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Language development

Using sign language with toddlers

How many parents currently have a toddler going through the “terrible two’s” and wonder is there something out there that could help?

Baby sign language could be the answer you are looking for. It’s also a great way for a child to begin their language development.

Many parents ask me “Is it too late to introduce baby sign language to my toddler?” and I always say definitely not.

A lot of the time parents of toddlers think that as their toddler is no longer a baby, that baby sign language is not an option for them as their child is too old.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Baby sign language has been found to benefit children of many different age groups.

When your child enters the toddler stage, they generally have quite a small vocabulary. The reason for this is that there are still some letters/words that they physically cannot get their tongue around. How many times have you seen your toddler trying to get their point across but they do not have all the words they need to do so?

Many of the “terrible two tantrums” are a result of when toddlers are unable to express themselves to their satisfaction.

Baby sign language when used with toddlers can help with these frustrating moments as it assists language development and offer your toddler a mode of communication that allows them to be understood.

So how do you begin to introduce my toddler to baby sign language?

The first step is to incorporate 5 signs into your toddlers’ daily routines. These five signs usually revolve around eating, drinking, sleeping and playing.

Be sure when introducing signs to your toddler, that you are incorporating signs that will be both practically useful to you and your child but also signs that are motivational for your toddler. Practical signs include eat, drink or sleep. Motivational signs may include teddy bear, book or play.

It is important that when you say the word that you also sign the word. Consistency is the key.

So what are the benefits of introducing baby sign language to your toddler? Dr Kimberlee Whaley conducted a study in November 1999 researching the use of ASL (American sign language) signs with babies and toddlers in the preschool environment. Dr Whaley said that “We’ve known for a long time that there is a lot of thought going on in young infants’ heads, but they don’t have the skills to use spoken language – however they do have the motor skills to use sign language.” This study as well as the work of Dr Marilyn Daniels highlights the benefits of introducing sign language to older children.

The benefits of introducing sign language to toddlers include the following:

  • Baby sign language helps to reduce frustration for toddlers, becomes the first and allows them to use signs where they are unable to express themselves verbally.
  • Baby sign language supports different modes of learning by using both hearing and sight to teach your toddler. Some people learn best through hearing while others are more visual learners. Baby sign language involves you the parents saying the word followed by providing a visual of the word through sign language.
  • Baby sign language provides an insight into what your toddler is interested in and their personality.
  • Baby sign language provides your toddler with a strong foundation for language development and vocabulary building. With the help of baby sign language, your toddler can engage in two-way conversations with their family and care givers.
  • Baby sign language can stimulate brain development in your toddler. Dr Daniels noted in her research how sign language uses both the left and right hemisphere of the brain in comparison to a spoken language that only uses the brain’s left hemisphere.
  • Baby sign language can enhance your toddlers’ confidence and self-esteem, as they are now able to express themselves through baby sign language.
  • When your toddler begins to develop a larger vocabulary and can then get his tongue around all words, he or she will typically start to sign less and less frequently.

It is up to you if you wish to encourage your toddler to sign or if you only use baby sign language communication tool while your toddler is not fully verbal.

Kick start your toddler’s language development with baby sign language and help reduce those frustrating moments for you both!

For more information see Social Development.

Article written by Jackie Durnin:
For more information visit the Australian Baby Hands website. Read articles and research on baby sign language as well as success stories from parents who have experienced the benefits of using baby sign.

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