How to use sign language to spark your baby’s love of books

By Lane Rebelo, LCSW, Certified Master Signing Time Instructor

Reading with your baby every day is not only good for her budding language and communication skills, it can also be a wonderful time to play and learn too! Using American Sign Language can help take baby’s reading time to a whole new level as you stimulate her senses while engaging more areas of her growing brain.


Picking Books to Read With Baby
Babies love colorful board books with chunky pages that are sturdy and easy to turn. Touch-and-feel books offer stimulating textures for little fingers to explore, and lift-the-flap features are lots of fun. When picking books to use for signing with your baby, choose books with photos or illustrations that clearly depict common items your baby frequently hears or sees throughout the day. Look for books that have images related to daily activities such as milk, bath, and eat. Other examples include books with photos of items your baby sees around the house such as ball, bear, phone, or duck. And, of course, babies love animals, so use some of those too!

Using Sign Language While Reading

Juggling a squirmy baby and a book at the same time can be a handful! So how do you use your hands to create signs as well? It’s easier than you think. Here are some tips:

  • With baby on your lap, you can either hold the book with one hand or prop it on a throw pillow on the floor in front of you.
  • With your arms around baby, sign in the space between your baby and the book. Some examples of good signs for this are ball and car.
  • Sign right on the book. If baby is focusing on the book, move the sign to where baby is looking. Sign duck or horse right on the duck or horse on the page. Throw in your best animal sounds to make it fun.
  • Let your baby feel the sign by signing it right on his body. Pat your baby’s thigh as you look at the dog in the book. Or pat your baby’s head when she notices the baby in the picture is wearing a hat. Gently rub your baby’s chest as you talk about the baby taking a bath.
  • If your little one is too wriggly for the above suggestions, try placing your baby in a high chair. Place the book on the chair’s tray and sit face to face with baby. This is particularly useful for great eye contact and incorporating facial expressions into your signing and storytelling.

Stick with Signing!
Incorporating American Sign Language vocabulary into daily reading time with your baby will greatly enhance her growing communication abilities. But don’t stop once her speech takes off.  Research has shown that using sign language with older toddlers and preschoolers has big benefits too. Not only do preschoolers who use sign language develop larger vocabularies, signing also helps with spelling and reading as well. So keep signing and happy reading!