Essential Baby Sign Language for Parents and Babysitters

Did you know that children can communicate before they can even talk? It’s true. Kids can understand language before they develop the ability to form sounds and speak! More and more commonly, parents are teaching their babies some baby sign language to help them communicate before they learn to talk.

Some people find that babies who know how to do a few basic signs are less frustrated because they can tell you what they need — without crying. That sounds like a dream, right?

But it all hinges on the caregiver — parent or babysitter — being able to understand what the baby is “saying” with his or her signs. So I’ve pulled together a couple of awesome resources for you to learn a few baby signs — whether you’re a parent eager to help your child communicate or a babysitter making sure you can communicate well with the kids under your care. This is an excellent addition to babysitting knowledge and skills for any Babysitting 101 Certified Babysitter!

Essential Baby Sign Language guide. Where do you start? What do you emphasize? Find out now!


Tips for Learning Baby Sign Language

A Baby Sign Language Book for the Big People
The Baby Signing Bible for teaching Baby Sign Language

The Baby Signing Bible by Laura Berg is an excellent resource for all things regarding baby sign language. Author Berg spells out the benefits of teaching signs to both babies and toddlers (and kids with special needs, too!) and details 400 common signs that are helpful for kids to know.

She gives ideas of what children should be able to understand based on their age and development and even suggests some fun games to play to boost young kids’ language skills. It’s a comprehensive guide, but it’s easy to understand and can be a helpful resource for parents and sitters alike.

Some Baby Sign Language Books for the Little Ones

My First Signs is a great book for teaching Baby Sign Language
My First Signs by Dr. Michelle Anthony and Dr. Reyna Lindert has colorfully illustrated pages that hold kids’ attention. I loved how each page also features photos of both an adult and a child doing the signs so you can tell what it might look like in real life. That’s something unique about this book that I found to be super-helpful!

Let's Sign, Baby! is a great book for teaching Baby Sign Language

Let’s Sign, Baby! A Fun and Easy Way to Talk with Baby by Kelly Ault and Leo Landry was a favorite of my daughter’s. It has common, real-life situations that hold a child’s attention with good explanations for how to do each motion.

In my version, it even had a handy refrigerator magnet that shows “more,” “drink,” “play,” and “bed.” This baby sign language chart would be great to stick on the fridge as a refresher for babysitters who may be less familiar with baby signs but are very likely to find themselves in one of those what-is-this-child-saying moments. We’ve all been there!

My First Signs is a great book for teaching Baby Sign Language
My First Signs illustrated by Annie Kubler is another with colorful illustrations and good explanations. You probably won’t need to know all of these signs — there are quite a few! — but I really like how it includes “please” and “thank you,” a staple in any Polite Kid‘s diet.

The variety of words illustrated in this book would especially be helpful for kids who might be later talkers or whose speech is delayed for other reasons. Plus, it’s pretty fun to see how these words are depicted in signs!

Free Videos to Help Learn Signs

YouTube has lots of free resources on baby sign language, but one of my favorites is the channel’s Baby Sign Language video. It has lots of signs pertinent to young kids, and it’s pretty useful to hear the songs while seeing other children doing the signs. If you’re looking for a specific sign, check their Baby Sign Language playlist. They have explanations for lots of signs, and they’re interesting for both adults and kids.

Important Signs to Know

So now that you know which resources are our favorites, you probably also wonder which signs to focus on learning. The good news is you won’t need to know many to get started. Here were some of our family’s favorites (in order of when we introduced them):

  • More
  • Finished or All Done
  • Milk
  • Please
  • Thank You
  • Sorry

These are actually the only signs we ever used. We always signed while saying the word so our kids learned to associate the signs with what they mean in spoken English. As my kids learned to talk more and more, we gradually stopped using the signs and only used spoken words. Some signs stuck around longer than others because we were all so used to using them!

If you’re a caretaker for kids who sign, simply ask the parents if there are any signs the kids use often and take note. Some kids sign the words slightly differently from the way the words are depicted in books, so it’s helpful to know from the parents what signs their child uses and what they look like. (For example, using one finger on each hand instead of all 5 fingers in the sign for more. That’s just the equivalent of a child learning how to pronounce a word. Fascinating, no?)

Are there any signs you have used that were not on my short list? Or any other advice you have to share? Let me know in the comments, please. 

Happy signing!

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About Aubrey Hunt
Before hopping on the crazy ride we call motherhood, I studied engineering and taught math and science to middle and high school students. Now, perhaps like you, I fill my days singing The Itsy Bitsy Spider and praying my preschooler will eat a vegetable — any vegetable!