I grew up using sign language. My mom studied sign language in college in hopes to work with deaf children upon graduation. So once she had kids, we had sign language introduced to us. Naturally when I got pregnant the question on her mind was if I going to use sign language with my children too? I had always intended to use it, but as with most ‘good intentions’ it wasn’t fulfilled. As my son grew and started to talk we noticed he started to show signs of a delay. Finally at 2 years old he was diagnosed with an official speech delay and we’ve now started using sign language with him. At two, he’s doing a wonderful job picking it up, but part of me wishes I would have started this earlier. My daughter however, by default, will be introduced at a very young age.
If you plan to start sign language with your children any time is a good time, my son leads by example. I know friends who have started as young as birth. The signs won’t often be repeated until children have better fine motor skills, but six to nine months is a good average to expect the first sign. I have seen a drastic change in my son since starting sign language. He is less frustrated and even with his speech delay is more willing to say words because he has his sign language to back it up.
We love our Baby Singing Time DVDs. Our DVDs were given to us on loan from my son’s speech therapist however you can purchase them on your own. They are a bit on the pricey side, but for us, helping with a speech delay they are essential! If you just want to teach your baby sign language on your own and can’t justify the price of the DVDs then I suggest using sites like youtube to look up how to sign the word and then institute it on your own. Google is a great resource when wanting to start sign language in order to figure out signs. Books from the library can also be a great help (we have one of my mom’s old text books!). We try to only introduce one or two new signs at a time. Rule of thumb is to start with favorites, or most commonly used items (milk, cup, eat, more), just as you would with words. Start with introducing words that correlate to the appropriate age vocabulary. Linked here is a chart with some basic signs for toddlers http://www.babysignlanguage.com/chart/
When starting to use sign language repetition is best. Just keep using it in your daily language and your children will quickly pick it up. A lot of my son’s words were taught to him; however there have been one of two that he has picked up by just watching me sign them. He still surprises me when he picks up a new sign/word. Often times I think parents are fearful they won’t get results and are worried that if they don’t use sign language 24/7 it won’t be effective. This folks is not correct. We don’t use sign language 24/7 with my son and he has done very well picking it up. It is a little extra work/discipline to remember to use the signs and not only that but to praise/reward when signs are used. I however, feel the extra bit of effort is absolutely worth it. My son has come so far with his language all thanks to sign language!