How to Do Sign Language for Kids

By Jay Leon
Signing improves communication between children, adults and babies.

People make signs with their hands from infancy to adulthood. Gesturing with hands and making facial expressions is a natural way to communicate. Even when talking over the phone or speaking aloud, we make gestures. Hearing kids can take advantage of this natural ability to enhance communication skills with other children, deaf people and pre-verbal babies.

Signing by Parents

Make a list of essential words to use with your child. These should be words that describe people, activities and objects that are important to you and your child. Some of the most commonly used terms in baby sign language are "eat," "milk," "sleep," "play," "mom," "dad," "change" and "bath."

Look up the baby sign for each word you listed. A video dictionary like in the ASL Pro website is ideal because it shows how the sign gestures are done. If you cannot use an online video dictionary, get a sign language reference book or instructional DVD. Watch each video clip or read the description repeatedly until you are sure you know how to do the sign.

Speak and make the signs to your baby in appropriate situations. That is, say the word and do the sign for "eat" when you are about to feed your child and during feeding. Say and sign "Dad" or "Grandma" whenever the person associated with the sign walks into the room. When it comes to things your child wants, such as milk or toys, do the sign when you know your child wants it, saying, "Do you want milk?" or "Shall we play with your toy?"

Continue signing to your child regardless if the child responds or not. Depending on how old your child is when you begin signing, it can take anywhere from weeks or months before he signs back. Keep signing and talking to your child.

Add to the number of signs you use when the first ones have become a habit. You can use as many signs as you need to communicate with your child, so long as you are consistent.

Observe your child for clues that she is attempting to sign. A child will make vague gestures at first. Respond appropriately even when you are not sure if it is indeed a sign, or if what your baby is signing for. Reward your child with praise when the child signs back.

Keep signing. Add more signs as your child is ready for them. Focus on topics that are interesting to children such as toys, animals, family and everyday sights. Always say the word when you make the sign.

Signing by Kids

Choose persons, objects and activities that are important to you. These should be things that you would be eager to say in sign language. Usually you want to start with words that address basic needs and activities such as "hungry," "tired," and "sleep"; names of family members such as "mom" and "dad"; playtime words such as "play," "please," "share" and "friend; and "yes," "no" and "more."

Go to a sign language website like ASL Pro or Signing Savvy. Enter the word you want to sign and practice the gestures shown in the videos. If you do not have access to a video dictionary, borrow a sign language book or signing DVD from your local library. (Ask your parents for help if you need help using the library.)

Learn the signs for the alphabet and numbers. American Sign Language signs are often made up of the signs that stand for letters in the alphabet. Practice alphabet signs until you have them memorized. It will make doing other signs a lot easier.

Find a family member or friend to sign with you. Practice the signs together as often as you remember to. You do not need to set aside a special time of day for practice. Just do the signs whenever you do or see something that sign describes. Sign "play" when you are ready to play. Sign "ball" or "toy" or "doll" when you handle your favorite toys.[

Add more sign language signs. Look up signs for clothes you wear, greetings that you are likely to use such as "Good morning," "Merry Christmas" and "How are you?" Later on add signs for feelings such as "love" and "happy."

Join a baby sign language group or class to find other children who sign. You could also watch sign language DVDs for children, or learn to sign with a member of the Deaf community. Keep practicing those signs you learned so you do not forget them.

Tip

Limit yourself to about ten signs at first.

For children, have an adult supervise you to make sure you do the signs correctly.

Younger babies do not yet have the motor skills to make readable signs. However, they can still learn to understand what you mean by signing, even if they cannot sign back yet. Do not be discouraged if you sign to your baby at an early age and see no results for months.

Starting at about ten to twelve months, children are able to pick up sign language signs faster. Some children like to learn new signs all the time once they learn the basic ones.

Keep a sign dictionary handy. Older babies who sign might ask for signs for anything they see around them.

Warning

Always say the corresponding word when you make the baby sign. Ultimately the goal is to encourage your baby to say the word represented by the sign.

In the beginning, do not use lots of signs in one sentence. Use multiple words in one sentence only when you can clearly distinguish one concept from another through your gestures. For example, make sure your child understands the difference between "bath" and "water," "eat" and "cereal."

About the Author

Jay Leon began work as a writer and blogger in 2007. Her clients have included content provider Averheld and Loudoun Rewards Club. She writes about computing, web design, the Internet and travel.