Learning Toddler Sign Language With Your Child: Everything You Want To Know And How To Get Started

You may have heard about toddler sign language, but you might have some questions about what it is, how it can benefit your little one, and how to get started. We have a brief guide to toddler sign language to answer some of these questions.


toddler sign language


What Is Toddler Sign Language?


Toddler sign language is using sign language to help your little one communicate. If you think about when you’re talking to someone, you probably use gestures and hand movements as you speak. Your little ones pick up on these gestures. You’ll notice that they will learn to wave ‘bye-bye’ or will raise their arms when they want to be picked up or held.

Toddler sign language takes this a step further and gives them the ability to communicate with basic sign language. It helps you to meet your little one’s needs as they can communicate what they want.

Child development expert, Dr Joseph Garcia, found that hearing babies with deaf parents managed to pick up the sign language their parents used to communicate. They would also use the signs to communicate with their parents. Dr Garcia observed that these babies seemed to be less demanding, and he surmised that this was because they were better able to express their needs than non-signing babies and toddlers.


Does Toddler Sign Language Affect A Child’s Ability To Talk?


One of the questions many parents have about toddler sign language is if it will slow or negatively affect your little one’s normal speech development. However, studies have shown that toddler signing can encourage speech development and increase your little one’s vocabulary.

Toddler signing isn’t about replacing spoken language. It’s about enhancing it and helping develop your little one’s understanding. Signing is used alongside spoken words, so your little one links the gesture to the word.

Children will normally pick up on gestures anyway as part of communication, which makes it quite easy for them to learn signing. Sign language can even give you and your little one the chance to have more of a two-sided conversation.

When you’re signing with your little one, make sure that they are looking at you and concentrating. Try to speak the words you’re using clearly, and make your sentences with short, simple words.


How To Get Started With Toddler Sign Language


Essentially you could start signing to your little one as soon as they are born. However, most children start to try to communicate between the ages of nine months and eighteen months. It’s a good idea to start signing during this time.

You could just learn toddler sign language at home, without any special courses, but many parents find that going to classes is a way to socialise and find support. This can be especially important for parents of deaf babies.

There are a few different signing systems for toddler sign language. Makaton or Signalong are both simple and easy signing systems. However, British Sign Language (BSL) is also an option. BSL would be recommended if your child has from hearing loss or deafness as it is a key signing system.


How To Use Signs With Your Little One


When you’re starting to use toddler sign language make sure that you stay at your little one’s pace. Keep it fun and try to begin with things your little one is interested in, such as signing ‘more’ when you’re giving them more food.

As you speak the word, show your little one the corresponding sign. Repetition will be key so your child can see and hear the connection. Your little one may try to copy your signs immediately, or it may take them a few days or weeks. Keep repeating the signs, they will eventually make the connection.

In addition to practising signing at home, you might want to consider attending toddler sign language classes.


Other Resources


  • Sign2Meis Dr Joseph Garcia’s website. Dr Garcia is the child development expert who studied sign language in babies and toddlers.
  • BabySignLanguage has an online resources teaching you all you need to sign with your baby.
  • Sing and Sign runs baby signing classes across the UK.
  • The British Sign Language website uses moving pictures to show the basic signs for British Sign Language.
  • Makaton is a language programme using signs and symbols to help people communicate.
  • Signalong is a sign-supporting system based on British Sign Language. It’s designed to help children with communication difficulties or learning disabilities, autism and other special needs.