Whenever possible, it’s nice to get the entire family around a dinner table – or even in the same room. Bringing the whole clan together for an activity makes for the best kind of crazy fun! Whether it is a family movie night, game night, craft or cooking, I’ve found we always learn something. We learn who has the green thumb and who is best at tossing the popcorn into their mouth just to name a couple, but other times we choose family activities that are lessons in themselves. Learning and teaching baby sign language was a family affair for us too. Here we share three fun ideas for how to teach baby sign language.
First, I thought I’d cover a few basics about baby sign language in case you have no idea what I am talking about!
Why Teach Babies Sign Language?
Not only does including sign language in early childhood curriculum give pre-verbal youngsters a way to communicate, it can also strengthen the parent-child bond – in addition to giving children a solid foundation for learning a skill that will serve them well in the future. The evidence suggests that the best time to start learning ASL is before a child can even walk – and the implications for facilitating the parent-child relationship are amazing.
The ability to sign has also helped parents in communicating with autistic children; one parent reports that “using sign language allowed her to communicate with her [autistic] son and minimized his frustration…[he now] has an advanced vocabulary and excels in math, spelling and music” (Glarion, 2003).
When To Start Baby Sign Language
A great deal of research has clearly demonstrated that the early years – ages 2 to five – are the best time to educate children in different modes of communication and language. This goes beyond the spoken word (though it is an optimal time for children to learn a second language); many young children have an aptitude for signing as well.
Ideas For Teaching Baby Sign Language
We invented tons of twists on teaching sign language for babies through fun activities. We’ve done it all, from flash card games to signing story times and elaborate plays. Who said baby sign language was just for baby?! If you are looking for a fun new way to bring the whole family together, here are a few activities for teaching baby sign language to get you started.
Baby Sign Language Bee – Similar to a spelling bee, but you’d sign rather than spell the word. If you also want to work on a child’s spelling then you can always ask them to do the sign for the word and then finger spell it, too. And don’t forget to let the kid’s quiz the parents! That
keeps it a family activity instead of feeling like a study session.
Family Flashcards – We have tons of copies of Baby Sign Language BSL flashcards floating through the house, but it can be a fun craft activity to make your own, too. We have a family set of flashcards with our pictures and hands making the signs. We add a few to this set each year and it has become a sort of scrapbook. I imagine that one day I will have to frame my favorites. It is so precious to see how the signs have grown up right along with the kids. From my baby girl signing “more” in her highchair, to her toddler picture signing “cat” with a furry tail nearby, and all the way up to my now teenage girl signing ”shoes” while she stands amongst her ever-growing collection.
Super Fast Silly Signing (ok, so a child might have helped name this one) – First, we all contribute categories of signs into a hat. For example, fruits, vegetables, sky, playground, etc. A category is pulled at random from the hat, and then the players (or teams) try to come up with the most signs within a given time frame. We might sign stars, clouds, rain, sun and much more in just 10 seconds with the sky category. Keep a list of the words you can sign, and if your list is longest then you’ll need to prove to the family that you can do all those signs and you win the category! For families of four or more, it is fun to divide into teams.
While I certainly treasure the table talk, some of the most hysterical and memorable family bonding times have taken place around the coffee table as opposed to the dining table. We started baby sign language as a way to bond with our children, and then it because a way for our children to bond with each other. And even now, it proves to be our own sort of secret family communication code. Now that you have a few ideas to get you started, I think you – and the kiddos – will quickly find there are all kinds of ways to integrate signing into your family activities.