Using Baby Sign Language

“More” by Lynn Kelley

I’ve been using sign language casually with Frances for a couple of months now. I chose a few verbs and nouns we use most, like sleepy and nap and I sign them several times a day. Frances is pushing seven months so I figure she should be ready to sign back, but she shows no interest what’s so ever!

I explain to her what the signs mean and how to make them, but she would rather squawk and babble than sign. Or so it seems. Maybe I’m going about it the wrong way. Maybe I’m choosing the wrong words. I’ve started “all done”, but haven’t shown her “more”. Perhaps she would be more interested if the verbs were more active than passive?

I was all geared up to read a book about baby signing, but apparently I’ve misplaced it. I looked in all my stacks of books, and have yet to find it. Maybe my “stacks” aren’t the best choice for being organized. Ah, well, I’d rather hear some real advice about the topic any way.

Do you use baby sign language with your infant? How did you introduce it? Are there any secrets that might encourage Frances to communicate with signs?


  1. I am actually a certified Sign Language Instructor, and teach infants sign language. I think you need to add words that SHE finds interesting. The most common first “sign”word for children is milk. It is tangible, they want it often, and it can be used for breast milk, milk in a bottle, and transition to cows milk later on.
    Animal signs are often a big hit as well. All the babies I teach love learning dog, cat, and bird.
    It is very difficult for a child of 7 months to understand abstract concepts like sleepy, but they can understand bed, for when it is time to sleep.
    Of course, you can always try to enroll in a fun Mommy and Me sign language class in your area!

  2. Thanks for the great advice! We have two dogs that she loves, so that would be a good sign to try. I’ve hesitated teaching her “milk”, because we don’t feed on demand. Like, “more”, I’m afraid she’ll just sign them over and over and I’ll have to keep telling her, “not now, you have to wait”.

  3. Maybe the Shooting Star has more information, but we’ve been signing to our baby since he was 6 months, and he didn’t start signing back until he was a year old. Even now, he’s got three or four that he’s got nailed, but others are still tenuous. From folks I know, 7 months is uncommon to get signs back. We were frustrated too, but all of our veteran parents told us that it takes patience and time.

  4. I highly recommend using ASL signs and not “baby” signs if you aren’t already (I couldn’t tell from your post). When she is old enough for TV, Signing Time is a great show! And for what it’s worth, my oldest was signed to for 6 months before she started signing!

  5. We started around 6 months and I was just about ready to give up, thinking that she just wasn’t getting it, but right around 9 months, she started signing. “More” was the first sign she produced and we also used “milk” “all done” “eat” “change” (as in, her diaper), and “play.” Within a few months, she started using words, so we got lazy with the signs and stopped introducing new ones.

  6. My oldest did not start signing until around 1, which I think is about the time frame given in the book. “Milk” and “more” were her the first two that she learned, and the most commonly used, like the first poster said. And she also loved animal signs! I was so happy that I bothered to do sign language with her because she was very slow to talk but we were able to communicate for many months before that. I have happy memories of her using her signs, it was really wonderful for us. I never bothered with my youngest daughter because she said her first word at 8 months and her speech took off like lightning from there.

  7. Joanne Minor Havran says

    I was like you, I taught my son several signs around 5-6 months and then was disappointed he never used them, so I kind of forgot the whole thing and stopped. Amazingly, around 12 months, when he started speaking a few words, he began using some of those signs. That taught me some things. First, what you say and do around a young baby matters a lot, they are picking up (and remembering, apparently) everything! And there must be a developmental window for language, spoken or signed. They do it when they are ready.

  8. Joanne Minor Havran says

    Oh, and he continued to use signs until he was well into using long spoken sentences. I remember taking him to a parade when he was three. There was a marching band and a float and then a long pause. He must have thought, well, that was fun. So, that’s what a parade is. When he saw that there was more coming, he was so overwhelmed by excitement he couldn’t muster the words, but furiously started signing “MORE!” It was the first time he had used the sign to describe and not just ask for more.

  9. I’m feeling much more encouraged after reading all the comments. I tried out “more” and “milk” today, and Frances was rapt. For the first time she seemed interested in watching me sign. Tomorrow I’ll try a few others she’d enjoy, like dog and book.

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