Without question, this is the question we get asked the most at Little Signers Club. The answer is a definitive No! Signing with your baby, when done correctly, does not lead to speech delay. This popular misconception couldn't be further from the truth and the evidence clearly shows that signing babies have more words, more complex speech and sentence structure at an earlier age. This is why it is so important to make sure that the signing programme you use is focussed on communication development
Christina Schabow, speech and language pathologist from the US says;
‘Ultimately, signing will NOT cause your baby to have delayed speech. It WILL be one of the best things you do to help prepare your baby for talking!’
Isn't it tiring / time consuming to use baby signing?
It might feel that way at the beginning, as you are getting used to using your hands for more specific words – but gesture is a very normal part of communication regardless of age and signing is a more formal extension of that practice. As you start to use signing, you’ll be thinking about what you are going to say to your baby next and before long, using signing for key words will quickly become second nature.
Before you had your baby, it might have felt very odd to talk aloud to your little one all day, giving a running commentary of what you are doing - and if someone told you to practice doing that when you were pregnant, it would seem laborious or time consuming but now it comes naturally. (And can catch you out if the baby is not there and you announce to a meeting room of professionals that you’re popping for a wee!)
It’s the same with signing. Keep it fun and eventually it will come naturally to you and to your baby too.
Isn't signing just for people who are hard of hearing or can anyone use signing?
Absolutely anyone can use signing – from grandparents to babies!
Whilst you will more commonly associate the use of sign language with people who may be deaf or hard of hearing, signing is a fully inclusive activity and most people can benefit from using it. British Sign Langauge is the UK's fourth indigenous langauge with as many as 1 in 7 people using it already.
Lots of people, and especially children, are kinaesthetic learners which means that they use the action of their body to help them learn – they are “do-ers”. By using a sign and speech at the same time, this learning is facilitated and retained much more ably than just by speech alone. Older siblings love signing and will frequently use it with the baby in the family more than parents – they remember more signs too!
When should I start signing? Is my baby too young?
It’s recommended that you start signing with your baby from around 5 - 6 months as gross motor skills are starting to come under control, eye focus is better and a baby’s attention span is a little longer. However, you can start earlier if you wish, just remember to keep signing very limited to perhaps just a couple of signs that are relevant to your routines and your baby's needs at this stage. Please remember - all babies are completely unique and develop at their own pace!
Where can I learn how to sign with my baby? Should I go to classes?
We would always recommend that you go to classes with your baby if you can get to them. Good teachers will be able to show you the correct signs for your area - signing has dialects too! - and be able to discuss the benefits of signing for developing communication. Our guidelines for finding a great class are here.
However, we know that not everyone can get to classes and so resources such as this one, BabySign Online, have been developed with a range of free and paid for programmes so that you can get started with signing quickly and simply for yourself. It can be used as a support resource for any signing class that you may have attended too! We have included a great deal of information about using signing that you will find beneficial on your signing journey.
When will my baby start signing?
Some babies are ready for signing earlier than others – a good indication of whether your baby is ready to start signing is to see if they are clapping and waving. This means that their gross motor skills are starting to come under their control. The most responsive time for your baby to start using clear gestures and signs is between 9-14 months although some babies are much earlier.
You can help develop your baby’s gross motor skills by singing action songs such as Wind the Bobbin Up which your baby will love!
Our family uses more than one language – can we use signing?
Absolutely! In fact, signing for multi-lingual families is a huge help as it helps your baby, toddler or child to make the connections between the different words more easily. You simply use the same sign but vary the language in which you say the word – for instance you could sign ‘Milk’ and say ‘Milk’ or ‘Lait’ or ‘Milch’. Your local teacher will be able to give you guidance and advice on this subject.
Do you do the same as Mr Tumble?
Mr Tumble is Makaton based. Makaton is the combination of a sign, word and simple black and white outline picture and is predominantly used for children with special needs.
Little Signers Club uses British Sign Language, from which Makaton was derived. They share an 80% commonality but at the level we are using signing in classes there are just 3 signs that are different. If you are already using Makaton then there is no need to swap, carry on using and enjoying the signs that you and your baby already know.