mum talking with baby
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

Baby Sign Language UK

Signing with your baby is a great way of communicating with them from an early age.

As your baby grows, they will start to become frustrated if you’re not sure what they want. Learning baby sign language can be a fun activity for you both to do together and it can help your little one to get their needs across to you, even if they haven’t yet learnt to talk.

What is baby signing?

Baby signing is a method of communicating with your baby using your hands to make simple signs. It is not intended to replace talking and is not the same as British Sign Language (BSL), although some of the signs may be loosely based on those used in BSL or Makaton – a form of sign language used by some people with disabilities.

Unlike sign language for people with impaired hearing, you can’t carry out a whole conversation using baby signing. Instead, you can teach your baby some common words and phrases like ‘milk’, ‘more’ or ‘all gone’.

With baby signing, it is important to say the word at the same time as showing your baby the gesture. This helps them learn the words and can encourage your little one to start talking.

Baby sign language aims to encourage talking rather than replace it so don’t forget to carry on speaking to your baby at the same time as signing.  Babies love to copy you so if you keep showing them the gestures, they will eventually try doing them (or their own versions of the signs at least) themselves.

It might take a while for them to start signing so persistence and consistency is key.  

Why should I consider using baby signing?

You probably already use some hand gestures naturally to help your baby understand what you are saying and you may have noticed things they do to express themselves too. Non-verbal communication can be a very effective way of getting your point across to each other.

Baby signing is a fun activity you can do together which takes the principle of non-verbal communication a step further. Using baby sign language, you will be helping your little one build up a vocabulary of simple signs.

This allows them to communicate before they are able to speak and can support their language once they do start saying their first words. Baby signing can also be helpful even when your little one has become a toddler.

Using signs will often make your child easier to understand and this can help prevent your little one getting frustrated and angry when you misunderstand what they are saying.

When should I start baby signing?

You can start using signs with your baby whenever you want but a great time to start is around six months when babies start being able to understand words they hear a lot like ‘mummy’, ‘nappy’ or ‘milk’. Most children won’t start speaking until around their first birthday but they might start using some of the easier signs from around eight or nine months.

How do I learn baby sign language?

One great way of learning baby sign language is to attend a fun class with your baby, which teaches some of the more useful and common signs. Ask your health visitor if there are any group classes in your area or you might find information at your local library.

Let’s Talk Birth and Baby also runs a Sign Language for Babies online workshop where you can learn all about baby signing and how to get started. This is suitable for parents of children up to 12 months old and will help you form a personal plan to start signing with your baby.

If you prefer to go it alone, there are plenty of resources online which can introduce you to baby sign language.

The best way to start signing with your baby is to start using the signs naturally as you go about your normal routine, making sure you say the word at the same time. For example, every time you change your baby’s nappy, you could use the sign for ‘change’ or ‘nappy’. Or you might use the ‘book’ sign when you read their bedtime story.

Start with words you use a lot and which are relevant to your baby. You may also find it helpful to sing songs like nursery rhymes or action songs while you sign to help them learn and remember.

If your baby shows an interest in something, name whatever it is and use the sign if you know it. It is also fine for you to make up signs to use with your baby – just make sure it is something you will remember so you can use the same one every time.

Repetition is vital – the more you use signing, the more effective it will be. Remember it will take time for your little one to connect the sign to the word and learn to use it themselves so don’t be discouraged if they don’t sign back or even seem to be paying any attention.

If your baby makes any attempts to sign, be positive and encouraging. Don’t worry if their sign isn’t quite right – praise their effort and they will want to keep signing.

If your baby goes to a nursery or childminder, let them know you are using baby sign language. Many childcare providers will be happy to use some signs and they will also know to look out for any signs your baby already knows.

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