The answer to this question is that it depends, and it’s different to everyone. However, that’s really overcomplicating things a little since there are some magic benchmarks that work well for almost all signers. If you want to skip the long explanation, the key time to start signing is around 10-12 months. The later you start, the quicker your baby will sign back to you, whereas the sooner you start, the longer it will take for your baby to sign back. Whatever time you do decide to start your signing program, just be sure to remain consistent in your signing throughout as this is the only proven way to get results. Keep in mind that signing is a milestone in and of itself so a baby needs to be mentally ready to take the step and this is highly dependent on age. Some babies have been known to sign as early as 4 months while others sign as late as 18 months or even later. Every baby is different, yours included, so there’s no magic number that can work for everyone. However, if you really want to start signing, you can start signing as early as you want! There’s no reason that you can just start right now!
Now here’s the long answer! You can start to sign as early as you start to speak to your baby, which is pretty much right away, however like I mentioned, most babies won’t sign back until they reach at least 8-10 months and some might not sign until much later. What this means to parents who start early is that they might get burned out after 6 or 8 months of signing especially if they don’t get any results. However, just because your baby isn’t signing back, does not mean that your child isn’t benefiting, so if you really want to start signing early instead of waiting, and don’t think you’ll get discouraged, by all means sign up a storm. If nothing else, the extra hand and arm movements are bound to entertain your baby!
As mentioned before, the biggest pitfall is that you will get tired or become inconsistent and quit too early. Eventually all babies will sign, except for very rare cases, so whenever you do decide to start, continue. This is why the 8-10 month benchmark, or later if you think you might give up easily, is highly recommended by this baby sign language course. Babies younger than about 6 months have very poor long term memories so lessons learned don’t persist for very long. Young babies also have poor muscle control and their fine motor skills are not tuned in yet so even if a baby did try to sign, it wouldn’t appear much different than any other random movement. In the rare case that a baby signs back at 4-6 months it should be noted that the signs will often look very unrefined and will appear only very subtly so will go undetected by most observers.
Older babies will sign back quicker than younger babies but the sooner you start with your baby, the sooner they will sign back – in absolute terms that is. It’s really that simple. If you’re in a rush to get your baby signing, than by all means start right away, there’s just no guarantee that your baby is an early signer. Additionally, no baby will begin to sign until they are developmentally ready. This is important so re-read it. Every baby will sign exactly when they are ready to sign and not a moment sooner! If you’ve been signing for a while and your baby hasn’t signed back yet, don’t worry, you aren’t spoiling them or turning them off in any way.
It’s also never too late to start signing either. Babies as old as 24-36 months have been shown to benefit from signing, and don’t think that just because your baby has started to speak, that it’s too late. Your two year old baby is still a long way to being fully verbal and signing will help anchor words in their mind and build their vocabulary. Studies have shown that babies up to 3 years old can reap rewards from signing so if you’re still putting it off in favour of treating your next child, don’t, start signing with the one you already have! At least you’ll have a signing buddy to help you teach number two!