Research has shown that baby signing has a 'significant, positive impact on the overall development of children'* Communication is paramount to child development. Using signs, or gestures, to emphasis key words in the sentence is, in my opinion, hugely beneficial both in terms of language and social and emotional development.
I attended Sing and Sign classes with both my children. If I'm honest, the reason I went with my first born was to meet other new mums and babies, but seeing how much my daughter enjoyed it, meant that very quickly it became a weekly event in our calendar! I would repeat the songs at home and show my husband what we'd done simply so he could share in her delight. We kept this routine up and soon memorised some of the signs and found ourselves repeating them several times a day.
It was clear to us that our daughter was understanding what we were signing and, at around 10 months she was consistently using some of them herself when communicating her needs too.
I can vividly remember my mum being sceptical, worrying that teaching her signs would slow down her spoken language, but she was absolutely convinced herself after seeing (and hearing) my daughter's language acquisition with her own eyes!
We attended with my son too. He was born severely deaf and we were told that sign language may end up being his preferred mode of communication. At the very least we were warned that a speech delay was likely. Remarkably, he too was confidently signing and talking very early.
Nowadays neither of my children routinely sign, yet, as a family we still use signs to help us communicate in some situations. For example, in the park, rather than shouting "it's time to go home" or "be careful", I'll often sign it to them. In social situations too, I still use the please and thank you signs to prompt my children to say it if they forget.
It's important to note that baby sign is not the same as British Sign Language (BSL) or Makaton although there are some overlaps. The purpose of baby sign is to support babies with their communication, not to act as an alternative to the spoken word. For this reason it doesn't actually matter if the sign you use are the same as mine - as long as the sign you use is consistent.
The signs taught at Sing and Sign classes were created to be simple enough for babies to copy so, if you're making up your own, try to keep them as simple as possible. Research has also shown that babies learn the more iconic signs (that is, the ones that depict the word or action in a mime-like fashion, for example the sign for drink) more easily than the more arbitrary (more random) gestures, for example the sign for dog.
I've recorded myself doing the signs that we used frequently. I hope they are helpful.
Some of the key caveats that I've learnt along the way are,
Never sign in silence. Always say the word (or sentence) as you sign, giving baby the opportunity to hear and see it.
Sign only the keyword in the sentence. Trying to sign every word will slow down your normal speech and seem unnatural.
Be consistent. Use the same signs repeatedly.
If your child attempts to copy, praise them and repeat the sign again in both speech and gesture. If what they sign isn't quite right, don't criticise, rather keep modelling the correct way.
Encourage all caregivers to use the same handful of signs.
Signs for basic needs
*Vannesa Mueller, Amanda Sepulveda & Sarai Rodriguez (2014) The effects of baby sign training on child development, Early Child Development and Care, 184:8, 1178-1191, DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2013.854780