How to Teach Your Pre-Toddler Sign Language—By Kelly Ma

I sometimes get questions from other moms on why and how I taught Kailyn to use sign language. 

Why? Babies gain motor skills long before they develop verbal skills, so teaching them an alternative method to communicate with their hands reduces frustration during the pre-verbal stage! It’s also exciting to get a glimpse into your baby’s mind and know they’re forming thoughts and desires. 

How? I signed and said the word every time I used it with her. For example, EVERY TIME I gave her milk, I signed “milk” to her and said milk. Same with “diaper change,” “more,” “please,” “hungry/food,” “all done,” the key phrases we practiced. 
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Btw, I’m no expert at this but below are some tips on what worked for us: 
1) I started signing to her at 4-5 months, knowing it was much too early for her to reciprocate, but because I believed she was highly observant. For the longest time I felt like I was signing in vain w/ no progress, until one day, out of nowhere she signed “milk” in the morning! 🏼 She had actually been watching all that time!

2) I also skipped certain words like “sleepy/nap” because she had very obvious sleepy cues, or “ma” and “dada” because those were her first sounds. Use your judgement or preference!

3) I switched up some signs. For example, the official “diaper change” sign on babysignlanguage.com is in my opinion, pretty challenging and could look similar to “more.” Since it was a word I really felt was necessary, I made it easier and she got it. 

So, I think the key is patience, repetition and consistency no matter who is watching the child. Start with a few critical words and just keep at it! Don’t be afraid to switch things up if you need to because ultimately we just want to understand our babies and their needs! Swipe right for videos of Kailyn (who was standing in front of the fridge for a min trying to open the door) signing “more” “milk.” The last one is a few minutes later when she pooped and signed “diaper.”

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