A friend of mine posed the question, "how do you teach your child sign language?"  I looked back at past blog posts thinking, "surely I have blogged about this before since I'm a former deaf education major and a speech language pathologist who, in general terms, supports to use of sign language with young children."  I was shocked to find that the only blog post was from August 26 and was about a sign language app!  How did I forget to blog about this?  Here is a short "tutorial" on how to teach sign language to your children who are pre-talkers or fall in the early language category.

I always think that it is easiest to start signing at snack time.  Whatever time you choose, you want to make sure that there is a reward that the child will want to use signs in order to receive, you are not stressed or busy, and there are minimal distractions.  For me, snack time fills those requirements.  We are usually in the kitchen without a lot of noise or toys, Timothy loves snacks, and it's usually at a time when we are not busy and I'm devoted to him.  The other benefit of snack time is that the "reward" of the snack naturally disappears when your child eats it, which means he/she must sign again to get more of the reward!

  1. Show your child the snack and say, "Ok, Tommy, we're going to have goldfish for snack time today".  Make sure that it's a snack your child particularly enjoys.
  2. Show your child the sign for "eat/food" (same sign) while saying, "Do you want to EAT your snack?"  Show the sign again and then hand him/her a cracker.
  3. The next time you are showing your child the sign and say, "do you want some more snack?", then also use hand-over-hand technique to make your child do the sign.  Then immediately hand them a cracker.
  4. You will probably have to use hand-over-hand technique for a few days, but eventually you will want to fade the hand-over-hand and wait for your child to attempt the sign.

Now, you may ask why I've started with "eat" and not "more".  This is where I will get on my soap box. PLEASE DON'T TEACH YOUR CHILD MORE FIRST!  You can teach them more, but make sure to pair it with another word.  Let's say that your child was playing ball with you.  You had little Mikey signing "more" to get the ball again.  Then it was snack time and so you gave him some fish crackers.  Again, you worked on "more" to get more fish crackers.  Now it's after nap.  Mikey wakes up and signs "more."  What does he want more of?  You have no idea!  However, he has been taught that "more" means he gets what he wants.  Instead, pair "more" with the thing you are doing.  "more ball" = play with the ball; "more food/eat" = more snack; "more drink" = more to drink, "more music" = wants to listen to music. Now, unless your child deaf/hard of hearing and you have chosen manual communication (sign language), you probably aren't going to teach your child every sign.  Therefore, you don't have to teach him/her every food sign, "food" will do.  It's something to think about.  

If you need some help on learning the signs that you want to teach, then click here for a great FREE video sign language dictionary.

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