Baby Signing


There is a lot of information on baby signing out there on the Web. I've included references to just a sample of web sites. Some are web pages belonging to people who sell baby signing "stuff", but other pages are for general reading.

Before one makes any hasty conclusions about negative effects of teaching a baby to sign, it would be better to understand what has been proven to be myths (for example, that teaching a hearing baby to sign will hinder their development of the spoken language). As my husband Steve once pointed out, waving "hi", "bye-bye", blowing kisses, nodding/shaking head "yes" and "no", and other gestures are all types of signs! (and you know how adults smile and get giddy when they see babies doing any of these things!) They are examples of using gestures to communicate. Hearing babies continue to use some of the signs into toddlerhood then into adulthood. Other signs fall by the wayside as they replace them with words. If children are interested however, they can continue to learn signs as they would any other second language. Toddlers find signing to be a lot of fun while singing songs. "Eensy Weensy Spider" uses a form of signs and you will notice that babies and toddlers sure love it!

A baby's gesturing ability simply develops faster than his/her ability to talk (even for advanced babies). Using signs is meant to be fun for parents and babies, and it also reduces much frustration on both sides. One of the most common causes of frustration in babies and toddlers is that they want to communicate something and can't, or they can communicate only part of it and can't make themselves clear. When she was slightly over one year old, our daughter had already demonstrated about 30 signs (some more often and consistently than others). This number about doubled by 14 months. She can tell me about some of the things she wants or things she sees or hears, and that visibly makes her happy. (It's useful too. When we were napping one day, she signed to me that she heard a noise. It was the phone ringing. I hadn't been able to hear it!) She is starting to learn words as well, but signing is another communication tool. Babies will speak words that they know mixed with the signs for words they don't know. As they learn the spoken word, it will eventually replace the signed word. I'll never forget our friends' daughter, a very young toddler, asking "Where is the dog?" by signing "Where" and speaking the word "dog". Before she was one year old, our daughter had already started signing simple "sentences" like "Hear" "airplane" or "Hear" "dog". See our daughter's signing page to see what she has demonstrated so far. Here are some local newspaper articles for which I was interviewed: Sunnyvale Sun and Cupertino Courier (they are almost the same article).

Hearing babies (children of parents who speak) want to grow up to be like their parents. They don't want to get "stuck" in signing if they can learn to talk like their parents do. Signing is very helpful in the interim though. And you'll read that babies who sign usually wind up with better spoken language skills.

There is some debate within the baby signing research community about whether it's better to teach your child standard ASL (American Sign Language) or to make up simple signs for your baby (see the PageWise link, the Baby Signs link, or the two book links below for some discussion about this). I started teaching some simple signs to our daughter from the book Baby Signs, but then switched to ASL, although I sometimes simplify the ASL signs that are very complicated. Now and then when I don't know the ASL sign however, I'll make up a reasonable simple sign. So, I guess we're doing a hybrid approach, although leaning more towards the ASL side.

Anyway, read on. Hopefully, I'll find more information and add it. For friends and family: we also have a VHS tape about baby signing that we can show you when we next see you.


(Some of these are more detailed and involved than others. If it looks like more than you want to read, at least read the conclusions.)

"Signs of Intelligent Life" by Margaret Jaworski, Family Circle, October 3, 2000, p. 14.

"Sign, Baby, Sign!" by Kristin Snoddon, World Federation of Deaf News, May 2000, pp. 16-17.

"Impact of Symbolic Gesturing on Early Language Development", by L. P. Acredolo & S. W. Goodwyn & Catherine Brown, Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, (2000), 24, 81-103.

"The Long-term Impact of Symbolic Gesturing During Infancy on IQ at age 8.", by L. P.Acredolo & S. W. Goodwyn (July 2000).

"Symbolic Gesturing and Joint Attention: Partners in Facilitating Verbal Development", by Brie Moore, Linda Acredolo, & Susan Goodwyn, California State University, Stanislaus University of California, Davis,Society for Research in Child Development, April 2001.

"MBR Reading Program: How Signing Helps Hearing Children Learn to Read - Research Summary", by Laura Feltzer.

Dr. Marilyn Daniels, Ph.D. (associate professor of speech communication at Penn State University)


Joseph Garcia's "Sign With Your Baby" (ASL based signing)
Supporting research
Frequently asked questions

L. P. Acredolo and S. W. Goodwyn 's "Baby Signs" (Doesn't emphasize ASL)
Supporting research
Frequently asked questions

Dr. Marilyn Daniels' Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children's Literacy


How Baby Signing Aids Communication, BBC News
Linguistic ability linked to early exposure to language: Cdn. study , CBC News
Teaching Infants to Use Sign Language, Ohio State University
Signing With Your Baby, All About Moms
Baby Sign Language, PageWise
Author Promotes Sign Language to Help Hearing Children Learn, The Block Island Times

ONLINE DICTIONARIES with video or animations:

Michigan State University Communication Technology Laboratory ASL Browser
List of dictionaries at
Basic Dictionary of ASL Terms
Aeronautics Sign Language Dictionary

Signing With Your Baby
UCB Parents Network: Baby Sign Language
Secure Beginnings San Francisco Bay Area Signing Classes


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Copyright 2003 Audra D. Lemke
Last revised: 6/11/04.