Teaching Sign Language for Kids

Positives of teaching sign language for kids

Teaching sign language for kids is a great way to reinforce and nurture communication skills in young children. It is a particularly useful learning activity in helping babies and toddlers in particular to express feelings and emotions without resorting to crying

Understanding sign language for kids

When using sign language for kids, it is possible to use an abbreviated form of sign language. This easy to understand language is made up some of the most simple signs used to express the most common and basic needs that the age group will come into contact with. Common signs used will express such concepts as “more,” “thank you” and “all gone”

Potential benefits of teaching sign language to toddlers

young girl in a park signing using the love symbol

The available evidence seems to suggest that the most benefits of learning sign language for toddlers occur in the first three years of life, however, there seems to be several good reasons to teach toddlers sign language even after this early developmental period. The most significant potential benefits of toddlers learning sign language include:

  • A greater connection between the parent and child
  • An increase in the ability to understand the spoken word, particularly in the first two years
  • A potential earlier use of the spoken word by children under the age of two years
  • A reduction in the incidences of crying and whining in toddlers
  • An increased ability to communicate emotionally in the critical early years of childhood
  • A possible increase in the child’s IQ
  • A better and earlier use of sentence structure when speaking
  • Another means for the child to express themselves.

What does the research have to say?

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, what research has been done contradicts some parent’s fears that using sign language may delay verbal communication. On the contrary, an early introduction to sign language for children may actually give children a means to communicate three to four months earlier than a child relying on their vocal cords. Additionally, introducing sign language to children with developmental delays is thought to be beneficial. There is still much research to be done to investigate whether there is a link to an increase in cognitive, literacy and language abilities. 

Baby sign language basics

a young blonde child signing in a class room

Teaching kids sign language starts with learning the basic sign language signs. These can be easily picked up by referencing some sign language books or websites.
Some examples of basic sign language symbols are: 

Water = rubbing palms together

Drink = thumb to mouth

Afraid = repeatedly patting the chest

Eat = Bringing pinched fingers towards the mouth

Gentle = Patting the back of one hand

It is important to keep the following in mind while introducing sign language to children

  • Be realistic in your expectations – you can start signing your child at any time, but you need to understand that most children won’t be able to communicate with signs until they are at least eight months of age 
  • Keep it simple and use signs that will be most relevant to your child’s circumstances
  • Remain patient, it will take a while for your child to use the correct signs at the appropriate times
  • Make signing interactive by helping your child to make signs

How to teach sign language to children

A quick internet search will reveal several ways of teaching kids sign language.  You will find that most sites will want to charge a fee for you to learn the concepts. As a broad rule of thumb, it is worth using these rules as a guideline.

  • Commence teaching your child sign language from as early as six months 
  • Keep sign learning sessions short – no more than five minutes long
  • Consistently follow the same pattern of teaching signs by following this simple formula – demonstrate the sign and say the word 
  • If the child or baby mimics the sign, positively reinforce the action by reinforcing their behaviour by praising their actions or offering some form of reward
  • If the child does not try to perform the sign after five seconds or so, gently guide their hands to perform the sign
  • Consistently reward the child whenever they perform the sign
  • Repeating sign learning sessions for three times a day will see your child learn the symbols 

While teaching sign language, you must remember to keep talking to your child. Spoken language is the key means of communication for all children and sign language should be viewed as a helpful communication aid that could help the child’s development in other areas as well.

Key takeaways

Sign language for kids is a wonderful way to give very young children a means of communicating simple emotions and needs. It may also be a means to overcome some frustrations as your child begins to make their first attempts at communication.

Using sign language as a communication tool may also help to strengthen the bonds between you and your child and that is why Jumpstart Childcare see it as such an advantageous addition to their extra activities program.