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Frequently Asked Questions


Q: "When is the best time to start signing with my baby?"

A: Most babies that are in WeeHands Signing Babies classes are between 4 and 10 months of age when they start. Over the last few years, the average age of the babies in our Signing Babies has gotten slightly younger.

When you are looking at a babies receptive (understanding) abilities, keep in mind that parents who are Deaf start signing with their babies from the day they are born and their ability to understand at 9 months is amazing versus babies who are not signed understanding of 70 signs vs. maybe 5 verbal words. Regarding expressive abilities, babies, in general, will typically start signing back between 9 and 12 months (born to Deaf parents or not). We've have had a few stories of babies signing back earlier. All babies are different!

I started signing with my own children when they were 6 months of age. Knowing what I know now, I would have started earlier with both my wee ones. That said, Joshua signed back at 9 months (fish) and Sabrina signed back at 11 months (no, more, eat - not all at the same time, but within the same week!).

Q: "Will sign language delay our baby's language development?"

A: No, studies have shown that sign actually enhances a baby's language development by allowing them to learn and play with language before speech develops. The motor skills needed for speech develop between 12 and 18 months while the motor skills needed for signing can develop between 6 and 12 months. This means that babies who are signed to can be expressively using language months before their non-signed to peers. This gives your baby the opportunity to play with language and shows them how they can influence their world ("hmmm, mommy gets excited when I sign cookie and I get to each something that I love!").

Babies can also use signs to choose the subject of a conversation. A few months ago I was rushing to get Sabrina (at 14 months) into her car seat and she kept signing "dog". I stopped and saw that the little terrier across the street was out on our neighbour's porch. Sabrina loves this dog and was telling me to slow down and enjoy the moment with her!

Signing allows babies to play with language. At 13 months, Sabrina knew the sign for "ball", one day she pointed to an orange and signed "ball". This provided me with an opportunity to teach her a new word. I cut up the orange and signed "orange" for each piece I gave her. She loved the orange and ate about 30 small pieces in 10 minutes! This equal opportunities to show her the sign for "orange". At the end of her snack, she knew and was using the sign for "orange"! At 16 months, Sabrina had a vocabulary of more than 80 words, a combination of her signs and verbal words. Babies who are not signed to at this age, typically have 10-15 verbal words. Signing allows babies to develop larger vocabularies!

I've found with both my children the most amazing experiences with sign occurred during the second year of life - when both of my wee ones were very mobile, active and inquisitive. What a wonderful world there is too explore at this age! Signing allows you to share so much more of the world with your baby.

Q: "If we learn to communicate with our son through signing, how does it affect the child when in daycare? What if he is signing to the caregiver and she is not understanding or picking up on it . . .wouldn’t this make him frustrated?"

A: In any day care situation, it would be best to find a situation in which the provider is willing to support you in any of your parenting efforts, including signing with your baby. Many child care educators know some sign, either because of personal interest or they've had a child with special needs in their care. Many centres, as well, know the benefits of signing with children in their care, e.g., more fun, intellectual benefits, less challenging behaviours, quieter classrooms, etc. To see a growing list of child care centres that are signing with their wee ones please click here.

In the three situations, that I've had my wee ones in care (two home providers and one child care centre), each care care provider was excited about adding sign to their curriculum. I let them borrow copies of signing board books I had, as well as a copy of the Pick Me Up CD & Guide (see our store). It actually amazed me that Sabrina, my youngest , could use signs that I hadn't taught her!

Q: "My son picked up the milk sign right away and used it appropriately. Since the last week of class, however, he has begun to use it more and more - while he is drinking, the minute he wakes up, while on the change table and generally about every 5 to 10 minutes. Most times he doesn't want the milk when he gets it anymore. What do I do?"

A: This is great that your wee one is signing "milk"! Congratulations! Don't worry children often use signs as you describe when they first start signing. They do it with verbal words as well. He's playing with the sign, testing it out and just enjoying it. It may also be that he's figured out a great new way to get your attention - and that's wonderful!

Often children who are beginning the sign use signs, especially the signs for "milk" and "more", may use them at first as if to say "I-WANT-SOMETHING", even if that something is just your attention.

Be patient and and continue to model the correct sign in the correct context. If you can give him milk when he signs "milk", give him some milk. If you can't give him milk, you can sign/say "NO MILK" and give him something he can have a label it with its sign, e.g., "Here's a BALL". That way you are acknowledging his sign, respond very appropriately and use the opportunity to model another sign.

Q: "Can you continue using signs after a baby is speaking?"

A: Yes, I would encourage it. American Sign Language is the fourth most used language in North America. ASL is the third most studied at colleges and universities in the US. Why not continue your child's exposure to it? I met an amazing 8 year old while on vacation in Mexico a few years ago (before babies). She was hearing, but she did have great difficulty speaking (apraxia of speech) and sign language was her main way of communicating. She was thrilled when she saw that I could sign with her and we had a great afternoon together. She was a fearless swimmer - we were snorkeling in 50 meter deep water! I remember thinking at the time, "Wow, when I have kids I want them to be able to play with children like this fantastic little girl should we ever get into a similar situation!".

As well, my almost 6 year old son, Joshua, is starting to learn to read and his ability to sign is really helping him develop literacy skills. Signing the alphabet has really helped him learn his letters. I'm amazed that he is able to read my fingerspelling and actually sounds out letters that I fingerspell! For more information on the use of American Sign Language and reading development see the following website: