Baby Signs

My first year of teaching, which was in a K-5 Multi-Cat. Special Ed. classroom, I had a student whose parents were hearing impaired.  The family communicated mainly via sign language with each other, and an interpreter was provided for school conferences.

After my first conference with the family, I was determined to learn enough sign to at least be able to exchange greetings in the hallway and welcome them to our next conference.  I signed up for a beginning sign language class offered by our District and was quickly hooked.

I also learned that my student’s family used American Sign Language at home (ASL), which was most popular in the Deaf Community of our area.  Elementary and Middle School students in our area more commonly use Signing Exact English (SEE-2) because it is grammatically correct and helps develop “standard” language arts skills alongside signed communication.  My class covered SEE-2, not ASL.  Many of the signs and phrases I learned could be (and were) used to communicate with my student’s family, but not enough that I could hold a conference without an ASL interpreter.

After the beginner’s course, I completed Intermediate and Advanced in the following semesters.  I also read a book called Magic Trees of the Mind at the recommendation of our school psychologist, and was intrigued by the research illustrating brain development in children who were taught to communicate with sign language as infants and toddlers, in harmony with spoken language.

Emma was born soon after, and when we started feeding her solid foods we started using sign language.  She signed “more” at nine months, quickly followed by “all done” and “milk.”  Aedan started signing at 10 months with those three basic signs.  Besides the basic signs, though, there were other signs that were especially important to teach for each child.  For Emma, it was “bug.”



She was often found in a crouched position, inside and outside, which I at first associated with attempts at bowel movements.  When we realized she was crouching down to examine bugs, we taught her the sign for “bug” so she could share her excitement with us.




DSC_1711Aedan desperately needed to learn the sign for “messy.”  As a high-chair restricted tyke, he would fuss and thrash around during meals, and we assumed it was because he was done eating.  Observing more closely, we realized he actually just didn’t like to be messy.  We taught him the sign for messy, and he could request to be cleaned up to return to his high-chair for more food.


Higdon started signing later  – closer to one year.  He never needed the food signs; he had such an early pincer grasp that he could self-feed, and skipped over much of the spoon-fed pureed goodies due to new feeding recommendations from our pediatrician.  He has adopted some signs to request what he wants: more, all done, cheese, milk, again, eat, want.

Higdon’s daycare provider supports our sign language attempts, and Emma and Aedan eagerly volunteer to feed Higdon so they can try to get him to sign.  I am guilty of offering Higdon cheese at way too many meals and snacks, because the way he says and signs cheese is super cute!

This time of toddler-hood is so exciting (and so important!) in terms of brain development.  Even without a sign language background, it’s easy to develop a beginning vocabulary with your child.  Our local library has several baby sign resources, or you can look online here.