What is Baby Signing?

What is Baby Signing?

Baby signing is about good communication between you and your baby. It’s an excellent way to communicate “two-way“. From around 6 months old, babies can understand you and they are having plenty of thoughts of their own BUT they cannot tell you what those thoughts are and that is frustrating!

The good news is your baby is developing their hand co-ordination and can learn many signs to communicate their message to you. Signing bridges the ‘I know what I want but can’t say it yet’ gap. In short, it gives your child a temporary tool for the job until speech comes along and this is a great relief for a frustrated baby and frazzled parents!

The signs can easily be fitted in your normal routine. There is no need to set separate time aside to teach your child. They will pick up the signs as you sign and speak to them. Signing babies can lead conversations and introduce topics to ‘talk’ about. They can communicate and be satisfied before crying is even a possibility.

You get an early insight into their thoughts and because there is more interaction and understanding, the bond between you strengthens. As your child starts to speak more they will sign less, but the benefits of signing with your baby continue long after the baby years – signing babies have been shown to go on to speak earlier, have wider vocabularies and even higher IQ’s than non-signing babies in general.

Dexters Favourite Signs

fingerspelt ‘M’ and tap twice

fingerspelt ‘F’ taps together twice

flat hands are held crossed on the chest.

Full/had enough food
bent hand moves up to contact underside.

hands open and close in up and down squeezing movements.

Right flat hand taps back of left flat hand twice.

All Gone
Palm up flat hands move apart as shoulders shrug.

Bunched hand makes two short movements to the mouth.

Head tilts to rest on flat hand.

Palm down flat hand wafts up and down in front of the nose.

TalkFirst FAQ’s

Will signing with my baby delay their speech?
No, it’s the opposite! All words are spoken and signed at the same time. When words and signs are used together, the meaning of the word is reinforced so signs can actually speed up the rate at which babies develop good use of language. Signs can also be extremely useful in a multi-lingual environment as a common link to help understanding and communication.
How do I get started
Depending on the age of your baby, choose a few words most relevant to them at the time such as “eat”, “milk”, “more” and “bed”. Build up gradually at a pace to suit yourself, there’s no need to limit the number of signs used. Be consistent with the signs, regardless of how your baby signs them back to you but remember all babies are different. Some babies sign back to you sooner than others. Even if your baby does not sign back to you for a few weeks, they are taking it all in – so persevere! Repetition and patience are important. Remember to enjoy it – often signing whilst singing can be an enjoyable way of learning new signs. TalkFirst classes are an excellent way to meet other like minded parents and there’s plenty of time to swap your signing success stories.
What is the best age to introduce signs?
Babies need to be at least 6 months old to have enough “hand control” to sign to you. But the earlier you begin the better as it takes practice for you to sign and speak at the same time. Your baby will also need time to remember and recognise the signs. Even if your baby has started to say some words, they will still benefit from learning signs to swiftly increase their vocabulary.
How long will it take for my baby to produce signs

This varies between each individual baby and can depend on:

  • how often they are signed to
  • whether each carer signs to them
  • how interested they are
  • how old they are: the older the child the quicker the skills are learnt.

All babies free from developmental delays should be able to produce signs, so consistency and persistency are essential. The results could be seen in hours, days, weeks or months. Allowing the child time to respond is also important, as is gauging whether the child is simply copying your actions or actually understanding and responding properly. This recognition will increase with age.

Does it work?
There’s plenty of proof, both parental and scientific! Sue, TalkFirst’s very first signing mum has 3 young boys, she says “I have done lots of activities with my children but signing with them has been the most rewarding. It is a win-win situation. Seeing your 12 month old have a 2 way conversation with an adult makes you very proud.” There are many amazing stories which confirm the success of baby signing, and also a wide variety of scientific research to support what parents are finding.
I have heard of baby signing classes before. What make TalkFirst different?

There are 2 things that make us unique:

  1. TalkFirst has a step by step approach which helps you build up your signs and gain confidence. Each week a small number of signs are introduced around a central theme e.g. bath time. All the songs, rhymes and activities for that week reinforce the vocabulary so by the end of the session you are very comfortable in using the signs.
  2. We have fun with Dexter. Dexter is a large signing puppet – he is dextrous and can sign beautifully. He has been created especially for TalkFirst and he loves babies! Dexter has a range of products available which will help you sign at home.
Was TalkFirst baby signing developed for deaf babies?

People from all walks of life have found the benefits of baby signing, and at TalkFirst all the signs are used purely as tools for language development. This is because TalkFirst is not about deafness; it is about communication. All the songs and rhymes used at TalkFirst are well known and traditionally used, that is to say, TalkFirst is based very much in the hearing world. TalkFirst baby signing helps all babies:

  • talk sooner
  • lead conversation
  • feel less frustrated
  • build strong foundations for early literacy.
  • create self confidence
  • improve their intellectual development.
Is TalkFirst appropriate for my baby if she/he has Special Educational Needs?
That’s for you to decide. TalkFirst was developed for all babies to help improve early communication. Studies have shown that children with autism, aphasia or other special needs such as Down’s syndrome benefit from using signs. If you have any concerns about attending a class with your baby please contact us to let us know how we can help you.
Can we make up our own signs?
TalkFirst signs are based on British Sign Language which is also compatible with Makaton, however every child’s environment is different and not all the words you use everyday will be in TalkFirst’s vocabulary list! Sometimes it’s appropriate to make up signs for things that are unique to you. (But make sure other adults who interact with your child know the signs as it could cause more frustration than it solves!
What happens as my child gets older
As your child starts to speak more, they will sign less. They may only use signs if they are tired and can’t be bothered to speak or if they are trying to say a difficult word. Older children may still be interested to use signs, especially when combined with song and this is an excellent way of improving their coordination and vocabulary.
If you have a question that is not answered here, please contact us

Susan Broxton
East Lancashire & Calderdale

01706 878 781

07923 908 214


Julia Ansell
Hyndburn, Ribble Valley & Pendle

07960 945 024