Baby signing

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Sign for 'klaar'/'ready'

Baby signing is a way to communicate with babies in which spoken language is supported by signing.

Wat is baby signing?

Baby signing is based on signs from the Dutch Sign Language (the language for the deaf and hard of hearing), which as a parent or carer you can use to communicate with babies or young children in addition to spoken language. You speak as normal, the signs are there to give extra support and to help your child pick up the language earlier on.

Baby signing is used often by parents and carers as extra support when explaining or clarifying words or concepts. After the children have learned to understand the signs, they usually use them themselves.

The history of baby signing

In 1970 the American sign language interpreter Joseph Garcia discovered that babies with deaf parents were able to express their wishes and needs at a much earlier age than babies with hearing parents. He did further research into this in the 80s by having hearing parents use sign language with their babies. This research showed that babies who are exposed to sign language from around six months old, can communicate with their hands from around eight months.

Baby signing has been well known in countries such as the United States, Canada and Great Britain and it is gaining popularity in the Netherlands. Since 2005 baby signs are officially being used in the Netherlands. Ever since it is becoming more known here as well.

Practical application of baby signing for prospective and new parents

Sign for 'paddenstoel'/'toadstool'

By learning to use signs, children can make themselves understood before they can talk. Motorically speaking children are capable to make signs with their hands from (around) eight months old. Making these movements is part of the gross motor skills, which develop earlier than fine motor skills. Speaking and controlling the muscles around your mouth are part of fine motor skills. For this to have developed to the stage where children can speak actual words only happens at a later stage, from around 14 months.

When as a parent or carer you teach your children signs, they will copy these before the words that accompany the signs. Before a child is capable of talking, they can clarify with their hands what they mean, need, see, etc. This means that as a parent or carer you have to guess less as to what the child means. This can make it a lot less frustrating for both parents and child.

You also offer a child a second language: spoken and sign language. This means that a child has more options to develop their language skills - for example they can choose from more than one example. A child will make a language their own much more quickly this way and it could even happen that they start talking earlier than if they hadn't learned signs.

By using the Dutch Sign Language all signs are easily accessible as there are many books, DVDs and website on this language.


The first version of this article was written by Brechje Koster, baby signing teacher. It was translated by Femke de Vos Burchart into English.


Joseph Garcia

External links

Baby- en Kindergebaar - team van enthousiaste docenten baby- en kindergebaren, werkzaam in heel Nederland - in Dutch

Babygebaren en babypraat - Eiskje Clason - in Dutch

Baby Signs, Inc. - The Original Sign Language Program for Kids

Gebarenwoordenboek van Stichting Nederlandse Gebarentaal - in Dutch

Search terms

Babygebaren, babygebarentaal, kindergebaren, kindergebarentaal, gebarentaal, sign language, baby sign language, baby signs

NL vlag.jpg Read this article in Dutch: Babygebaren

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