in which your baby learns to sign is very similar to the way in which she will
learn to speak. Your baby will first understand a sign before she uses the
sign. This distinction is referred to as receptive versus expressive language
(or passive versus active vocabulary.) Older babies will move more rapidly from
receptive (passively understanding) language to expressive (actively using)
Signs that have similar hand movements will start out looking very similar. For
example, the signs for the words more and shoes will look very much the same in
the beginning especially if your baby is very young. This is similar to a baby
saying "ba" to refer to a bottle, ball and balloon. As your baby matures and
gains more control over her hands you will then begin to see a marked
difference between previously similar signs.
Just as babies begin speaking at different ages, so to will babies begin
signing at different ages with some starting as early as six months. The more
control your baby has over her hands and the more interest she has in
communicating with you, the more likely she is to begin signing back to you.
There are two milestones in baby education of
sign language that most babies will pass through in
learning. The first milestone is the first time that your baby
signs to you. This moment will be as thrilling to you as your baby's first
spoken word. Once your baby learns a given sign, she will notice the object
that represents the sign everywhere. Your baby may also use this first sign to
refer to many different objects and actions. This is similar to a baby saying
"da" to refer to everything in her world because she finally has a way to
The second milestone or education is often referred to as a signing explosion or signing
cluster. This usually occurs after your baby has learned her first five to ten
signs. At this milestone your baby has assimilated one of the most powerful
symbolic actions that distinguishes our species from all others on our planet -
the link between abstract symbol (the sign) and the experience it represents.
Once this monumental achievement is in place, she is likely to learn additional
signs very rapidly. The ability of the
baby in learning additional signs will most likely only
be limited by your ability to provide her with the signs.