Choosing Your Starter Words
Your baby’s first experiences with sign will lay the foundation for all of her future signing endeavors. By carefully choosing fun and simple starter signs, you will provide her with a pleasurable signing experience that will motivate her to sign further. Some parents choose to start out with one or two signs, while others introduce four or five all at once. It is best to stay in the range of one to five signs to avoid overloading your baby with too much information too soon. Also remember that you will have to learn just as many signs as your baby, and you do not want to overload yourself, either.
Several American Sign Language signs incorporate a letter from the manual alphabet in their formation. For example, the sign for AUNT starts out with the letter A. For this reason, you may want to familiarize yourself with the ASL manual alphabet (see Appendix C) during the early stages of signing.
It is important to choose words that your baby will have an interest in signing. Initially, this interest will keep her riveted while you demonstrate the signs. As she begins to understand what the signs represent, it will be her interest that prompts her to imitate the signs. When she sees that signing brings a response, she will eagerly form the signs again and again.
In Chapter 8, you will find an extensive list of appropriate starter signs. Many of these signs fall into two different categories: high-impact signs and need-based signs. While you can certainly use any signs you wish, starting out with need-based or high-impact signs has its merits.Need-Based Signs
An infant’s needs are pretty basic. In fact, other than a whole lot of love, your baby probably requires little more than milk, clean diapers, and sleep. While that may seem simple enough, deciphering her cries can be quite a challenge. If only she could tell you exactly what she wants. By introducing need-based signs to your baby, you will be providing her with a vocabulary that will allow her to ask for the things that are most important to her. Examples of need-based signs include the following:
Need-based signs represent things that your baby is already very familiar with and things that she desperately wants to communicate. As she begins to comprehend that signing will enable her to communicate, she will eagerly attempt to form these signs.High-Impact Signs
With their own unique personalities, all babies are fascinated and stimulated by different things. Perhaps your baby is excited by the family cat. Perhaps she is overjoyed by the sight of her blanket. Using the signs for things that interest your baby is a great way to motivate her as she begins her signing journey.
Most babies have relatively short attention spans. The things that excite them this week may be perfectly mundane by the next. Be cautious when choosing high-impact signs, and try to stick to the ones that seem to have more staying power so that your baby doesn’t lose interest in the sign.
Choosing high-impact signs for your baby’s starter words is also a good way to encourage her exploration of the topics that interest her. If your baby is particularly excited by horses, for instance, then introducing the sign for HORSE is a good way to expose her not only to the word, but to examples of it. As you model the sign, you will likely be showing her actual horses, photos of horses, toy horses, and more. Because of her curiosity about the subject, she may quickly pick up the sign and learn more about horses as well.