It's never too early to use signs with your baby. But he'll be more likely to try them himself if he's at least 6 months old and already makes gestures on his own, like waving "bye-bye." These steps can make the learning process smoother.
- Begin with just a few signs. It'll be easier for you to remember how to make them and to do them often. Start with the ones you think will be most useful, like "eat," "drink," and "more." (For some basic signs, see "Ready, Set, Sign!".)
- As you make a sign, always say the word it stands for. You want signing to be a bridge to verbal language, not to take its place. Try to also remember to make the sign every time you mention the word it signifies -- consistency is key.
- Don't sign off so quickly. Children learn through repetition. So if you're asking your child if she's hungry, make the sign for "eat" several times, and pose the question in different ways: "Would you like something to eat?" "Want to eat?" and so on. If you're making the sign for an object, point to the object afterward, say its name, then repeat the process at least twice.
- Find opportunities throughout the day. If you only make the "dog" sign when your neighbor's collie trots by, your child may equate it with that dog alone. But if you also sign and say "dog" whenever Clifford is on TV or when you see a picture of a dog in a book, your child will soon learn that the gesture -- and the word -- stand for all dogs.