Previous   Next

Do you think it’s practical to teach babies sign language?

Asked at Hastings, 1900 W. 23rd St. on June 3, 2005

Browse the archives

Photo of Liz Cloutman

“I don’t know how practical it would be, but it might be another way to teach them to communicate.”

Photo of Chris Raine

“Sure. Babies can learn lots of things very quickly. Why not sign language?”

Photo of Traci Dudley

“Yes I do, because they can’t communicate verbally yet, but they can express themselves with their hands.”

Photo of Bryan Anderson

“I’ve heard scientists say that babies can understand sign language before verbal language. So I think it would be practical.”

Related story


enochville 12 years, 11 months ago

I think as soon as they have the ability to control the movement of their hands and fingers then sure, it is appropriate to teach them to sign. But, as with any language, it is important that they be able to use it often or it will be forgotten.

neopolss 12 years, 11 months ago

Babies can and do learn sign language very easily. It often allows a child to begin communication much earlier in the child's life, even before the ability to form words. A baby can often begin signing at 5-6 months, and it can reduce a great amount of tension in new parents who don't know what their baby wants.

You're not teaching them the entire language, only the signs that are common, such as mom, dad, milk, more, tired, toy, cookie, etc. It does work and it adds a new excitement - your baby's first sign.

GreenEyedBlues 12 years, 11 months ago

WTF kind of question is this?

Sure babies can learn ASL, but do they have the dactile skills necessary to demonstrate proper sign language "diction"? Maybe I haven't been around babies too much, but those chubby little paws seem to serve only three functions: grab, point, and sling food.

I thought it was the coolest thing when I saw a kindergarten teacher reviewing the alphabet, including not only sounds and letter recognition, but sign language gestures as well.

tell_it_like_it_is 12 years, 11 months ago

Off subject here..but I think we need to start building a boat or something!

Surhoff 12 years, 11 months ago

Yes, I think it is practical. It is the early years that you learn the most. Anyway when they learn to speak does that make them bilingual?

Topside 12 years, 11 months ago

I have a 23 mo. old and babies have enough on their plate already trying to walk, talk, perform simple motor functions such as drinking out of a cup. However, once an infant starts talking I think it would be more practical to start teaching them Spanish. That seems to be where things are headed.

PS- If you have an infant or are planning to start a family call your local school district and sign up for the "Parents as Teachers" program. It is awesome and its FREE. It really helps you to work with your child on things like shape recognition, colors, etc...

Brian Sandefur 12 years, 11 months ago

We taught sign language to our now 3 1/2 year old daughter, and it was fantastic. She was about 8 months old and picked it up very quickly, and consistently used it. We taught her basics - please, thank you, more, drink, food, all done. It eliminated frustration on both ends, because it allowed meaninful communication before verbal speech, whose development was unhindered by her knowledge of a few signs. I recommend it highly.

gccs14r 12 years, 11 months ago

Studies have shown that the time to learn language is before one turns ten. Polylingual children are common everywhere except here. We do our children a disservice by not only not requiring foreign language instruction, but also by waiting until they're 14 to offer it. What's easy and fun for toddlers and young children turns into a chore for adolescents (and adults).

Up in Alaska they've been experimenting with teaching Russian to kindergarteners. The program has been a success, so they're planning to expand it.

simple_simon 12 years, 11 months ago

Teaching babies sign language......Now that's interesting!

Projectile vomit..........Now that's gross!

raven 12 years, 11 months ago

I think if parents want to teach their children sign lang. or a few signs to help communication it is pratical.

On the boat idea, I agree. I drove in this to Topeka this morning and no one got over about 30 mph on I-70. You just couldn't what was in front of you. If anyone is going to be driving today, be careful.

Shelby 12 years, 11 months ago

This question sucks. Here's a better one: are chocolate chip muffins breakfast...or dessert?

kshaff03 12 years, 11 months ago

Hmmmm, babies learn how to talk, then how to scream. Picture your child giving you the bird from a high chair.

raven 12 years, 11 months ago

Hugs: Yes I experienced that too this morning. However, I just stayed in the right lane and went the speed I was comfortable with. At some points on my drive I could not even see the car in front of me the rain was coming down so heavy. It seems to have stopped (be stopping) here in Topeka. I hope it clears up in Lawrence soon too.

enochville 12 years, 11 months ago

Mister_Joe: clicking on a posters name works for me. I can see all their previous posts.

Carmenilla 12 years, 11 months ago

My good friend's daughter goes to a daycare where they teach sign language to all the infants and babies. It works!!! She is able to tell mama when she wants milk or a snack. She also gets less frustrated when trying to communicate. There is a lot less crying and confusion now that signing is used. If you read the article (did anybody actually do that?) you will see that they ARE NOT trying to teach them the whole spectrum of signing. Also, the front page pic (from the article) of the mom with her baby is hilarious. It looks like she is giving the rock-and-roll "devil horns"....Owwwwww!

Brian Sandefur 12 years, 11 months ago

Although I'm not a Republican, I normally vote that way, and as mentioned above, I see great value in teaching babies sign language, among other things. I suppose your covered because you did say "typically", but I still think you're wrong.

jasonballenger 12 years, 11 months ago

My cousin actually is teaching parents/infants this in California. Please visit her site for more information.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 11 months ago

My eldest, (almost 11) didn't talk until well after she was 2. My Dr. was a bit freaked out but I said that I wasn't as she understood complex directions and would complete the tasks. As I suspected, when she did start to speak, she used a large vocabulary and hasn't stopped talking since. Maybe signing would have made those first two years a bit easier. I don't think it would have postponed her verbal skills since she was way behind to begin with. (Could be that she didn't have to speak as I did all that for her.) I'm for more communicating in whatever form is easiest for the child. They will speak when they are good and ready. (Of course, I'm talking about children that are assumed to have no learning disabilities) That's a whole 'nother ball game.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 11 months ago

Let me just add one more thing about practicality:

It is only practical if everyone involved in raising the child is on the same page. (Look at how well we, as Americans, have adopted the "metric system"...not that we havn't been taught.) If you can't stay home and have to have your child in daycare, I think it would only add to the confusion of the child if he/she is being taught one thing at home and another at daycare.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 11 months ago

Off to the right, I din't understand your post, please explain.

Shelby, both!

sunflower_sue 12 years, 11 months ago

Off to the Right...nevermind, I read the very distressing article and now I understand. Now I'm just going to have to find out where this place is located as he'll apparently be my neighbor! Oh, joy! Time to start the neighborhood watch program. (I thought dumping unwanted pets out here was bad enough)

kansas 12 years, 11 months ago

Sunflower Sue.......Dumping unwanted pets??!! What are you talking about??!!

I never heard about that one! Do tell!

Richard Heckler 12 years, 11 months ago


Sam Brownback, Jim Ryun, State Sen. Roger Pine if you live in these districts. These folks are supporters NCLB which does little to support the arts or linguistics at the high school level. The greater majority of Kansas republicans are falling in line like good soldiers instead of thinking for themselves...very disappointing.

stella 12 years, 11 months ago

I believe that it's a Wonderful thing to teach babies, sign language. It will help them communicate better later down in life. Studies have shown that babies who know sign language speak earlier then non-signers. My fiancee and I are learning sign language and use it a lot when we are together. We can not wait to teach our children.

raven 12 years, 11 months ago

Stella: Where do you guys take the sign language classes? I have thought about learning but did not know where to begin. I don't have children I just wanted to learn for myself.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 11 months ago

Kansas, I can't tell if you're being sarcastic. Since you said "do tell", I'm going to assume that you are not.

Yes, we've gotten a few pets because "I'm too poor, dumb, or lazy" can't control the breeding habits of their pets and think that a viable solution to all those unwanted babies is to load them up in the car, drive to the country, and let them "live free". HA!

Let me tell those who have ever done this exactly what happens to all those cute little puppies and kittens: They get eaten by larger predators; they get used as target practice; they starve to death; they get smashed by cars; they get animal control to pick them up; or (on a VERY RARE occasion) they get taken in by a nice family.

We actually have the very best dog in the world...a golden retriever mix that someone dumped as a puppy. All I can say to the FOOL that dumped this animal is: "You have NO idea what a wonderful animal you gave up, and you didn't deserve him, anyway!" (This might be the only time you will hear me thanking someone for being an idiot.)

More often than not, we get pit bull breeds that just show up and when animal control can't get them, they are shot. I'm not picking on a breed here, just stating the facts as I know them to be in my neck of the woods.

kansas 12 years, 11 months ago

SS, I'm sorry if (somehow) I gave you the impression that I was being "sarcastic". I really did want to know the story, and I'm glad that you shared it with me.

Thank you.

Fangorn 12 years, 11 months ago

mister_joe: I remember what you're talking about. I recall wondering what kind of information would be disclosed and if a certain amount or type of information would be required to keep posting. I think you're correct that they must have abandoned the idea.

i_tching: There is a lot of wasted academic time spent on questionable subjects that we Republicans would like to see reallocated in a more useful manner. Music, Latin, and sign language would actually get more instruction time if it were up to me. (Chess isn't really suitable for a class per se, but I would encourage extracurricular clubs since it teaches logic, strategy, etc.) Let me know who these Latin-opposing, music-hating Republicans are so I can vote against them in the primaries.

I have spoken with many parents whose children have learned basic sign language. Without exception, they are all happy with the results. For most children, the motor skills necessary for sign language develop before their fine control of the articulators necessary for clear speech. Many a child, knowing what she wants but frustrated by an inability to verbalize it, has been aided by learning sign language.

Ceallach 12 years, 11 months ago

I think signing for infants and toddlers is a wonderful idea. I watched a young mother and her toddler signing as she read a brightly illustrated children's sign language book. Very few things are as frustrating to a parent as the inability to understand what a child wants/needs before they learn to speak.

sunflower_sue: Your eldest daughter appears to be much like my middle child. She did not talk until around 2 years either. When she did it was in phrases and sentences. I always thought it was due to an older sister anticipating and doing her every wish.

ms_canada 12 years, 11 months ago

from my limited experience with sign language, I think it is quite easy to learn and most useful. Now don't laugh about this, people, but I taught my cat a bit of sign lang. As I spoke to her all through her life I would sign (which I made up) and this became very useful when she became old (20yrs) and stone deaf. Animals can learn sign lang. Especially gorillas. Funny story involving sign lang. When I worked in the psychiatric hosp. one of our lady residents was deaf, mute and blind. We used sign lang. BUT this lady was very scared of men. So when we approached her to speak to her, we had to take her hand and put it on our breast to reassure her that we weren't men. :) :) true, I swear.

kansas 12 years, 11 months ago

SS, do you work for an animal shelter? If so, is it true that pit bulls get put down rather quickly at certain animal shelters (as opposed to being made available for adoption) because of their "reputation" of being aggressive/fight-prone dogs??!! I would hope not!

I'm just curious. Thanks!

Richard Heckler 12 years, 11 months ago

Let's face it. Babies and young children are smarter than we've been led to believe. IMO opinion they began learning in the tummy. When birth occurs comprehension is further promoted. Infants cry,smile or sleep to communicate however signing will allow them the privilege of expanded communication...I say we're on to something. While this is has been going on for awhile it's productive that more folks are realizing that young bodies can achieve much more. Italian families teach their children two langauges simultaneously.

Young minds love to learn I believe because it's more fun than boredom. Homeschooling has led me to this conclusion.

Our niece who recently turned one has been using some sign language...

Kelly 12 years, 11 months ago

Have you seen the movie, "Meet the Fockers?" The baby actors in that movie sign throughout the film! The special features on the DVD are very interesting

Fangorn 12 years, 11 months ago

i_tching: First let me disclose a considerable personal bias. I participated heavily in fine arts all throughout my schooling, especially music (band, jazz band, select choir, show choir, barbershop). My sports activity was limited in scope and timeframe. So yes, I would vote to retain the orchestra over the football team. I feel a great degree of certainty that local businesses would fall over themselves raising cash to sustain the championship football team. If it means that much, they could even raise ticket prices to the point that the football program is self-sustaining or at least nearly so.

I believe the gutting of curricula stems less from budgetary shortfall than from particular agendas within the public school system. When we abandon the foundational subjects of math, science, language arts, etc. for untested, faddish educational notions, we slide gently away from actual education and toward entertainment, indoctrination, and just plain babysitting. Topeka knows what Kansas needs better than Washington, and Lawrence knows what Lawrence needs better than Topeka. Programs like "No Child Left Behind" rob us of that local control. A greater degree of accountability is deserately needed, but federal intervention is not the way to go.

Do schools have all the money they want? Of course not. Do they have all the money they need? Some do. I encourage you to research the inflation-adjusted per pupil expendatures of our school districts. Compare these with test scores and you'll find no direct correlation. Some districts spend massively and crank out ignorant, semi-literate "graduates". Some spend frugally and turn out well-rounded students, well prepared for college education, jobs, or other fulfilling pursuits. If a school district demonstrates that it's spending its current budget wisely and still has areas of need, I could support a limited tax increase. In my experience, few districts do this.

trueninetiesgirl 12 years, 11 months ago

i think signing to a small child is great. i use some basic signs with the small children in my day care. this really is helpful to know what the little ones would like . like more , drink,eat hungery and so on . i really like that they had it in the schools but they took that away from all of our kids in 2004.

sunflower_sue 12 years, 11 months ago

Kansas, No I don't work for a shelter, but it is my understanding that in some places, these breeds are automatically put down instead of being adopted out. Not sure about Lawrence.

I assumed that everyone knew that many animals were dumped in the country so I wasn't sure earlier if you were being sarcastic, or not, but like I said...I was taking it that you really did want to know.

I actually met a lady once that said she took her old, sick, beloved pet to the country and set it free "to die naturally"! I wanted to slap her. I refrained from doing that and also from telling her that her "beloved animal" undoubtedly met with some horrible death in a strange place, but I felt that she really did love the animal and was just too ignorant to understand that what she did was really cruel.

Now I just have to deal with "Notorious Molesterers" living in my neighborhood. I went to the KBI website today and found nothing on this "Leroy Hendricks". I thought that, by law, they had to publish his address.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.