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SIGNING WITH YOUR BABY - It's as Easy as Waving Bye-Bye

Elizabeth Sprague is a wife and mother of three boys in Oregon. She taught all of her boys to use infant sign language and continues to share her knowledge with other parents, babies and early childhood educators by teaching classes in her community. You can view her website at And her blog at

If we did everything the way all the “experts” told us to, reading to our baby for exactly 30 minutes every day, studying flash cards or practicing shapes for 30 minutes and spending half the day speaking just Spanish, while training them to sleep….blah, blah, blah, we could go a little crazy. It’s just not humanly possible to do it all and quite frankly it sounds like a boring life. Babies learn so much more by participating in activities they enjoy with you. I Love how easy incorporating baby sign language into your daily routine is. There are endless ways to teach just going about your usual day-to-day activities.

You have baby in the highchair and a spoon shaped airplane ready to land. Simply make the sign for eat as you say; “Do you want to EAT?” “Would you like more to EAT?” Each time the airplane re-loads say “Would you like MORE to EAT?” and practice both signs. Teaching a baby anything takes consistency and repetition, but it doesn’t have to take time out of your already busy day.

Babies sign naturally; reaching and pointing, nodding their head or sniffing to smell a flower. By teaching them baby sign language you are simply expanding their vocabulary and opening up a door for some amazing opportunities to share and learn.

Parents teach their babies to wave “bye-bye” almost instinctively. Grandma is leaving and we pick up baby’s hand waving it at Grandma saying; “say bye-bye! Tell Grandma bye-bye!” Well you are teaching your baby a sign right there, you’re an expert and didn’t even know it  It really is that easy. You don’t need to spend a certain amount of time each day sitting down to just practice sign language, that’s not any fun for you or your baby. Just talk to your baby, show them things, ask them things, and sign the words you are trying to teach. Take baby’s hand and help them to make the sign.

But what signs do I teach? Well it’s up to you and your baby. What parts of your daily routine are important and special to you? Mealtime is a common and important time in every baby’s day so mealtime signs are a good starting point. If you enjoy daily trips to the park or bath time is a favorite, pick signs that you can use in those situations.

Joshua’s favorite sign for a long time was “duck.” We have a lot of ducks at the park we go to. He would always pass up the playground for a chance to watch the ducks on the water. I loved that he could tell me about his favorite things to see at the park so I didn’t just try to keep him on the playground where you’d think they would be thrilled to play. Child-led play at it’s best.

  Start with one or two signs until your baby signs back. Chances are that once they do (usually between 9-12 months) you will be so excited that you want to start teaching them more and more. They pick them up quickly and are equally as excited to be able to talk to you, as you are to “listen” to them. I can’t wait for you to see that little face beaming with pride when they realize you understand what they are telling you. It’s an amazing moment.

So go on and take your child to the Zoo, show them the signs for the different animals and find out their favorite animal when they sign it all the way home.



Please share your adventures with signing below.  We'd love to hear from you.

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User Comments:
Kim said:
When I was 11 I taught my baby sister 4 or 5 signs because it was fun. She was fun! When I was 19 I taught my 6 month old sister around 20 signs because she was extremely high maintenance and my mom was "too tired" to teach it to her. I remember her calling me while in college thanking me over and over and over for teaching my sister the signs, as it made her day SO much easier. My own daughter is 9.5 mo old now and the months of us signing to her have finally paid off. She too is a very high maintenance baby (read:LOTS OF WHINING AND SCREAMING) and she is much more content and happy now that she can communicate! Granted, it's only 5 signs now, but they are the important ones! (more, nurse, drink, all done, yea) She's picking up on some others too (cherrio, hungry, book, bye-bye). Plus it's SO much fun to show off to friends/family/strangers!!
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