Encouraging Baby Signing
Effective use of sign language can start with infants as young as age six to eight months but can start later as well. Repetition and consistency are best achieved if all parties spending time with the child are on board including mother, father, siblings, babysitters, and caregivers. All should be shown the signs being used so they too can understand baby's needs and reinforce the signs by using them. The more people who use signs with the baby, the faster the baby will catch on. After days or weeks of hard work the real pay-off will come when your little one uses a sign for the first time. This is so thrilling! It may seem like a long haul waiting for this momentous occasion, but it will be worth the effort.
Once one sign is mastered, the child will realize his new-found power and be open to new signs. It clicks with him that if he makes a special motion with his hands, he gets his point across—wow! For years, children have enjoyed combining the spoken word and hand movements as evidence by the songs we sing to them such as "The Wheels on the Bus" and "Itsy-Bitsy Spider."
Use of that first sign and more to come will be relatively reliable, with some variation when the baby is overtired. My son mastered the sign for milk first, and would make it to cover milk or juice consistently unless he was very tired. At those times he would make the sign for milk and then refuse a drink and get upset. This inspired me to teach him the sign for sleep, empowering him to communicate more precisely.
A friend's child who had mastered a half a dozen signs tended to use them a bit randomly when overtired (and consequently, a little confused), but mainly used signs precisely and with conviction at all other times. As signing can get difficult when our babies are tired, it can get monotonous when parents are tired as well. If teaching baby on your own becomes tiresome for you, try attending a class.
Seeking the Support of Other Parents
To help stay motivated to sign with your child even when you are tired or impatient (especially when signing to an infant who has not yet signed back), attending a class is a great option. The other caregivers in the class who are also signing will share their success stories to keep you motivated. The support parents provide each other during class may even carry over outside of class and spawn playgroups and friendship, too.
Some classes will involve weekly themes that are important to baby's routine such as foods, playtime, animals, outdoors, families, and so on. Some sessions can be much more than a sign language class by including signing, singing, and fun activities.
Class duration can be as short as six weeks and provide enough information to get you off and running. Usually the cost is modest comparable to other mom and child classes. Not all classes being taught are using ASL, so if this is important to you, inquire with the instructor before committing your money and time.
Sign language classes for hearing babies are being offered at more and more places around the country.