A Signing Story

Sara Bingham change

Just a few years ago signing with your baby was a novel idea. Parents felt using sign language with babies was reserved for children with special needs or that signing with babies would delay a child’s speech development. Today more parents are learning basic American Sign Language (ASL) signs and know the benefits of using ASL signs with their babies and toddlers!? Debbie-Lynn Hoste of Toronto started signing with her daughter, Olivia, when she was five months old. “Every time I breastfed, I would sign MILK and say it at the same time. Very quickly, I just had to sign MILK to Olivia from across the room, and she would beam a big smile and squeal knowing what it meant.”

Communication Before Speech Develops

A child’s first spoken words typically develop between 12 and 16 months of age. A child’s first signs typically develop between 6 and 12 months of age. By about 8 months, most babies start communicating by pointing to objects and looking expectantly at you and by waving bye-bye. Using sign language with your baby builds on these natural gestures and allows a baby to communicate about specific desires. Debbie-Lynn notes, “At seven months, Olivia surprised us by signing MILK, and would sign to anyone who was holding her when she was hungry.”

Benefits Include Increased Vocabulary and Fewer Frustrations

Babies who are not signed to typically have 10-20 verbal words when they are 18 months old. Babies who are signed to and who are encouraged to sign back may have 80 or more words (a combination of spoken words and signed words). Signing with young children helps them understand more and express themselves with a larger vocabulary!

When a toddler is understood more, there are often less temper tantrums and frustrations. Debbie-Lynn shares, “Olivia’s understanding of signed words was incredible, and she was very quick to sign back once she learned words. We had a lot of fun, and she had no temper tantrums whatsoever. My friends and family were astonished at this very easy going little girl who simply asked for what she wanted and understood what was allowed or not.”

Connecting with Siblings and Others

The continued use of ASL signs can also help families communicate together in quiet places, across distances, through windows. Sign language may also help as families grow and new babies arrive. Debbie-Lynn shares, “Olivia is now two and a half years old and she loves to sign to her little twin brothers who are now 11 months old. They both have long ago understood the sign for MILK and will sign it back.” Such a great way for families to connect!


How to Sign it:

Open and close your fist several times. Hint: imitates milking a cow.

When to Sign it:

Show this sign before your little one is drinking milk or nursing and while he is drinking or nursing.

Eat / Food

How to Sign it:

Tap an “O” shape at your mouth. Hint: shows placing food in your mouth.

When to Sign it:

Show this sign before your little one is going to eat or while he is eating. Sign it as well when you are eating. Change

How to Sign it:

Make fists with both hands and place them on top of each other, palms facing together. Twist them so that they switch positions. Hint: Your hands change positions.

When to Sign it:

Show this sign before and after you change your little one’s diaper. Sign it during the diaper change if you can! Baby

How to Sign it:

Hold your forearms in front of you, one on tap of the other, and rock your arms from side to side. Hint: holding a baby in your arms.

When to Sign it:

Show this sign when you and your own baby see other babies in person or in books. Say the word as you sign it.


How to Sign it:

“O” shapes both hands, tapped together. Hint: as if adding more to a pile.

When to Sign it:

Show this sign, with a questioning look, when you are asking your little one if they want more, when playing and eating.

Sara Bingham is the author of “The Baby Signing Book” and the founder of WeeHands, a sign language program with instructos across North America. Contact Sara at:





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