DIY Sign Language Motivators, with free download!

When a child's parents or caregivers use signs when that child speaks, he or she gets the chance to experience the word in a multi-sensory way. That means that you get to hear the word as you say it, they get to see it as you sign it, they feel it as they sign it, and then finally, they'll say it, eventually. 

The earliest words to appear in a young child's vocabulary are often nouns - words that represent familiar people, food, toys, body parts, animals, clothes, etc. Infants and toddlers start to understand language contextually, meaning that the words a baby first says are often contextually based in familiar environments with familiar partners, and/or based on that child's preferences. For instance, my own son's first word was "banana," his favorite food, followed soon after by "dog" - an animal in which he seemed particularly interested from about the age of 9 months. Other common first words include greetings (hi/bye) or the word, "no!" - but this brings us to the fact that representational gestures such as waving (to greet) or nodding/shaking of the head (for yes/no) - which are, of course, the gestural form of greetings and the word, "no," often start to develop before a child can coordinate the very fine motor skills required to speak. 

Sign Language Motivators

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10 Sample Signs consisting of nouns, verbs, time words, prepositions and social function words - to get you started!

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In my conversation with Adrienne (a pediatric speech-language pathologist) of Learn With Adrienne in this week's corresponding Strength In Words podcast episode, "Why Sign?" I explored with her some basic facts about using Sign Language with young children, and we reviewed the research about how the encouragement of gestural communication in very young children can facilitate the learning of spoken language, both in "hearing" children who are moving along a typical progression of development as well as those with (or at risk of) developmental delays. Adrienne, who specializes in working with young children with speech and language delays and disorders, has developed a wonderful online presence helping Sign Language "beginners" of all kinds (parents, caregivers, educators, and therapists) take the plunge into learning Sign Language. 

During our conversation, Adrienne mentioned that parents and caregivers who are interested in facilitating their young child's use of Sign Language might follow the course of typical spoken language development when choosing signs to start modeling to their infants and toddlers. As I mentioned above, nouns are the most common "first words" to appear in a young child's vocabulary. But, just as we don't use only nouns in our everyday speech, we don't necessarily have to model the sign for only these - especially for a child who is exhibiting language delays. Other categories of typical early developing words include verbs (action words), time words, prepositions, social function words, and adjectives (describing words). 

I want to reiterate that a young child's first words - whether spoken or signed - are always highly individualized and based on that child's environment (what interests him, what experiences he's had, who he spends time with, and a whole host of cultural and linguistic factors particular to him!) Therefore, there is no way to suggest the "best first signs" on which to focus if you are interested in incorporating signing into your child's repertoire of gestures. However, if you're looking for examples of the kinds of words that you might consider starting with, I'd like to share with you a list of 10 sample words (and a visual representation of the sign) that fall into various categories of typical "first words." The signs I'm providing are based on those in American Sign Language (ASL). If you're using these signs with an infant or toddler whose language is developing along a typical progression, it really doesn't matter whether you use ASL, another formal system of Sign Language, or your very own family-specific gestures. If you're using signs with a child whose language is delayed, I encourage you to work with your child's therapists to agree upon what signs to use and what system from which to pull. 

I also highly suggest that you look into Adrienne's free online course, "Top 15 Food & Drink Signs for Toddlers."

If you're really interested in signing to connect, I highly suggest you consider committing to her fantastic, full online course, "Sign Language in 30 Days," available here. (I think it's such a great resource, I became an affiliate for the course!)

Step 1 for the sign, play

Step 1 for the sign, play

Step 2 for the sign, play

Step 2 for the signplay

Materials

  • 10 sample "Sign Language Motivators" download (available below!) for some beginning ideas of signs you might start to model to your infant or toddler. These words come from the following semantic (vocabulary) categories: 
    • NOUNS
      • Animals
      • Vehicles
      • Toys
      • Food & Drink (for additional ideas, take Adrienne's free course!)
      • Games / Routines
    • VERBS
    • TIME WORDS
    • PREPOSITIONS
    • SOCIAL FUNCTION WORDS

Instructions

  1. Download your "Sign Language Motivators" and print them out
  2. Place the images on your refrigerator or somewhere else you might often pass by - ALTERNATIVELY, cut each one apart individually and place them around your home in areas you might often find the object or where you might use that word (for instance, the preposition I include is the word "off," so you might place it by a lamp) - this will remind and motivate you, the parent/caregiver, to use the sign whenever you use the spoken word with your child! 
  3. To use them, I encourage you follow Adrienne's suggestions from the podcast, which include:
  • Repetition
  • Say the word aloud as you sign it (pair the verbal model with the gestural model)
  • If they appear to need assistance, help them make the hand shapes (allowing them opportunity to attempt on their own first!) - remember, they're not going to sign after the first time they see you do it, just as they won't say a word the first time they hear it! This is why the first two recommendations are crucial!
  • Make it motivating - play to their interests! My nephew was fascinated by lights turning on and off when he was about 10 months old - we modeled the signs for on and off, created moments where the whole activity was turning lights on and off, and said the words, paired with the sign, each time we did so! He loved it! (Can you guess what his first word was? Yup, "off!")

Sign Language Motivators

Screen_shot_2016-09-26_at_2.06.21_pm

10 Sample Signs consisting of nouns, verbs, time words, prepositions and social function words - to get you started!

We won't send you spam - unsubscribe at any time! Powered by ConvertKit

This post contains affiliate links. All activities described by Strength In Words assume close and continuous supervision of the child by an adult.

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Ayelet Marinovich, M.A. CCC-SLP

Ayelet Marinovich, M.A. CCC-SLP, is a pediatric speech-language pathologist specializing in work with pre-verbal infants, toddlers, non-verbal children, and their families. The Strength In Words podcast and blog were created as an additional resource for families of young children with infants & toddlers of all developmental levels. It is not intended to be a substitute for speech and language therapy.