When deciding to do baby sign language many parents want to know when is the best age to start?

The simple truth is that the best time to start is when you feel ready that you can consistently introduce baby sign into your new baby’s life and routines.

But, there are also stages of your baby’s development that will mean even though from an early age they can understand signs they do not have the physical ability to sign back.

A baby’s physical ability to sign begins at around 5 – 6 months, once they can hold a rattle or a toy.  Once they have developed this level of control around their hands they may attempt to do some signing.

Because your baby will not be able to sign until approximately 5 – 6 months of age we generally recommend to parents that this is a good age to start introducing baby sign.  Now, the reason for this isn’t because your baby can’t start to learn signs at an earlier age but for many parents if they do not see a physical response in the form of a sign they become disheartened and stop using sign.

So lets take a look at some of the different times that you can start to introduce baby sign into your routines and how you might do it:

If Your Baby Is Younger Than 6 Months:

Even if your baby is under the 6 month age where they can physically produce a sign they can still start to learn and many parents like to get in the habit of introducing signs early.

One of the key things to remember here is to always sign on your baby’s level.  Their field of vision is still relatively small so they need to be able to see you sign and what you are signing about.

You may find it easier to have your baby laying down and get over the top of them so they are looking up, since their neck muscles will still be floppy and they wont hold their head up to watch you.  You can try signing on the changing mat or a play mat if you have one so they are comfortable in a laying position on their back.

Watch their eye’s for recognition that something is going on and try to get them to focus their gaze on you as you sign.  Use you voice in a soothing way to coax your baby’s attention.

A good sign to start with at this age is often milk (or breastfeed if you prefer).  Since your baby’s life at this age is all about eating and sleeping feed time plays a major point in their life.  We have had many stories from parents who have used this sign at an early age with their baby and found it to be very helpful in calming their baby in the preparation time before a feed.

If Your Baby Is Between 6 – 18 months:

Once your baby has reached around 6 months their physical body will have changed dramatically from that tiny little newborn that was really only just a few weeks before.

As they grow they start to gain control of their body and realise that they can use their arms to point, grab and swing at things.  At this point they are ready to physically start signing.

If you have already started signing, then great, carry on with the signs that you have already introduced and add to them.  As long as you are comfortable with the consistency of your signing you don’t need to wait until your baby has signed back every sign, or any at all.

The important thing is that you remember to use the signs you are introducing consistently around your daily routine, signing and saying the word each time in context.

Baby sign is really a language so think of it like teaching your child to talk.  You wouldn’t just say 6 words to them until they had mastered those would you?

Of course not, and the reason for that is that talking comes naturally to you and you know that your baby will pick up the words over time as their speech develops.

The same is true for baby sign.  Your baby doesn’t know any different from what you teach them so signing to them will be just as natural as talking and they will absorb the signs and start to use them when they are ready.

When they do start to sign they will not get things 100% correct the firs time around so you will need to interpret your baby’s first signs and encourage them for trying.  Just like walking they will not go from a crawl to a run on the first day, so encourage these first signs just as you would with any other major milestone in your baby’s development.

If Your Baby Is Older Than 18 Months:

At the various events and shows that we attend each year it is quite common for parents to ask me if it is to late to introduce baby sign to their toddler.

Even at 18 months children are still developing their vocal chords so speech is still growing and baby sign can be very useful to help them expand on their vocabulary for words that they may have difficulty saying.

A lot of temper tantrums in toddlers are brought about by them feeling misunderstood because their communication is not clear so they express them self the only other way they know how, screaming and crying.

By introducing sign to toddlers it provides them another avenue of communication and can help to reduce those tantrums.

Also baby sign can be very useful for toilet training around this age. By teaching them the sign for toilet each time they go they will start to use that in relation to “toilet or potty time” so you can get an early warning signal saving on wet pants as you try to train them out of nappy’s.

Final Thoughts:

Remember, just because you may start to sign to your baby earlier it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will sign back earlier.

There are physical limitations on a baby’s development restricting a young baby from signing so don’t be disheartened if you start signing early and still don’t get a sign at 6 months of age.

All baby’s are different, and will develop different skills at different ages but using baby sign is great way to help them on the road to talking as well as developing a great bond and insight into what is going on in your baby’s mind.