Signing FAQs

Signing with your child is fun, easy, and incredibly beneficial!
Just getting started? Here are the answers to commonly-asked questions.

Q. My child can hear. Why sign?

Most children are not developmentally ready to speak until approximately 2 years of age. Babies are developmentally able to communicate with signs much earlier than that. Some studies indicate children as young as 5 to 6 months of age can communicate with limited signs. The inability to communicate can cause frustration and tantrums for both the parent and the child! Sign language is a wonderful tool that allows even very small children to express themselves. Most parents that sign with their babies talk about an unexplainable bond that is felt when their child communicates so early!

Obviously your child will be fine without learning to sign, but there are so many developmental and social benefits that they will have access to should you choose to do so. Most parents want to give their child every advantage in life possible, and signing is one way to do that.

Q. How early can I start signing with my child?

Start signing now! You can sign “milk” to your newborn when it’s time to nurse or time for a bottle. Sign “sleep” at nap and bedtimes. Take your baby’s hands and help them sign “more” in-between each spoonful. This will help integrate signs into your daily routine. Soon the repetition and reinforcement will occur naturally as your infant grows. Baby sign will also help your infant realize that crying is not the only way of communicating.

Q. How soon will my child start signing back?

There are a few factors to consider: how early you start, how frequently or consistently you use signs, as well as the child’s ability or developmental stage. If you start baby sign language with your newborn, she may not sign back until 8-14 months old. If you start with your 2-year-old, he may respond immediately, or it could take a couple of months. Many children have a “signing explosion” around 1-and-a-half to 2 years. You will be amazed at how quickly they pick up signs.

If your child has physical, mental or developmental delays, take that into consideration. Rachel Coleman’s second daughter Lucy had no words and no signs and showed no interest in communication for her first two years. Her doctors did not expect that to change. Rachel and her husband didn’t give up – they continued exposing her to sign and speech, and suddenly she had a language explosion in speech AND sign! Read Rachel’s story.

Q. Will signing delay speech?

Many parents fear that signing will delay or further delay speech. Our experience has been the opposite. If your goal is communication, then signing will meet that communication need much earlier than speech. Rachel Coleman, co-creator of Signing Time said, “When we found out Leah was deaf, many people warned us to be careful with signing. They said, ‘If she gets too comfortable signing, she will never speak.’ Their intentions were good, but they were absolutely wrong. Luckily, we first gave Leah a complete language in signs, only then was she able to take time to work on the skill of labeling those signs through her speech. English is a language. American Sign Language is a language. Spanish is a language. But speech, it is a skill…and Leah is a little chatterbox!”

Q. How can signing help reduce tantrums?

Many tantrums and the “Terrible Twos” are directly linked to frustration about communication. There is less frustration when your child can augment their communication skills with signs that both of you can understand.

Q. Will it take a lot of time to learn to sign?

Parenting can be very overwhelming because there never seems to be enough time. This is why we created Signing Time. It does the work for you and makes ASL easy and fun for all ages. You don’t have to learn an entire language. Even learning two or three key vocabulary words like MORE or MILK will be beneficial!

Q. Do I have to become fluent in ASL?

No, you don’t (unless you have a really good reason to!). Signing Time provides parenting tools for communication through the use of American Sign Language. I think you will be surprised how useful it is to learn even a few signs.

If fluency is your goal, ASL, like any second language, takes time and practice. Surrounding yourself with others that are fluent will really boost your skills and your confidence.

If you are interested in learning more, check out your Community Education Programs and Community Centers for the Deaf. Additionally, many junior high schools, high schools, community colleges and universities now offer ASL as a world language option. Some of these schools use our online course for teens and adults, Sign It! American Sign Language Made Easy, as part of their course curriculum. If you wish to continue further with your studies, you will also find sign language interpreting programs all across the country.

Q. Why do you use ASL and not made up signs?

If you are going to make the effort to teach and reinforce signs for communication purposes, it makes sense to use signs that are part of a living language that have meaning to the hundreds of thousands of ASL users. Additionally, your child’s caregivers (Doctors, preschools, daycare centers, and elementary schools) are far more likely to use ASL than to try and learn individual “made up” signs for each child for whom they care.

Hearing children that start out as “baby signers” can comfortably transition into communication with deaf children and adults, and take advantage of other ASL materials (videos, ASL playgroups, etc…). They have also laid a foundation for the study of ASL as a second language later in their academic careers. All of this is possible by simply using real ASL signs instead of made up or adapted signs.

And finally, many of our Deaf customers have pointed out that made up signs run the risk of actually “saying” something unintended in ASL, leading to potentially humorous if not embarrassing situations.

Q. How do you sign names?

You can fingerspell the entire name using the ASL alphabet. In the Deaf Community, people are often given “name signs” (unique signs that represent a person’s name). Name signs are traditionally given to you by someone who is Deaf and are shorter ways of expressing someone’s name. It is not culturally acceptable to give yourself a name sign. Name signs are often the first letter of your name mixed with a characteristic (physical, personality or just something you like or enjoy doing).

Q. Is it OK if my child doesn’t sign correctly?

Most children adapt signs to whatever they are physically able to do. As their fine motor skills develop further, their signs will also develop. This is very similar to the pattern in speech development; “Da-da” suddenly becomes “Daddy” or “Dad.”

Q. My child is already talking. Why sign?

Learning a second language is fun and has many developmental benefits. ASL stimulates learning through different senses. Sign language is a blessing for children that are “visual”, “spatial” or “tactile learners.” Learning a second language raises your child’s IQ. One in ten Americans have some degree of hearing loss. Knowing a few signs can give your child the confidence to engage and interact with a deaf child.

Q. Are my kids too old for Signing Time?

While our products were created for children ages 0-8, ALL ages love Signing Time. Why? It makes ASL so easy and fun. We have heard from customers of all ages who have found remarkable uses for our products, including stroke patients who have lost their speech, parents of children adopted from other countries who don’t speak the same language, helping children with speech delays or no speech at all due to disabilities… the list goes on. Sign language is a valuable tool at any age. Older children will quickly learn all of the signs AND they will pick up the additional signs that we show in the songs. Many older children love the idea of sign language as their “secret language.” American Sign Language is a real language used by millions of Americans, including Leah, and the benefits of learning a second language are far-reaching. We have also released three Signing Time! Sentences episodes for older children that introduce basic ASL grammar and sentence structure. You can find these at My Signing Time. For tweens, teens, and adults who are ready to go deeper and are looking for a fun way to learn ASL online, check out Sign It! American Sign Language Made Easy.

Q. What does research say about signing?

There’s a lot of great research our there on this topic! Claire Vallotton, Ph.D. has made it easy for you to get all the major research findings in her white paper, Signing with Babies and Children.

Q. What does American Academy of Pediatrics say about screen time for infants and toddlers?

The American Academy of Pediatrics released updated media guidelines for parents of infants and toddlers in 2016. Screen time that fosters interaction, such as video chats with grandparents, and videos that help babies learn words are among the approved uses of media for babies, albeit with limits. Read more

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