Did you know that babies are born communicators? Shortly after birth if you stick your tongue out to your newborn, they will in turn stick their tongue out. When I instructed my husband to do this with my daughter as he held her for the first time after getting some oxygen post delivery he exclaimed "SHE STUCK HER TONGUE OUT AT ME! You have to sign MILK to her!" I loved it that we started off communicating from birth, letting my baby know that we would take the time to understand her. It's an amazing bonding experience that grows with you as you expand your signing vocabulary and go through the various baby and toddler stages. We talk to our babies from birth, and the Deaf sign to their babies from birth. If we know that humans, by design, want to communicate why not give them the opportunity to do so earlier?
The number one question I get from parents is this "when do I start signing with my baby?" And the answer is always the same. Now. The earlier you begin the more confident and more vocabulary YOU will have to be able to demonstrate the signs and be your baby's first teacher. An added benefit to signing early is the extra eye contact that newborns give us before they get mobile, so take advantage of this. Also, it ends up becoming part of your parenting paradigm, pausing to really understand your child, taking the time to figure out what they are telling you.... when you start signing early.
I encourage parents to start with signs for nouns, items your baby shows explicit delight in such as fan, light, dog, rattle, music, keys.... these are some of the most common items that babies have a natural curiosity for. Like with learning anything new, when it comes to sign language, parents will stay committed if they learn with a group in a structured environment. Baby sign language classes give parents the opportunity to ask questions and share stories which inspires them to keep practicing. Plus, it's good for both you and the baby to get out and socialize with other new moms and babies. Make new friends, learn a new language, get hip cuz baby sign language is more than just a trend, baby.
Joann Woolley is owner and instructor of Sign4Baby in San Diego teaching parents how to communicate with their preverbal baby using American Sign Language. With her in depth knowledge of ASL as her first language she takes you beyond just the basics in signing, also filling your parenting tool belt with parenting tips and tricks coupled with signing as a great boundary teaching tool for toddlers. Want to know which signs most parents start with but get them stuck in the mud? Find out here.