June 12, 2014

Enrich Your Learning Environment with Sign Language: Post #7

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When I meet someone who signs with their baby, and they find out that I write books and teach classes about signing with infants, toddlers and young children, it's not unusual that they want to have their baby "perform" their signs for me. The mom, dad or grandparent emphatically models some signs, and says something like, "Show Miss Dawn how you can sign cracker . . . or kitty . . . or please and thank you." Parents really love it when their babies can sign please and thank you.

As proud as these mamas and papas may be, in my experience, manner signs come later for babies than need/want-based signs such as more, ball, book. Yes, babies will sign please  but what they mean when they sign it is, "I WANT SOMETHING!" Thank you typically takes some time for babies to produce. Let's face it, when your baby wakes you up at two in the morning, they aren't waking you to thank you for the trouble you've gone through on their behalf. They've woken you up to alert you to their need for a diaper change, or some milk (or in the case of my daughter when she was an infant, an urgent craving for a banana).

That does not mean I would discourage you from including signs for manners in your communication with your baby and/or modeling them for your child. I would encourage you to sign these words regularly, but to do so in addition to signing a rich vocabulary of need/want, action/object words. When you say, "Please," sign please  When you say, "Thank you," sign thank you. When your baby is at the developmental stage of handing a toy to you (and then taking it back, over and over and over again), and you hear yourself saying, "Thank you" each time your baby hands you the toy, that's a GREAT time to also incorporate the sign for thank you  And yes, your baby will follow in your footsteps (or handsteps!) and begin signing those words (it's just not typical that they will sign those words as early as they will sign more concrete need/want words).

That said, manner signs are a fabulous addition to a home/classroom learning environment for older children (toddlers and preschoolers on up). When you say, "Please" and "Thank you" in your classroom, add the signs to your communication. When you notice a child has forgotten to use their manners for something, you can signal them with a signed reminder.

I also like using the signs for your turn and my turn when I'm working with a classroom of students. When kids' hands shoot up at a time when I'm not yet ready to take questions or comments from participants, I will say/sign, "It's my turn to talk. I'll let you know when it's your turn." Then, when I do open it up for questions and comments, I use the sign for your turn and say something like, "It's your/Katie's turn. What is your question?" to call on students.

Share is another great sign for older kids. I remember learning from the Signing Time videos that the sign for share looks like you are "dividing something up . . . some for you, and some for me." What I especially like about the sign is that it requires two hands. When my kids were younger, it wasn't unusual that they would argue over toys. When a conflict arose, they would each put a death grip on the object of interest and start pulling. IF I was having a particularly good parenting moment, I would say something like, "Use your signs. Tell your brother/sister you want to share " They had to put the toy down to produce the sign for share. Now, granted, my daughter, who is three years older than her brother, would sometimes put the toy down, QUICKLY sign "share," and then snatch the toy back up  again, but sometimes, signing would shift their attention from fighting over the toy (to arguing about who was better at signing!).

If you want to practice manner signs using music, one of my favorite songs is the Signing Time Magic Words song.

I'd love to hear some of your experiences incorporating signs for manners in your learning environment.   Send me a message using the form to the left, or leave a comment below.

If you want more tips for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find links to the full series of posts here.


  1. Lovely post, Dawn. I really like how you incorporate your sign language in your presentation--"My turn" to talk vs. the audience's turn to talk. Reinforcing manners and teaching sign language at the same time :)

    1. Thanks, Trudy! (It's like sneaking vegetables into spaghetti sauce!)