Baby Signing For Dummies


by Jennifer Watson




About the Author

Jennifer Hill Watson is the mom to three signing children. She began signing with her first daughter when her daughter was about 6 months old. At 4 1/2 years, her oldest now has over 300 signs. Jennifer’s second daughter is nearing 300 signs at age 3 1/2. Her son has 116 signs and 154 words at 19 months.

A former teacher, Jennifer has taught in both private schools and Houston public schools. She teaches signing classes for babies and their parents in the Houston area and helps lead the Houston Signing Babies support group both on the Web and at regular meetings. Jennifer also speaks at national conferences to teachers on using American Sign Language in the classroom.

Jennifer works with McGraw-Hill/Wright Group’s Early Childhood Division as an Early Childhood Consultant and teacher trainer. She volunteers as director of a preschool choir and leads confirmation classes with sixth graders in her church.

She has a bachelor of science from Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, Texas. Jennifer and her family currently live in Katy, Texas.



For my very own signing babies, Darby Grace, Aidan Elizabeth, and Cole Thomas. And for my wonderful husband, Billy — their amazing signing daddy.


Author’s Acknowledgments

What a joy to acknowledge just some of the people who helped make this book possible. I feel like I’ve just birthed my fourth baby, taking five months of hard labor to push this book out. You don’t do that kind of work all alone.

First and foremost, a huge thank-you to Beryt Nisenson, who got this ball rolling in the first place. Beryt helped me get started teaching classes and then gave me the contact to potentially write this book — and it worked out. Additionally, she provided limitless support and love before and during the writing of this book — as I’m sure she will after this book is finished. You’re an amazing inspiration in so many ways. I’m so grateful you’re my friend. Thank you.

Another thank-you goes out to Jessica Faust, my agent and communicator throughout the entire writing of this book. Thanks for finding the Web site and contacting us, as well as supporting me directly throughout.

Generous appreciation goes out to Sandy Blackthorn who held my hand while I organized my thoughts, let go as needed, and then turned my thoughts and words into For Dummies thoughts and words. You’re a great teacher, Sandy! More appreciation goes out to my project editor, Elizabeth Kuball, who coordinated it all (wow!); my acquisitions editor, Tracy Boggier, who has supported and directed throughout; my technical editor, Nancy Mitchum, who helped keep the ASL as “pure” as it could possibly be in this setting; and my illustrator, Lisa Reed. Your support and guidance have been invaluable throughout this project. Thank you.

About halfway into this project, I took a fall, broke my left wrist, and had a cast on until after the book’s completion (roughly three months). Needless to say, that made typing just a bit difficult. Thank you to my typists (you know who you are) for being my “fingers,” and sometimes my brain, until the end of the typing. And thank you to all the editors for all your patience, understanding, and support through the broken-wrist fiasco. Thank you to Doni for providing my family with meals every week and giving my family the chance to eat healthy as I wrote the last quarter of this book. What an amazing friend.

Karen H., thanks for the coffee breaks. I’m going to miss you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to Heather for supporting me with phone calls, e-mails and prayers from start to finish. Without you, this book may not be here. Love you, girl.

And to those of you in Mother’s Share Group, in Generation Acts, in the office, at church, and beyond who encouraged me with a quick smile or word as I attempted to put one foot in front of the other in the writing of this book, thank you. A special thank-you to those of you in these same groups who took me “out” in various and sundry ways when I needed a break.

Thanks to all the grandparents (DeeDee, Grandpa Tom, Pampu, GranJan, GranT, Pachie-Achie, Pawpaw, and my Memaw) for loving and supporting me throughout the life of this project. From babysitting at times to gift certificates and general support, you’ve all been incredible. Thank you.

Without my three signing babies — Darby, Aidan Elizabeth, and Cole — baby signing might not even be on my radar. Your daddy and I began signing with you as young infants and you continue to inspire me and keep me signing with babies, toddlers, their parents, and beyond. You are such a gift. Thank you.

And to my husband Billy, thank you for putting up with the ups and downs and ins and outs of my relationship with this book. It’s not easy to put up with the idiosyncrasies of late hours mixed with double-duty childcare. What a gift you are. I’m grateful for you every day. Thank you. I love you.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Elizabeth Kuball

Acquisitions Editor: Tracy Boggier

Editorial Program Coordinator: Hanna K. Scott

Technical Editor: Nancy Mitchum

Consultant: Sandy Blackthorn

Editorial Manager: Michelle Hacker

Editorial Supervisor and Reprint Editor: Carmen Krikorian

Editorial Assistant: Erin Calligan, David Lutton

Cartoons: Rich Tennant (

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Patrick Redmond

Layout and Graphics: Carl Byers, Joyce Haughey, Stephanie D. Jumper, Heather Ryan

Illustrator: Lisa Reed

Proofreaders: Leeann Harney, Christy Pingleton, Techbooks

Indexer: Techbooks

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Kelly Regan, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




About This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

What You’re Not to Read

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Where to Go from Here

Part I : Talking Hands

Chapter 1: Getting Onboard with Baby Signing

What Exactly Is Sign Language for Babies?

Why Should I Sign with My Baby?

Should I Use ASL or Make Up My Own Signs?

When Should I Start and When Will My Baby Start Signing Back?

When Should I Stop?

What Should I Sign with My Baby?

I’m Just Regular Folk — Can I Really Do This?

Chapter 2: Introducing Signs to Your Baby

Recognizing the Right Time to Introduce Signs

Knowing Where to Begin

Knowing When Baby Might Sign Back

Making Signing a Family Affair

Remembering That Caregivers and Friends Are Family, Too

Chapter 3: Warming Up: Signing Boot Camp

Hand Shapes: Not Just for Shadow Puppets Anymore

Some Signing Do’s and Don’ts

Part II : Ready, Set, Sign!

Chapter 4: Signing 101: Some Basic Signs

Meeting and Greeting: You Say Good-Bye, and I Say Hello . . .

Who Are You Again?

A Few Everyday Needs

Chapter 5: Eat, Baby, Eat! Mealtime Signs

Magic Signs for Mealtime

Growing Food, Part I: Fruits

Growing Food, Part II: Veggies

Got Dairy?

Grains = Vroom + Vroom

Fun Food! Desserts

Chapter 6: Signs to Help Keep Baby Safe and Sound

Ounce-of-Prevention Signs

“How Do I Feel Today?” Signs

Chapter 7: Bath and Bed Signs

Scrubbing in the Tub

Getting Ready for Bed

Part III : Signs for Everyday Life

Chapter 8: Signing Stuff That Baby Wears

Typical Playwear

Stuff That Keeps Baby Toasty Outside

Chapter 9: Signing Animals from A to Z

Can We Have a Pet? Please, Please, Please?

Look Down Thar by the Barn and Pasture

Fieldtrip! A Day at the Zoo

Chapter 10: Signing in the Great Outdoors

C’mon, Baby, Take a Ride with Me

Moods of Mother Nature

Look! Up in the Sky!

Big Fun at the Community Park

The Wonders of Your Own Backyard

Part IV : Now We’re Talking

Chapter 11: Signing Sentences

What’s a Sign Sentence?

Is Signing Sentences Really a Big Deal?

So When and How Do I Begin?

Looking at a Few Sign Sentences

Chapter 12: Overcoming Stumbling Blocks

Why Isn’t Baby Signing Back?

What If I’m the Only One Who Signs with Baby?

Why Does Baby Use the Same Sign for Everything?

Why Doesn’t Baby Sign Anymore?

When Do I Add More Signs?

What If My Baby Isn’t Talking, but He’s Signing like Crazy?

Chapter 13: How Long Do We Keep This Up?

Better Student All Around

Higher IQ and Less ADD/ADHD

Stronger Sibling Relationships

Part V : The Part of Tens

Chapter 14: Ten Reasons to Sign with Baby

Reduce Frustration

Improve Communication Skills

Strengthen Family Relationships

Reap Long-Term Benefits

Provide Extra Fun

Gain More Priceless Moments

Develop SPI (Silent Parental Influence)

Develop PSI (Parental Self Improvement)

Own the Spotlight

You Never Know Where It’ll Lead

Chapter 15: Ten Signs Every Baby and Toddler Should Know










Thank You

Chapter 16: Ten (Or So) Songs to Sign

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

Old MacDonald

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

Baa, Baa Black Sheep

Mary Had a Little Lamb

The Alphabet Song

I’ve Been Working on the Railroad

Chapter 17: Ten (Or So) Signing Resources

Little Signers, Inc.

Signing with Your Baby

Baby Einstein’s Baby Wordsworth First Words — Around the House

Signing Smart

Signing Time

Tiny Fingers

Baby Fingers

Baby Signs


Baby Hands Productions

Part VI : Appendixes

Appendix A: The ASL Alphabet

Appendix B: ASL Numbers

Appendix C: ASL Colors














P lain and simple, Baby Signing For Dummieswill

This ability to communicate through sign language reduces tantrums, which babies throw because they know what they want and expect you to know, too. In addition, it reduces the frustrations that parents feel from frantically attempting to interpret babies’ unintelligible grunts and screams. And it increases meaningful parent-child interactions, which opens the door to untold benefits for both you and your baby.

I know of what I speak. I have three signing children (and a signing husband), who have all signed since they were seven months old or younger (well, not the husband). I began this signing journey when my oldest was 4 weeks old. A book on a relative’s coffee table piqued my interest. I held the idea in the back of my mind for a few weeks as I continued to adjust to my new identity as a mother. Then one day I saw the book again while browsing at my local bookstore. Though I had my doubts, I figured it couldn’t hurt to buy the book and check it out. So I did.

My oldest is now 4 years old and has a signing vocabulary of over 300 signs. So, as you can see, it works! The experience of signing with my children has changed me from a skeptical new mom buying yet another parenting book into a teacher who helps other parents get to know how to sign with their babies and into the author of the book you hold in your hands. The reason I wrote this book is to share with you my passion for signing with babies and to make your entry into the world of signing with your baby as easy and as joyful as possible.

About This Book

The shelves of bookstores are brimming these days with books about signing with your baby. This book is different for many reasons. First off, it’s different because it was written from within the trenches. I have three preschoolers at home. I’ve learned a lot in the four years I’ve been signing with my babies. Some of what I’ve learned has been very helpful; some of it not so much. I plan on sharing the former with you, saving you from repeating my mistakes and from wasting your valuable time.

Also, I know you don’t want to be an expert in the field of signing with babies. I mean, who has time for that? You do, after all, have a baby. And you just want to be able to communicate with him as soon as possible. I hear ya and know first hand where you’re coming from. To this day, all I want to do is enhance communication with my children and help other parents do the same in the easiest and most rewarding way possible.

This book is all about easy and rewarding. The information is laid out in reference form so you can easily find exactly what you’re looking for without having to read the book from front to back in chronological order. The instructions are straightforward. The illustrations are easy to follow. The stories are all true and draw on personal experiences. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll feel like this book was written just for you by someone who knows exactly what you’re going through — because it was.

Conventions Used in This Book

A few conventions are used throughout this book:

bullet CAPITAL letters are used to indicate ASL signs in the text. For example, the sign for BATH is covered in Chapter 7.

bullet Italic type is used to highlight words that are being defined, as well as to emphasize certain words or points. For example, American Sign Language is the official name of the official sign language for the deaf. It’s often referred to as ASL. And I’m here to tell you that even before babies can control the movements necessary to produce speech, they can control the movements necessary to produce some ASL signs.

bullet Boldface type is used to indicate the action part of numbered steps, such as physically moving your hand into a certain position. For example, to sign BATH, follow these steps:

1. With both hands, make loose fists, thumbs on top.

2. Place your fists on your chest like you’re Tarzan getting ready to beat on your chest.

3. Move your fists in several circles as if scrubbing your chest.

bullet Monofont type is used to indicate Web addresses and e-mail addresses. When this book was printed, some Web addresses may have needed to break across two lines of text. If that happened, rest assured that we haven’t put in any extra characters (such as hyphens) to indicate the break. So, when using one of these Web addresses, just type in exactly what you see in this book, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist.

Something else I should point out is that I’ve made every effort to alternate male and female pronouns when referring to babies throughout this book. I have two girls and a boy, and I love them all equally. I didn’t get out the calculator and tally up the pronouns (who has time for that?!), so if there are more of one gender than another, rest assured that baby signing works equally well with boys and with girls — my three kids are a testament to that!

What You’re Not to Read

Technically speaking, because this is a reference book and not a classroom academic text, you can pick and choose what you are and aren’t going to read. I hope, of course, that you’ll want to read each and every word. However, know that some material in here is truly skippable. By that, I mean certain material isn’t essential for you to know in order to successfully sign with your baby. The material is still valuable — but in a bonus, supplementary way. Here’s what you can safely skip:

bullet The sidebars: You’ll see shaded boxes here and there throughout the book. They’re sidebars, and they contain side stories and personal accounts that complement a topic discussed in the book.

bullet The appendixes: Tucked neatly into the back of this book are three appendixes, covering the ASL alphabet, the numbers one through ten, and some colors. Knowing these signs isn’t absolutely essential to signing with babies, but many people ask me about them anyway. I’ve included them in this book in case you’re interested, too.

Foolish Assumptions

You know the old adage that assumptions can be dangerous. So I want to be upfront with you and share a few assumptions I made about the reader (that would be you) as I wrote this book:

bullet You have a baby or toddler in your life with whom you’d like to communicate. This book was written for parents and caregivers like yourself (and like me), whether it’s your first time in the ring or whether caring for a baby or toddler is old hat to you.

bullet You’ve already heard something about signing with babies that sparked your interest and led you to this book. You may have seen it in a movie or have friends who use it with their family. Perhaps you saw an article in a parenting magazine or a newspaper. Like me, you may simply have been intrigued when you saw a book about signing with your baby online or at your local bookstore. This book was written to fan into a flame that spark of interest.

bullet You are at least a tad skeptical. Maybe you’re concerned about the amount of time you’ll have to invest in this whole signing-with-baby experience. You’re worried how fluent you’ll have to become in American Sign Language. You’re not sure signing with babies even works. Maybe it’s just a gimmick or the latest parenting fad. I’ve faced those doubts and questions myself and helped countless other parents address them. This book answers the skeptic’s questions because it’s written by a former skeptic.

bullet Most of all, you love your baby. You want what’s best for him and hope to give him every advantage you can in life. You need to know what’s going on in that precious little mind as you see those wheels spinning. And you’re anxious to open the lines of communication with him as soon as possible. This book will help you do this.

How This Book Is Organized

When using a reference book, it’s always helpful to know where to find things. So to help you find things in this book, I’ve divided it into six parts, each of which contains chapters related to the theme of that part. Here’s a brief description to help you navigate.

Part I: Talking Hands

This part provides you with a basic overview of signing with babies. Here, you find out why you should use sign language to communicate with your baby. You also find the basic building blocks to help you set out on this great adventure.

Part II: Ready, Set, Sign!

Eating, sleeping, getting clean . . . these are all part of your little one’s daily routine (and yours). In this part, you discover how to incorporate signing into these bare necessities of life. You also find out how signing can assist you in your number-one priority: keeping baby safe and sound.

Part III: Signs for Everyday Life

Babies love to play and have fun. They’re fascinated with the world around them. Here, you find out how to use baby’s sense of wonder to open all kinds of doors of signing opportunity.

Part IV: Now We’re Talking

Part V: The Part of Tens

Here, you find ten reasons to sign with your baby, ten signs every baby and toddler should know, ten songs to sign along with, and ten resources to enhance your signing journey.


Here, you can discover the signs for letters, numbers, and colors to aid you on your way.

Icons Used in This Book

Scattered throughout this book you’ll find icons in the margins. They highlight certain kinds of information that you may find beneficial.


This icon indicates helpful pointers or bits of advice for signing with baby. These tips are based on my experience and that of other signing families. They may help you avoid some pitfalls along the way.


This icon points out important information that you’ll want to keep in mind during your signing journey.


Tied to this icon you’ll find success stories from my family as well as other baby-signing families. These can be a great source of encouragement while waiting to have a few success stories of your own. I can’t wait to hear yours! You’re welcome to contact me through my Web site at .

Where to Go from Here

Unlike most books, this one wasn’t written to be read straight through from cover to cover. Feel free to skip around if you find a particular chapter or heading that interests you. If you’re looking for a good place to start other than Chapter 1, I suggest Chapter 14, which provides ten reasons to sign with your baby. Chapter 3 is also a great place to begin, especially the do’s and don’ts section. Or just look over the table of contents and see what interests you. Wherever you choose to start, happy signing to you and your baby!