Sign language for every age and stage

A post by Melissa Droegemueller of Rolling Prairie Readers

It was January 2010 when we heard the question for the first time: “Have you considered using sign language with Addie?” We were halfway through our daughter’s initial speech therapy appointment, sitting on our living room floor with a therapist we had just met.

Addie was 18 months old and not yet speaking, although my notes from that first session say she “had some sounds.” Born 14 weeks early, she had already undergone several surgeries and was affected by significant developmental delays like speech and walking. We were eager to try anything our experts suggested, so the next day we headed off to our local library to check out two Signing Time DVDs.

Seven years and another daughter later, we have the hindsight to say that learning sign language with our children has been one of our best parenting moves so far.

And in fact, baby sign language has become much more mainstream over the past few years—many parents are teaching their infants the signs for milk, more, please, and all done. However, many families stop signing once their child begins using speech regularly. Today, I’d like to share with you the countless benefits of signing with children of all ages!



  • Signing with your baby can offer you a view into your baby’s thoughts and needs, aid in bonding, and empower your baby to express him/herself and feel understood long before speech develops.
  • Your infant will also enjoy watching your facial expressions and body movements as you begin using signs to communicate.


  • Signing with toddlers is fun and rewarding because toddlers have a passion for communication.
  • Toddlers’ first attempts at speaking are not always clear. Signing can empower them to express their wants and needs in a way that is easy to understand, which can help reduce tantrums. (Would you rather your child point and whine or show you a sign?)
  • Signing helps toddlers notice details. American Sign Language uses specific hand shapes, and children who are learning signs must first look carefully at the hand of their teacher or parent and then replicate the sign. This type of visual discrimination builds memory, stamina, and other pre-reading skills.
  • Sign language also develops fine motor skills. Toddlers learn to isolate fingers to make the signs correctly, which leads to good pencil control down the road.


  • At this age, many children are kinesthetic learners, using their bodies to support their brain acquiring new information. Learning the alphabet, counting to 20, and identifying colors all becomes easier with visual and tactile cues like sign language.
  • These movers and shakers LOVE to sign because it gives them an approved outlet for moving in the classroom.
  • Learning American Sign Language is also a great way to build your child’s vocabulary (eg. use the sign for SAD when you come across the word distressed in a story) and clarify what he or she is trying to express when struggling to find the correct word.

Older children

  • Elementary age and older can learn ASL as a second (or third) language, like French or Spanish. Many high schools and colleges offer American Sign Language a foreign language credit.
  • American Sign Language is used by millions of Deaf Americans, and learning some basic signs can empower your child to interact with someone who is Deaf in the future.
  • Finally, sign language is a great way to communicate to a family member across a crowded room or during times when talking would be disruptive.

Over the last seven years, our girls have blossomed thanks to sign language. Both girls are confident, friendly, and strong readers, which seems to be quite common with children who learn ASL as young children.

So today I pass the question on to you: “Have you considered using sign language with your children?”

Melissa Droegemueller is a classroom teacher-turned- homeschooling mama to two girls, ages 8 and 5. Her family lives in small-town Iowa where they go on long nature walks by the lake and even longer bike rides through town to their one (or both) of their two favorite places—the library and the hometown bakery. Melissa is passionate about empowering all parents to be their child’s first & best teacher and nurturing a community of families on a small corner of the Internet called Rolling Prairie Readers.