As you work through baby sign language, make sure you take the time to teach your family members too so they can help teach your baby, and remain a part of the conversation. Even the grandparents and other caregivers who spend time with your baby should be taught the signs to reduce frustration that might arise from a lack of understanding. Grandparents will be totally floored by how “smart” your baby is and will marvel to their friends about actually talking with their little grandbaby.
While you are at it, don’t discount older siblings who can be a great help in teaching babies. Usually smaller children have more patience, stamina, and time than a lot of adults. They also tend to connect better with their little brother or sister since they spend a lot of their lives at the same level. They also participate actively in the same games giving them plenty of time to communicate. Young siblings have even been known to “read” books to their baby siblings using signs for the images! This can be a big pay-off for Mom and Dad and take some of the burden off. Don’t be surprised if siblings become your baby’s primary teacher and as older siblings help their younger siblings their relationship will strengthen. Recall too that older toddlers benefit by signing with increased literacy and communication right up until the age of three, so it’s not like they aren’t benefiting by being teachers too.
Above: Playing around with family signs.
Family friends can also help with teaching signs, but not before you give them a primer. For starters, show them a condensed version of the signs – the most important ones, or translate as you go. If you have the time, it’s best to go over the signs all at once. If you’re short on time, then leave your caregiver with a cheat-sheet that they can reference in a pinch. You might also bookmark the baby sign language dictionary and show them how to access it, especially if you will be leaving your baby for the day. Non-signing caregivers can be especially frustrated by your signing baby, as will your signing baby of them. Communication has to run both ways. If not, both parties will suffer. Just remember that your little signer has grown accustomed to being heard and understood. If this makes you feel apprehensive, don’t worry – in the end your baby is tremendously adaptable and will thrive through whatever challenges they face. Once they start talking, they’ll face the same difficulties as they try to convey their exact thoughts.
How much help you have with signing is a big variable with respect to how fast your baby picks up signing, and how many words they eventually add to their vocabulary. With two siblings signing, plus Mom and Dad, grandparents and any other caregivers, it’s not abnormal to pass on over 100 signs at 18 months, and an equal amount of spoken words. Doing this all by yourself is not impossible either though. However, if you are in a situation where help isn’t afforded then, keep your expectations modest.
Finally, try to locate daycares that already have signing programs in place or who are willing to learn. Thankfully, since sign language has become so much more popular in recent time, finding a quality daycare who have signs as part of the curriculum is that much easier. With all the positive benefits of signing, it’s a wonder there still exists daycare providers who still haven’t caught on!