In infancy, children begin to understand the words used by the adults around them much more quickly than they are able to speak. Between six months of age and 2 years, your little one likely has motor skills and receptive language skills that vastly outpace his ability to speak out loud. But by teaching him American Sign Language, you can allow your baby to unlock the unexpressed needs he is feeling and express them to you, leading to fewer meltdowns and far less frustration for the both of you.
Many children speak their first word around a year of age, but don’t develop a vocabulary of more than a few words until they are 18 months of age. Many kids don’t begin to really put words together in order to express themselves verbally until they are closer to 2 years old. But because most infants and young toddlers have the motor skills to use sign language and have the receptive language skills to understand what is being communicated to them, and around them, ASL is an excellent tool for the whole family.
Start with the basics. It might be tempting to teach your child to sign about butterflies, love, and the family dog, and you can certainly move onto those signs eventually! But begin with the signs that will help her to express her most basic of needs, as the positive feedback in the form of fulfillment of those needs will motivate her to keep signing. Signs like “more”, “all done”, “milk”, “bed”, and “diaper” should help your baby to express her most urgent of needs.
Your baby will learn his first signs by watching you perform them! Make the motions for the signs associated with the words you’d like to teach him on a regular basis. If you’re holding a bottle of milk in your hand, say the word “milk” and sign for “milk”. If you ask your child if she would like more applesauce, say the word “more” and sign for “more”. After awhile, your child, a natural mimic at this age, will attempt to imitate your motions.
When she does begin to sign, reward her with praise! And, of course, reward her also with the fulfillment of the need she is expressing. When your child signs for milk and receives milk, she is likely to catch on to her newfound power, and will continue to sign again and again. Communicate with her daycare teachers about the signs you are using at home, so that they can also communicate with her using these signs at school. Chances are that your childcare provider already knows some of these basic signs and has used them with other children in the past.
Have you been using sign language at home with your child? Which signs were most useful? Let us know in the comments section!