible.

More on babies

What babies hear in utero
Baby's first words
Feeding your baby: Healthy nutrition for every stage

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