Realistically, your first signs can be whatever you choose, but if you really want to teach signing fast and efficiently, you will need to pick them wisely. In The Fast Track To Signing Program we advocate starting with the sign for MORE. After the first week, you will add MILK and EAT. From there you add 5 motivating signs and 5 routine signs while continuing to heavily reinforce the previous three signs.
Above: The fingers and thumb are forced together as if pinching food which is then drawn in and out toward the mouth in the ASL sign for EAT.
Routine signs as mentioned before are signs for things that happen throughout the day such as MILK, EAT, WATER, ALL DONE/FINISHED, SLEEP, and MORE, among others. Motivating signs are whatever your baby finds interesting. Don’t get hung up on your baby’s motivating signs because babies can become fascinated by some pretty odd things. For example, FAN, LIGHT, TRUCKS and HATS, any animal such as DOG, CAT or FISH can all be excellent motivating signs, but I’m not going to tell you exactly what these are, just listen to your baby and they’ll tell you. I will say that HAT is a pretty good one to include since it’s easy to do, you just put your hand on your head. Hats also show up all over the place so you get a lot of chances to sign it. Once you have chosen your motivating signs don’t worry if your baby loses interest before they get the sign, just find a new sign and substitute that one in. If you want, you can continue to use both the old sign and the new sign. It’s really not important to have just 10 on the go, 11 is fine too, as is just 9, 8 or even 12!
Above: MORE is a great early sign to teach because rewards can be given immediately and those rewards are worth working for! Once your baby catches on, he will be using it most at mealtimes, but don’t forget to teach MORE for playing games, songs, dancing, funny faces, etc. MORE everything! Note: the yellow bag is full of garlic!
Routine signs are important to use because they happen throughout the day and give you plenty of opportunity to use them before, during, and after a routine. Motivating signs, on the other hand, usually happen less often, but when they do, they capture your baby’s interest to such an extent that they will want to learn to sign them. Motivating signs are those things that are important to your baby specifically based on their personality such as signs for toys, pets or animals, music, etc
Discovering motivating signs is fairly simple since your baby will show you which things in their environment have importance. Your baby will get excited when they see them, their eyes will light up, or they will stare at them, will bounce with joy, might cry when they are missing, try to reach for them, or move closer to them or baby might try to draw your attention to them by looking at you and then at the object.
As mentioned before, signs that lead to a reward like MORE are excellent first signs because the results can be provided immediately which is the ultimate reason for communication. First signs should also be based on the simplicity of the sign. Complex signs can be introduced to any baby, but will generally only be signed back by toddlers or older babies. As you peruse the baby sign language dictionary, it will be fairly obvious which signs are easy to do as they will require fewer and less complex movements, and will be approximated more easily. Often, even if a baby can’t do the sign, they’ll still sometimes give it a good shot, but it will look so much different than the true sign, it will be difficult to recognize. Any sign you do choose should happen many times throughout the day so they can be reinforced. You will want to restrict using words that are infrequently used, at least in the early stages, as it will be hard to demonstrate the signs properly and in context. When your baby can hold thoughts longer in memory, you can introduce these rare signs. The course will outline some excellent must-know signs in the following sections.
Above: Here are some of Holden’s earliest signs. They include MORE, TELEPHONE, ALL DONE, DADDA, HAT, BYE, APPLE, NIGHT-NIGHT, PLAY, HOT, AIRPLANE, BABY, WALK, CHICKEN, CAT, MILK, LIGHT, DEER, DOG, GIRL, MONKEY, RAISINS, MOON, ELEPHANT, WAIT, POTATO, PUMPKIN, RACCOON, COLD, TURTLE, SHOES, SHIRT, HIPPO, BUNNY, PLEASE, EAT, WATER, FISH, COW, BEE, SNAKE, OWL, SQUIRREL, TOAST, EGG, BLANKET, BIG, HOME, TREE, LION, BATH, GRAPES, WORK, BALLOON, UP, CHEESE, TOOTHBRUSH, CRACKER, THANK YOU, MIRROR, BOY, LADY, and BEARD.