Baby signing – The Joseph Garcia way!

Baby signs and Baby signing the Joseph Garcia way
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So what is baby signing?

Baby signing bridging the communication gap - Joseph and daughter Alaina sign "telephone" Baby signing bridging the communication gap
Joseph and daughter Alaina sign "telephone".
As early as six months, your baby knows what he wants - and he\\'d tell you too if only he could talk - but he’s going to have to wait another six months or so before his vocal mechanism has developed enough to speak and a year or more before he can tackle more complex words.And a year’s an awfully long time when you’re a baby. No wonder he gets so frustrated – it’s enough to make you want to scream…
That’s where sign language comes in. In Britain we use a variant called British Sign Language (BSL). It’s simple to learn a few signs to start with and then build up your repertoire as your baby progresses.

Why should I do it?

There are four main reasons:

  • Sign Language helps to take a lot of the guesswork out of being a parent. That means a lot more smiles and a lot less tears for both of you.
  • Your baby has a world of thoughts and observations about the things he sees around him. Imagine how exciting it must be as each day brings new discoveries – new sights, new sounds, new experiences. Sign language enables you to share that excitement with him before he can talk.
  • Research shows that learning these new communications skills at an early age will help your baby’s longer-term mental development. Babies that have used sign language typically start to talk earlier and then continue to learn more quickly than their non-signing playmates.
  • It’s fun!

Why wait? There’s so much more you could be sharing with your baby.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is baby signing?

At 6 months babies are capable of understanding and communicating but their ability to speak doesn’t develop till they’re 12 to 18 months. That’s where the signs come in. From as early as 6 months, babies can make signs to let you know what they’re thinking. So the earlier you start, the earlier you can ‘talk’ to your baby.

Was baby signing developed for deaf children?

No. Baby signing was developed for hearing babies and hearing parents. However, it is also useful with deaf and hearing-impaired children as it is based on established sign language. Child behaviour experts also recommend it for use with special needs children.

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But surely mothers know what their babies want, don’t they?

Mothers will usually have a pretty good idea what their babies want when they cry. But wouldn’t it be so much better to know what they want before they become so frustrated that they start crying? If they could sign, they’d tell you, you know.

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So baby signing reduces crying, then?

Yes, but that’s really only part of the story. Signing allows babies to share their thoughts with you, to tell you what they’ve seen or, perhaps, just to tell you which toy they want to play with next. These are just brief moments in your child’s development but you’ll miss so much if you wait till they can talk to tell you about it.

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Is there an ideal time to begin signing?

Your baby will be capable of learning signs from the age of six months. It will not be detrimental to start earlier but there will be a correspondingly longer period to wait before your baby starts to sign. This is due to the need for your baby to develop memory and co-ordination to recognize, remember and make the signs. However, it is never too late to start signing.

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How long will it take for our baby to produce the signs?

All babies (and parents) are different and several factors will dictate the time it takes for your baby to start to sign. These factors are discussed in greater detail in the Babysigners book, and range from the age of your baby to how frequently parents and / or carers use the signs. The consistent use of a few signs on a daily basis has proved to be a key method for success.

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Why is our baby not signing even after we have been using signs for a while?

The speed at which babies learn to use signs can depend on their age. They will be able to start learning signs from as young as six months but will usually take a few weeks to start signing back to you. Older babies will tend to be able to pick it up faster.

It can take a while for a baby to become confident enough to sign but as long as you keep reinforcing the signs during your daily routine your baby will start to sign.

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But if they’re signing, won’t that delay talking?

No. Just the opposite, in fact. All the research shows that learning to communicate earlier gives babies a real head start in life – especially talking. They’ll start to talk earlier and develop their vocabulary faster than non-signing babies. And the longest running research study available has shown that, even at the age of eight, they’ll still be significantly ahead of their classmates.

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So there’s a lot of research then?

Masses. And it’s very positive too. We’d be happy to guide you in the right direction if you want to read up on it. You could start by taking a look at the history and research section of this website.

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What happens in the weekly classes? Do I bring my baby?

Yes, definitely - the classes are great fun and your baby will love them. As well as explaining the theory behind it all, we’ll show you how you can bring the signs into your day-to-day life, we’ll play with puppets, read stories and sing some songs. The groups are informal, fun and you’ll get to meet other people who are also signing with their babies.

Babysigners also run half-day workshops. These are primarily run for professionals – child minders, nursery nurses and others with a professional interest – but parents who are unable to attend the weekly classes are also very welcome.

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Who runs these classes

Each class is run by a Babysigners accredited teacher. All our teachers must attend a training programme, run over 6 weeks, that teaches them everything they have to know – the signs, the underlying science and the purpose-designed Babysigners syllabus. Before they’re allowed to represent us, they must do the coursework, pass their exams, sing the songs and even be security checked – it’s the most rigorous training programme there is but then, we do want our teachers to be the best.

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So how do I join a class?

Just get in touch with us on 0800 694 6888 to find out more.

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What if I wanted to be a Babysigners teacher?

We’re looking for the right kind of people to join us. So if you think you may have what it takes to be Babysigners teacher and run your own business, speak to Emma Finlay-Smith on 0800 694 6888.

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History and Research

It's older than you think

It may come as some surprise to all those people who think of signing with babies as being very new to find out that it's actually based upon more than 20 years of research by internationally respected academics.

Having said this, it's fair to say that it is most certainly an idea whose time has come. The practical experience of the last two decades have now provided us with proven learning programmes, hints and tips to make signing easy and immensely rewarding for parents and babies alike.

The academic approach
While some might point to Werner and Kaplan (1963) as being the first to publish in this area, most people would agree that it is Drs Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn of California University that have contributed most.

In 1982, they noticed that young babies would spontaneously use simple gestures to communicate before they could talk. This prompted them to launch an ongoing research programme that has lasted 20 years and generated a wealth of published research, much of it funded by the US National Institute of Health.

Their findings have laid the foundations for a revolution in the way that mothers communicate with their babies. There have been unexpected benefits too. As well as having a happier, less frustrated baby and a closer bond between parent and child, there are longer-term advantages.

They found that babies that sign learn to talk earlier than non-signing babies. And, when they did talk, they developed larger vocabularies and were more self-confident. This headstart in life didn't stop there either - babies that used sign language still had significantly higher IQ's in follow-up research at the age of eight.

Acredolo and Goodwyn are continuing their research in the psychology department at California University but they are by no means alone. New research is being published every week by academics around the world.

The practical approach
But even before Acredolo and Goodwyn started their research in the early 80's, others were recognising the potential. Most notably, Joseph Garcia noticed how babies could use signs to communicate as early as the 1970's. His research at Alaska University (1987) found that hearing babies of deaf parents were able to communicate more easily and far earlier than similar babies of hearing parents.

Joseph's more recent focus has been upon creating a truly practical signing system for babies. Now generally regarded as the world's leading authority on baby signing, he was able to draw upon his background as a sign language interpreter with the deaf community and upon his doctoral studies in adult learning and education as well his own first hand experiences to write the world's leading baby signing program - Sign With Your Baby.  More recently he's written a brand new book, Joseph Garcia's complete Guide to Baby Signing, that extends those original principles by providing hands-on guidance on how to use baby signing in a wide range of day-to-day situations. ' This is due for publication in early 2005.'

Joseph's outstanding success stems from the clarity and ease of his teaching techniques and his adoption of standard sign language signs as used by the Deaf (some other writers, most notably Acredolo and Goodwyn, suggest parent and baby develop home-made symbols between them). The results of his work are simple, straightforward and proven in practise by countless parents around the world.

Research References and Further Reading

Recommended for all levels

Garcia, Dr Joseph, Joseph Garcia’s Complete Guide to Baby Signing (Babysigners, London 2005)

Baby signing general background

Acredolo, Linda. and Goodwyn, Susan, Baby Signs (Vermillion, London, 2000)

Daniels, Dr Marilyn, Dancing with Words: Signing for Hearing Children’s Literacy

(Bergin & Garvey, Westport, Connecticut 2001)

Smith, Cath, Signs Make Sense (Souvenir Press, London 1990)

Ward, Dr Sally, Baby Talk (Arrow Books, London 2004)

Accelerates speech in babies

L.P. Acredolo & S.W. Goodwyn, ‘Furthering our understanding of what humans understand’ in Human Development, 40, pp. 25-31 (1997)

S.W. Goodwyn & L.P. Acredolo, ‘Symbolic gesture versus word: Is there a modality advantage for onset of symbol use?’ in Child Development, 64, pp. 688-701 (1993)

B. Moore, L.P. Acredolo & S.W. Goodwyn, ‘Symbolic gesturing and joint attention: Partners in facilitating verbal development’ Paper presented at the Biennial Meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development (April 2001)

A greater written and spoken vocabulary

M. Daniels, ‘The effects of sign language on hearing children’s language development’ in Communication Education, 43, pp. 291-298 (October, 1994a)

M. Daniels, ‘Seeing Language: The Effect Over Time of Sign Language on Vocabulary Development in Early Childhood Education’ in Child Study Journal, 26, pp. 193-208 (1996)

L. Felzer, ‘A Multisensory Reading Program That Really Works’ in Teaching and Change, 5, pp. 169-183 (1998)

J. Hafer, Signing for Reading Success. (Washington D.C.: Clerc Books, Gallaudet University Press, 1986)

L. Koehler and L. Loyd, ‘Using Finger Spelling/Manual Signs to Facilitate Reading and Spelling’ Biennial Conference of the International Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (4 th Cardiff Wales, September 1986)

R. Wilson, J. Teague, and M. Teague, ‘The Use of Signing and Fingerspelling to Improve Spelling Performance with Hearing Children’ in Reading Psychology, 4, pp. 267-273 (1985)

A higher IQ

L.P Acredolo & S.W Goodwyn, ‘The long-term impact of symbolic gesturing during infancy on IQ at age 8’ in Paper presented at the meetings of the International Society for Infant Studies (Brighton, UK, July 2000)

S.W. Goodwyn, L.P. Acredolo & C. Brown, ‘Impact of Symbolic Gesturing on Early Language Development’ in Journal of Nonverbal Behaviour, 24, pp. 81-103 (2000)

B. Moore, L.P. Acredolo, & S.W. Goodwyn, ‘Symbolic gesturing and joint attention: Partners in facilitating verbal development’ in Paper presented at the Biennial Meetings of the Society for Research in Child Development (April 2001)

Increased brain activity

D. Bavelier, D. P. Corina and H.J. Neville, ‘Brain and Language: a Perspective from Sign Language’ in Neuron, Vol 21, pp. 275-278 (Cell Press, August 1998)

W.H. Calvin and G.A. Ojemann,. Inside the Brain: Mapping the Cortex, Exploring the Neuron (New American Library, 1980).

Baby signing in a baby’s development

L.P. Acredolo and S.W. Goodwyn ‘Symbolic gesturing in normal infants’ in Child Development, 59, pp. 450-466 (1988)

L.P. Acredolo and S.W. Goodwyn ‘The significance of symbolic gesturing for understanding language development’ in R. Vasta (Ed.), Annals of Child Development, 7, pp. 1-42. (London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1990)

L. Acredolo, S. Goodwyn, K. Horobin, and Y. Emmons, ‘The signs and sounds of early language development’ in L. Balter & C. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.), Child Psychology: A Handbook of Contemporary Issues pp. 116 – 139 (New York: Psychology Press, 1999)

S. Goodwyn and L. Acredolo, ‘Encouraging symbolic gestures: Effects on the relationship between gesture and speech’ in J. Iverson & S. Goldin-Meadows (Eds.) The nature and functions of gesture in children’s communication, pp. 61-73. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998)

P.L. Griffith, ‘Mode switching and mode-finding in a hearing child of deaf parents’ in Sign Language Studies, 48, pp. 195-222. (1985)

Karmiloff-Smith, A ‘The extraordinary journey from foetus through infancy.’ In Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 36, pp 1,293-1,315 (1995)

R. Wilbur and M. Jones, ‘Some aspects of the acquisition of American Sign Language and English by three hearing children of deaf parents’ in La Galy, Fox & Bruck (Eds), Papers from the Tenth Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society (1974)

Apraxia of Speech

P.A. Square, ‘Treatment Approaches For Developmental Apraxia Of Speech’ in Clinical Communication Disorders, Sept; 4(3): 151-61 (1994)

S. Gretz, ‘Using Sign Language with Children Who Have Apraxia of Speech’


Stephen M. Edelson, PhD Centre for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon

Dr Edelson’s articles is available online at

Down Syndrome

M.R. Hopmann, ‘The Use of Signs by Children with Downs Syndrome’ in Down Syndrome Today Vol 2, No. 2, pp. 22-3 (1993)

C-LP. Donovan, ‘Teaching Sign Language’ in Disability Solutions Vol 2, Issue 5 (January/February 1998)

J.F. Miller, A. Sedey, G. Miolo, M. Rosin, J. Murray-Branch ‘Vocabulary acquisition in young children with Down Syndrome: Speech and sign’ in Paper presented at the 9 th World Congress of the International Association for the Scientific Study of Mental Deficiency (Queensland, Australia, August 1992)

E.D. Gibbs, A.S. Springer, S.C. Cooley & S. Aloisio ‘Early use of total communication: Patterns across eleven children with Down Syndrome’ in Paper presented at the meeting of the International Early Childhood Conference on Children with Special Needs (St. Louis, MO, November 1991)

Reading Disabilities

D. Blackburn, J. Vonvillian, and R. Ashby ‘Manual Communication as an Alternative Mode of Language Instruction for Children with Severe Reading Disabilities’ in Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 15, pp. 22,-31 (January 1984)

J. Carney, G. Cioffi, and W. Raymond ‘Using Sign Language for Teaching Sight Words’ in Teaching Exceptional Children, pp. 214-217 (Spring 1985)

M. Vernon, J. Coley, J. Hafer and J. Dubois ‘Using Sign Language to Remediate Severe Reading Problems’ in Journal of Learning Disabilities 13, pp. 215-218. (April 1980)

L. Sensenig, B. Topf, and E. Mazeika ‘Sign Language Facilitation of Reading with Students Classified as Trainable Mentally Handicapped’ in Education and Training of the Mentally Retarded pp. 121-125. (June 989)


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