Whenever you leave your signing children with non-signers be sure to take the time to bring them up to speed as to which signs your baby actively uses, and which ones you are working on. Imagine how frustrating it would be for your caregivers, let alone your baby, to be dropped into a foreign environment with people who can’t understand each other.
You don’t have to give your caregiver a full list or rundown, especially if your baby knows more than 50 signs, just the basics will suffice. However, if you do take pride in your signing, then continue to build a vocabulary master list and leave it on the refrigerator or anywhere else where it can be easily reference. If you haven’t given your caregiver a proper primer, then it’s still going to be a challenge to work backwards from a sign to a word, but in a tough situation, it might be better than nothing. When they come across a sign, they can look for the word in context and run through the list of signs your baby is currently using from your list. Then can then reference the words they believe that your baby is signing in the baby sign language dictionary. In the worst case, at least your caregiver can rule things out! While you are at it you might want to remind your caregiver that signs never look perfect and often look like approximations of the real thing. If you have time, you might even show these approximations for their benefit.
Above: Courtney explains how sign approximations apply in baby sign language.
In most cases, showing your sitter the top signs your baby tends to do on their own will get most caregivers through their sit. Be sure to teach them the sign for foods they might sign. For a brief time my son was obsessed with RAISINS. He’d grab a container and stand at the pantry doing the sign expectantly. This would be a fun game of 20-questions otherwise, and no doubt he’d end up with less healthy snacks like salty potato chips before the sitter even imagined raisins where his favourite!
I highly advise giving your caregiver a ten minute crash course with your baby as the instructor. With your list of signs in hand run through them as a quiz. Get your baby to repeat the signs back as you call them out verbally. After your baby has signed them, model the sign correctly to your sitter, have your sitter model it back to you, and them give them an easy way to recall the sign. Most signs are conveniently like the thing they are meant to represent, so just fill them in. In 7 minutes, my son was able to sign back 40 signs from his highchair on video. If he was busy with toys and uncomfortable with a new babysitter, he might be less apt to sign as quickly or at all. This brings me to your final option which is to leave a home video for your sitter to watch. Conveniently, most digital still cameras today have a video option with sound so you can run through your baby’s signs, upload it to a computer, or leave it for them to review right on the camera itself. Leaving it on the camera makes the entire affair entirely portable. After watching your baby do the signs a few times, they’re bound to have a good sense of what your baby is signing.