The Correct Way to Introduce Signs to a Baby
I've been asked by many parents,” how many signs should I teach my baby?” My answer takes into consideration several important aspects. I first would ask, “how many words should you speak to your baby?” First of all, we don't expect babies to repeat everything we say when they begin talking. When babies begin to speak, they speak in one-word sentences. If they were to say “Mama” what they're doing is identifying their primary caregiver – their mother and they are responding to their understanding that their caregiver is their mother and by expressing a sound “Mama" they are soliciting a response from that individual.
Although a baby cannot articulate all the different words that we use as parents or caregivers, they will catch certain sounds or words that represent actions or items that have specific interest for the child. For example, if you were to offer slices of banana and say “banana” each time you give your baby a slice of banana, eventually the child would try to say banana. It may sound like “anna” or “bana” at first, until enough time as past allowing your child’s vocal mechanism to mature until they can pronounce the word correctly.
So, let's consider that idea when exposing a child to signs. In a family with Deaf parents, the parents sign everything. But again, the child picks up the signs that are associated with things of interest to them and they try to reproduce those signs. Knowing this helps a parent realize that babies initially speak in one-word sentences during the onset of language.
Best Practices for Parents and Caregivers
The programs I've designed for baby sign language takes this concept into consideration. By participating in activities throughout the day and associating those activities with a single gesture or sign helps the baby acknowledge and then communicate about that activity through that sign. That's why the 14 Day program I developed provides important one-word-sentence signs that babies can observe, connect with the associated action, activity, or item, and at some point, reproduce the sign when they want to refer to that action activity or item.
So, the question of how many signs to model for your baby, really depends on the type of activities you have during the day, the objects that interest your child, and the communication you want to share. A baby language capacity is a wide open and is ready to accept a large amount of vocabulary. However, the process in which you introduce and model the signs for communication is as important as the number of signs you introduce. Usually, I recommend beginning to model signs for your child (in the appropriate situations) between the 4th and 5th month. That's when a baby can focus and has the capacity to see what you're doing and start to associate the gesture you make with what's going on around them.
Remember, we speak for almost two years before we expect our child to clearly articulate the words that we want them to use to express themselves. It's important caregivers and parents have patience and model the signs for at least two to four months before expecting babies to reproduce the signs. Of course, every child is different and will respond differently. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to communication…especially early communication.
The "Baby Sign Language in 14 Days" program I created was specifically designed for parents and caregivers to absorb the signs incrementally over a period of days and weeks, allowing them to learn and use signs on a regular consistent basis. That in turn allows your child to view the signs in context and when they're ready – express themselves through the signs. My program is based on daily activities and the kind of items that interest young children.
So, to answer the question how many signs should I model for my baby is completely dependent on your lifestyle and your surroundings. However, providing your child with plenty of vocabulary from the beginning will help them understand and use language within their own personal expressive capacity.