Early Sign Language Vocabulary
Here are lists of signs that I teach late talking toddlers and their parents. Remember the following guidelines for choosing signs to teach your toddler:
- Choose signs that your toddler can USE to make a difference in his world. I always teach words for things he already tries to ask for first since knowing what your kid wants when he’s crying, grunting, and pointing makes a HUGE difference in reducing his frustration level.
- Choose signs for your toddler’s favorite things since she will be more motivated to use her new signs.
- Initially choose signs to teach that look very different from each other so that you and your child are not confused.
For specific directions on how to teach signs or why using signs with late talking toddlers is beneficial, please refer back to the post “Talking Before Speaking Using Sign Language to Increase Communication Skills in Late Talking Toddlers.”
Look below the lists to find links to specific signs and a rationale for teaching certain signs. If you don’t see a sign you’d like to teach your child, click on this site to search for it. (Click on the word “site” to access the link.)
I also love this site. They have many cute photos of babies signing in their small but useful dictionary. There are also lots of great articles about the benefits of signing and lots of?books or videos to purchase if you really want to pursue this for your family.
First Signs – more, eat, milk, all done, please
I always teach these signs first because these are easy to do, and parents report that these are the ones that their children need to use the most initially. Click the word to see the sign.
Some experts don’t like this sign because it’s so general, but that’s exactly why I still teach this one first. It’s all-purpose, very simple to help your baby perform, and it’s very univeral. Many daycare and preschool teachers recognize this, even if they don’t know very many signs.
Talk about one of life’s basic functions! Most parents love introducing this sign because asking for food is one of the earliest requests babies make.
Again this is a sign for something babies ask for all day long.
Very useful because it gives your toddler control over his environment.
I use this for requests, particularly when a child can’t say or sign the thing he wants, but I still want him to learn to “ask”?for it.
I use this sign often during play – from making cars, trucks, or trains “go,” or in a game of chase, or as a starter word for any social game as in “Ready Set GO!” Instead of the ASL version of this sign, I make fists and then roll my hands and arms in front of my body.
I use this sign often during play since toddlers usually need help to “open” most containers, doors, or really any kind of toy. For this sign I place my hands palms down in front of my body then turn them over to expose my palms.
Snack Foods – cookie, cracker, fish (for goldfish), chip, candy (I use this mostly for fruit snacks and other candies), juice, water, cup/drink
Favorite Activities-choo-choo, ball, book, bubbles, car/truck, plane, baby (for dolls)
Favorite Animals – dog, cat, fish, bird, duck, bear (Many children’s books, pajamas, stuffed animals, and room decor are based on these.)
I always teach signs for a child’s favorite snacks and toys, activities, and animals next since these are highly motivating for him to learn. The following signs are among the most popular I have used for many years. If you can’t find your child’s favorites here, search for it using this link or here.
A word of caution – Please don’t encourage your child to use the same sign for all liquids he drinks or all snack foods he eats. While many new talkers generalize language (They call all animals “dogs,”all vehicles”cars,” or all men “Dada,” you want to work to expand their language when it makes sense. This is especially so with requests. Just as you wouldn’t give him a green bean when he asks for a cookie, try to resist the urge to make it easier to call all snacks the same thing. I do have one exception that I ponder in my mind all the time – just what do you call an animal cracker; is it a cookie or a cracker?)
One site I like lists this as the most important sign in a toddler’s life. I agree!
Another popular snack and a great one to teach since it looks so different from any of the other signs.
I use this for goldfish to help differentiate from the cracker sign. I also use it to label any other fish- the real thing, a toy, or a picture in a book.
Chip? (No link provided)
I use a modified version of this sign since the ASL version is too hard for toddlers. Place index finger & thumbs together in front of body (like more) and then pull hands apart. I can’t find a picture of this one on line, but I modified it from the sign for Computer Chip a long time ago. It’s worked for the kids and families I’ve used it with.
I use this sign for fruit snacks and other candies. I use the version listed at Signing Baby.com, but they are darn picky about using any of their photos on other sites according to their copyright information, so I may have to take this link down if I get negative feedback! I point my index finger on my check and twist it several times. You may not want to offer candy often, but it can be a powerful motivator!
I use a modified ASL version of this sign by performing a “j” in the air with my index finger since the pinkie finger is too difficult for toddlers to isolate. Many times kids just end up wiggling their index fingers in the air. You can try the The Baby Signs version, but it’s too similar to milk in my opinion.
Kids who like water or for parents who insist on water.
I teach this one as the same sign and use the words interchangeably. I know, I know. I am contradicting myself again about teaching the same sign for different words, but this is one case when parents might prefer to use the noun “cup” or the verb “drink” to mean the same thing.
Choo-choo (No link)
Choo-choo is easier to say because of the duplicated syllables and is more novel than saying “train,” so toddlers seem to prefer this version. Pull arm down as if pulling a train’s whistle. I can’t find a picture of this one anywhere, but it’s easy, and it’s a keeper!
Many toddlers say this word rather than signing it, which is WONDERFUL, but I included the sign just in case your child can’t say it just yet.
Many late talkers detest reading books, but most of them like to carry them around or chew on them. Use it whenever/however you can.
Bubbles (No link)
This activity is almost guaranteed to elicit words and sounds from toddlers. For hints for using bubbles see the post titled “Facilitating Words – Moving Beyond Grunting and Pointing.” I can’t find a great link for this one either, but I use this sign everyday. I alterante opening and closing both hands like I’m popping bubbles.
Little hands cannot differentiate these signs, so I sign them the same way, but I always say the appropriate word for what we’re using.
Another popular sign for the kids who love vehicles. Also useful for pointing them out in the sky. If your child can’t do the ASL version, I prefer to hold both of my arms out beside my body like wings. This also makes the sign look different from others.
A very cute sign to use for dolls and real life babies.
The most popular animal sign ever. I always pant after I say, “dog.” Many times this is the first imitation of anything near a word I get with late talkers. I always use the first part of the sign, patting my leg. I rarely have a kid who can even try to snap his fingers.
Another cute and popular sign.
Lots of kids use this one. Teach it well after drink is established, or you’ll be confused.
I use the whole hand instead of a few fingers so that it looks dramatically different from bird. You child may still confuse the two signs, but rely on context to know which one he’s signing. Don’t forget to “quack” to help differentiate the sign/word.
A favorite one for kids who love teddy bears.
If your child has learned all of these signs, he knows more than 25 different signs! What an accomplishment!!! When you’re ready for more ideas, check out the post titled First 100 Words – Advancing Vocabulary with Words and Signs.