Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Simple Signing with Babies

My "map" of signs to include, the caregiver handout,
and our songs & rhymes sheets with relevant ASL signs.
I always end my Bouncing Babies programs with about twenty minutes of free play time, during which time I mostly interact with the little ones and overhear caregivers swapping stories. I've overheard discussion of nap schedules, long car rides with a toddler, and other topics that don't immediately impact me, a single childless librarian. But over the last few weeks, I noticed another frequent topic: sign language and babies. When I hear something like that, especially when multiple caregivers bring it up, I take notice.

This week marked the first time I added some simple American Sign Language (ASL) signs to my Bouncing Babies programs. My approach, at least for now, is twofold. First, I have a handout with nine simple signs that might come into "conversation" between child and caregiver (e.g., please, thank you, mom, dad); every grown-up program attendee gets a copy of this handout with the day's songs & rhymes sheet. I use these signs throughout the program if I say the relevant words, but I don't formally present or teach them. My rationale is that caregivers can take these handouts home and start to add these signs to their personal routines if they so desire.

In addition to having that handout with nine simple signs, I have also added one program-relevant sign to the songs and rhymes portion of the program. This week we did a rhyme about a little bird, so as a group we learned the sign for "bird." I encourage caregivers to use the sign themselves, and I also encourage their helping their children to make the sign, too, if the child is agreeable (i.e., not running around the room, or at least a few months old). At the very least, I figure this exercise reinforces fine motor skills, but caregivers were getting really into showing the sign and saying the word to their children.

The rest of my program format is the same--the only addition is using the appropriate sign when I say something is good or tell participants thank you for coming. A few disclaimers: I point out that ASL is a robust language in and of itself, and that we are only using a few simple signs; I also mention that I am not an expert, having only looked up the signs I thought would be relevant to young children (see my brainstorm word map, in yellow in the photo). So far caregivers seem happy with the inclusion of simple signs into the Bouncing Babies program, and I look forward to seeing how I can refine its use in programming over the next several months.

How do you incorporate signing into programs at your library, either for little ones or for older children?


  1. I have a couple sets of signs that I developed using "Baby Signing 1,2,3" by Nancy Cadjan. I have 7-9 signs in each set. I think I'm up to 3 sets (first signs, second signs, and family signs). I use each set for a month and rotate. I have a little speech I make about how using the sign at the time of need is more meaningful and builds the association between the sign and the meaning (rather than a flashcard type learning experience). So in our sign section, I demonstrate the sign, say the word, and the caregivers practice showing it to their baby a few times.

  2. Baby sign language should be used by all parents to build up their relationship with their little one. I recommend flash cards as a great learning aid to help bring the visual aspect of learning into it in a fun way.