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Baby Sign Language: A Sign of the Times?


By Dr Lin Day, founder of Baby Sensory  

Signing is an intriguing and remarkable tool for the development of language. Parents automatically make eye contact, speak slowly and allow the baby time to respond, which promotes excellent interaction. Parents are usually very good at making sense of their baby’s rudimentary hand gestures and actions, which sets the stage for more verbal interactions later on. Signing also allows parents to communicate more effectively with the baby and the baby experiences less frustration when expressing needs and wants.

Pointing, waving and clapping are special forms of social communication, which enable the baby to convey a specific desire. For example, babies only point when someone is around to pick up an object and hand it to them. They never point when they are alone. Waving and clapping are also social signals, which indicate that certain levels of understanding have been achieved.

 Taking the guesswork out of parenting

Babies are born with an inherent body language that is common to all cultures. Long before the emergence of speech, babies spontaneously communicate with their parents using gestures and sounds to stimulate their loving attention. Smiling for example, is the first friendly sign that keeps the mother close and attentive. In later life, it acts in a hundred different ways to signal amicable feelings towards people. It is without doubt, the most important social signal in the human repertoire of gestures and signs.

Many parents experience intense frustration in understanding their baby’s signals. Even though common sense goes some way in helping them understand their baby’s needs or wants, in practice, they have to respond to a dozen or more cues and come up with the right solution. Sign language is one way of taking the guesswork out of parenting.


Interestingly, some people question whether engaging in baby signing is a good thing because some experts believe it can stop babies from talking earlier. However, a controlled study in 2013 in Hertfordshire, England used scientific methods to determine the effects of baby signing on language development. Researchers found that signing improved the motivation of parents to talk and interact with their babies. No scientific studies have shown that baby signing causes a delay in language development.  Most research shows signing to be a fun, interactive, and responsive activity.

Parents that sign to their babies are more likely to tune into their needs, which increases parental confidence, pleasure, and responsiveness.  Likewise, signing empowers babies to communicate what they can’t say to get their basic needs met. Signing facilitates understanding between the parent and the baby and enhances the special and intimate relationship between them. All these things make signing a very worthwhile activity.

Baby signing has also come a long way in the last 10 years. The rise of social media, children’s TV, DVDs, books, signing rhymes, mobile signing apps, baby sign classes and other products, have made signing more accessible to parents, caregivers, and family members. 

Babies communicate with their hands, body movements, and facial expressions from birth. Online courses, books, and baby sign classes can help parents understand what these signals mean and encourage them to reciprocate with signs, sounds, and facial expressions long before the emergence of speech.

Any activity that encourages two-way communication, learning, and bonding is very worthwhile. We also know that baby signing encourages parents to talk more to their babies, which encourages the development of speech and language.  No doubt, future breakthroughs in neuroscience and technology will lead to even more exciting discoveries about baby signing and its benefits for the future.

Pictures by: Baby Sensory Play & Sign App

Some of the known benefits of baby signing include:

  • Development of speech and language.
  • Enhanced eye contact, facial expressions and body movements.
  • Increased social and behavioural skills.
  • Less frustration in expressing basic needs and wants.
  • A calmer and more contented baby.
  • Enriched parent-baby bonding.
  • Visual and muscular coordination.
  • Development of a second language.
  • Increased interest in books and the world around them.

Additional information:

Baby Sensory, Toddler Sense and Baby Sensory Foundations founder, Dr  Lin Day (PhD., M. Phil., PGCE., FETC., BSc., Dip Ed.) is one of the UK’s leading parenting experts. We’re proud to say that Baby Sensory is backed by over 35 years of research in childhood learning and development. That’s why we always explain what we’re doing so you can make your baby’s first year a truly precious time of learning and sensory exploration.

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About The Author

Smalltalk Magazine

Since 2005 Smalltalk Magazine is a printed A4 information magazine aimed at parents, distributed throughout the Yorkshire region. Printed 6 times a year it is distributed free to over 300 parent-friendly locations in the area. Full of useful and informative articles about family life.