5 Reasons Why You Should Sign with Your Baby & Toddler (+ giveaway!)


Why should you sign with your baby or toddler?  Research shows that babies who learn signs have larger vocabularies and higher IQs. Those are great reasons alone, but why should busy parents take time out of their schedule to learn signs?  This guest post by Kelli Atangan of Little Hands Speech Therapy in Ashburn, Virginia explains why signing with your young child can make parenting easier.

1. Avoid meltdowns. Learning signs gives your baby more tools to communicate. When you know what your baby wants, you really can avoid meltdowns! My own sons each had around 5-10 spoken words at 18 months plus approximately 75-100 signs for a total vocabulary of 80-110 words. My children, like all other toddlers, got frustrated when they couldn’t do things. But because they could sign, they had the vocabulary to tell me why they were frustrated.

2. Signs are a simple way to teach the give and take of communication. Your child needs to give you something (a sign, word, or gesture) in order to get something. Children who lack this give and take of communication are frequently seen in speech therapy from 18-24 months, and often the first thing we begin to teach them is simple signs. Establish this skill early with your child by encouraging them to ask for things, instead of just giving things to them.
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3. Learning signs provides a strong foundation for early literacy. Reading with your baby, along with the vocabulary boost signing provides, may lead to stronger early reading skills. Other early literacy skills include book handling, looking a recognizing pictures, and imitating an action seen in a picture. When sitting and reading a book with your baby, sign on your baby and guide your baby’s hands.

4. Bilingual? Signs can be a visual bridge between two languages.  While we have yet to see research in this area, anecdotal stories shared by my clients show that signs help children to organize and connect the two (or three) languages they are learning!

5. Nothing to lose! Signs do not hinder spoken language development and may increase spoken language development.  Once children learn the spoken word, they will usually drop the sign because the spoken word is faster.  One day you may realize that most of your child’s signs have been replaced with the spoken word!

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Bonus #6. It’s never too late to begin! If your child has lots of language but their speech is difficult to understand it may be beneficial to learn signs, even as an older toddler.  In speech therapy, I teach signs to children of all ages who need a little help expressing themselves clearly.

Kelli Atangan is a Speech Language Pathologist and mother to three boys.  She earned her Masters degree from Gallaudet University. She owns Little Hands Speech Therapy in Ashburn, Virginia and teaches sign language classes across NOVA.  For information on her classes visit:  http://www.littlehandsspeechtherapy.com or email Kelli@littlehandsspeechtherapy.com or check out Little Hands on Facebook.


Acredolo, L. P., & Goodwyn, S. W. (1990). Sign language in babies: The significance of symbolic gesturing for understanding language development. In Vasta, R. (Ed.), Annals of child development (pp. 1–42). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Goodwyn, S. W., Acredolo, L. P., & Brown, C. A. ( 2000). Impact of symbolic gesturing on early language development. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 24, 81–103.

Early Literacy.  BrainWonders & Sharing Books with Babies.


Kelli has generously offered one lucky winner a spot in her October 17 or November 7 morning workshop in Ashburn. Thanks, Kelli! For details about Kelli’s workshops, see the Little Hands website.

Enter below by commenting about how you’d like your baby or child to communicate and get more entries by following Little Hands and Mindful Healthy Life and sharing on social media.

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About the author

Kelli Atangan


  • I would love for my 13 month old to be able to communicate if he is experiencing pain or if he is hungry/thirsty. Right now he only uses a couple of words and resorts to screaming to get all of his need met. This makes it hard to know exactly what it is he needs.

  • I’ve been working on teaching my daughter signs from a book a friend gave me. It’s been a great way for my daughter to ask for water! We need to teach her some more signs.

  • I’ve got a sweet 2-month old boy who is just started the social smiles & cooing and I look forward to learning what he is thinking and to helping him communicate his most basic needs – and being able to better discern whether he’s hungry, wet, or just wants to be held & loved.

  • I wish that my littles were better able to communicate needing to go potty. I look for body language, but it’d sure be nice if they could proactively let me know!

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