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When Will Your Baby Start to Sign?

A question we are asked frequently at Tots Play is "WHEN do babies start to sign?" .

Kaye, our franchisee for Newport and Cwmbran, started signing early with her daughter, who is shown in the pictures. She shares her experience with us here.

Your Baby Wants to Communicate

"When do babies start to sign? Well, how long is a piece of string? All babies are different and develop at different rates but successfully introducing signing takes a lot of input from you too.

Babies, from the day they are born, are little sponges, taking in, absorbing and learning about everything they see and feel and sense with their bodies. Their clever little brains are quickly creating more and more pathways to send signals and information and make those brains grow and gear themselves up for yet more learning.

Consistency is key

So, the key with signing is to start early and be consistent. Babies WANT to communicate with you and they want to learn the best ways to do that. Your little newborn already has very effective ways to communicate their wants and needs, such as crying when they need you or displaying the 'rooting' reflex when they want to be fed. Then a little later on, they start to learn that other movements with their bodies can have an effect on the world and on you. Reaching their arms up when they want to be picked up for example is how a baby naturally uses sign language to communicate something they want or need. 'Baby Signing' simply builds on this ability by using a set of very simple signs that you and your baby can learn quickly and from a very early age.

Recognition often comes quickly

We have mums in our classes who tell us that their babies definitely recognise some of the signs long before they can do them themselves. 'Milk' is a very popular one and quite often very little babies who have been exposed to a lot of signing can recognise their carers making this sign and respond accordingly. Many of the parents say their babies get excited or smile when they do the sign for milk because they know what's coming! This is wonderful because these little babies are making the connection between the sign and its meaning.

When will they sign back?

As for signing back? Well, as well as doing the signs regularly, it's also very important for parents to really look for their babies attempting to make the signs. Quite often, they don't begin perfectly but if you can recognise they are doing something similar to the sign you have been teaching them, whether by intention or by accident, then that's the moment where you want to jump on the opportunity to reinforce that. So if you think they're trying to sign for milk you can say, "oh, do you want some milk?". Make the sign again and give them some milk and they will soon make the connection between what they did with their hands and what they received!

Quite often the sign for 'more' starts out as a clap and the signs for 'mummy' and 'daddy' often begin as a hand waving in the air rather than touching their face as we do in the sign, but a lot of parents have told me that it's definitely an attempt to sign as they've done it in context (Daddy has

just walked in the room, for example) and they've never held their hand in that way before. So again, you can reinforce the sign by showing them and doing it yourself or by gently taking their hand and moving it to the correct position. This helps to reinforce the sign as touch and movement all stimulates muscle memory and brain activity so will help them remember the sign easier.

So when can we realistically expect them to sign back? Around 9-10 months is common, as long as you've been consistent in teaching them the signs, though some may take a little longer, and some sooner.

I'm sure that my daughter was trying to make the sign for 'milk' at 5 months. I managed to capture some pictures of her concentrating very hard on making a fist with her hand, and I took this as an attempt to sign as she was due for a feed and so the sign was within context and not just a random hand movement.

Gaining momentum

Once the signs start, they often come thick and fast, especially when they get a response eg. they make the sign for milk, they get milk, and they soon learn that they're on to a winner! Our babies really are that clever. Plus, the first time you see your baby signing can give you a boost as all your efforts are finally being rewarded.

So let's get those babies signing! Learn how in our classes and courses, practise as often as possible with your babies and really look for those moments when they're trying to sign back; it is so wonderful and rewarding when they do!"

Practice at Home

You can have some fun practising signing along to our simple signing songs with our downloadable Songs for Signing Guide HERE, and we would love to hear your stories of signing with your baby.

For more ideas of how to make the most of playtime with your little one, grab our Top 10 Play Time Tips, absolutely free! Click HERE to claim yours now.

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