Here are my top five tips for starting off strong!
1) It is never too early or too late to start signing: You can start signing as early as you'd like because signing, like speaking, is a form of communication, and children thrive on that.
However, if you like a more specific answer, six months is a golden time to start. At that age children are able to focus their eyes on your hands and are a bit more interactive. If you sign regularly from about six months on, you should see results by about 10 months old, give or take a bit.
If you start later, no worries. Just have fun with it!
2) Choose signs that you can use frequently and consistently: I always start my classes by teaching food and drink signs. This is because your baby is likely eating (or drinking) many times a day, building in natural opportunities to use and practice the signs. I follow that with signs like DIAPER, and signs about animals - things consistent and interesting in the child's world.
3) Stick to sign language programs based in American Sign Language (ASL): There are a lot of wonderful sign language resources out there. But I feel it is really important to stick to ones that are true to ASL. For me, it is a matter of respect for the Deaf community. Signing is, after all, their native language. Staying true to that, instead of relying on variations, feels more authentic and respectful. In addition, a child who learns ASL signs will be able to use them anywhere ASL is used. Relying on signs that have been modified or are from another system really limits the boundaries of possible communication with others.
4) Look for little clues that indicate success: Your baby may take a little while to start signing back to you and that's okay! They will show they are tuning in to the signs in different ways. For instance, sign MILK when a child is ready to eat, and his eyes may light up and his little feet start to kick. Or sign MORE when pushing a little one in the swing, and she may giggle with delight. Watch not just for signs, but other expressive communication that lets you know the child is tuned in. Those signs will come back to you in time!
5) Just have fun: This might be the most important tip when starting out. If you only know one or two signs, that's a great start! You can use a great online sign language dictionary to learn more as you go. Practice in ways that feel natural and a part of your day - there's no need to drill. And if you can, find a class to join other signing families on your way to success.