Sign language is an excellent tool to help promote your child’s speech and language skills. It may seem to go against common sense to teach sign language as a method to increase talking, but it does work. By teaching your child signs, you give him experience communicating successfully. He experiences the back and forth interaction that is important in language development. He also learns the value in being able to communicate his wants or needs. This will typically translate into a child that is more motivated to learn to talk. Once a child has learned to say a word he will typically stop signing that word because it becomes easier for him to say the word instead of sign it.
American Sign Language is the method of choice if your child will be signing with other family members, friends, or teachers. It would also be a good choice if your child is having significant difficulty with sound production or some other situation where your child will need signing to communicate for more than 6 months. If your focus is only for your baby to be able to communicate with you in the early months before words come you can use American Sign Language or make up your own gestures.
If your child is 2 or older, the Signing Time video series can be used to introduce your child to a variety of signs. But it may work better if you choose 2-3 signs to focus on initially. This site displays videos for 150 basic signs. Choose signs that would be meaningful to your child. As your child learns more signs, make sure you choose a variety and include nouns, verbs, and expressive words.
When you use the signs with your little one, simply add the sign to your speech. So if you are wanting to teach your child the sign for eat, use the eat sign every time you would say the word eat in your day-to-day life. It helps to find many opportunities to use the sign. As an example, at mealtime you might want to sit down next to your child and sign the word for eat before you take each bite. Some children may need to see the sign used over 100 times before they will attempt to imitate it.