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Signing Story Time is Nourishing Baby's Brain

Posted on January 23rd, 2013 by | 9 views
by Joann Woolley


How many times have you heard that children are like sponges, soaking up all that’s around them? You’ve probably also heard that you should read to your children daily. Twenty minutes a day is like exercise for the brain. It makes sense, we want to enhance their language acquisition, provide them with tools for learning, give them a head start in school, and all the other things that go hand in hand with having a healthy well adjusted, love-to-learn kid. Did you know you can make an even bigger impact during story time by signing words from the story to your child? It’s true. While babies and toddlers may not recognize words or letters on paper, they can easily identify the symbolic sign for various objects and activities.

Research is showing that signing in the classroom is making learning to read easier. If we can engage a child in more than one of the learning styles, they experience greater success in learning. The left side of the brain is the language center, while the right side of the brain is visual based. When parents speak as they sign, both sides of the brain are activated to learn. (Marilyn Daniels – Dancing with Words)

A good story time program will engage the audience using all four main learning styles; visual, auditory, kinesthetic and tactile. Visual learners will enjoy both illustrations and photograph images in books, felt boards or puppets to help tell a story, and signing key words to talk about the book.

Not only is signing a visual language, it promotes eye contact and draws a longer attention span. Auditory learners enjoy music, singing and chanting and benefit from the inflection and tone of the story teller’s voice. Speaking the words you sign with your baby are just as important as the words you read aloud from a book, it is building an auditory association to the sound and symbol. Kinesthetic learners love participatory story times where they are invited to clap hands, get up to dance, or bring a toy that corresponds to the theme of the story time. Signing is not only using the hands, a lot of facial expression and body language are incorporated to fully convey a message. Tactile learners love the ability to participate in telling the story with sign language. Finger plays such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” have been made popular with gestures that children like to mimic.

The following tips can be applied to reading and signing, coupled together you’ll feed your baby’s hungry brain.



  1. Repetition. Children benefit from reading the same book again and again as they become familiar with sequencing, they love being able to predict what comes next in the story and being correct.
  2. Establish a routine. Reading a book before bed or naptime is a great way for a baby to wind down.
  3. Make it fun. If your toddler wants to flip through the pages quickly to find their favorite page, go ahead and spend time talking about what interests them most.
  4. Encourage participation. Pointing, page turning, and talking about the book, not just the written words are all great ways for a baby to begin the lifelong love of reading.
  5. Be creative. When you find new ways to tell the same story it not only keeps your child engaged, it keeps you engaged as well.


  1. Repetition. Signing a word over and over again helps a baby pick up the meaning of the sign, much the way we repeat words when using parantese with babies (the high pitched sing song repetition of words caregivers use when speaking to babies).
  2. Establish a routine. Once you’ve begun signing in the context of reading books, or any other situation, continue to do so and your child will pick the signs up quickly.
  3. Make it fun. Try signing when you’re laughing and playing, your baby takes note of what you’re doing and is encouraged to chime in.
  4. Encourage participation. Asking your baby to show you the sign is great practice to build up to initiating conversation.
  5. Be creative. A novel game is one of the greatest signing opportunities. 

One of our favorites is This Little Piggy, signing pig each time you wiggle each little toe, and of course making a great pig snort or squeal!

Take the traditional well known preschool finger plays a step farther and learn the signs for words that are important to your child, Soon your child will have the building blocks for literacy and the confidence necessary to further describe their thoughts and feelings.

Joann Woolley is owner and instructor of Sign4Baby in San Diego teaching parents how to communicate with their preverbal baby using American Sign Language. With her in depth knowledge of ASL as her first language she takes you beyond just the basics in signing, also filling your parenting toolbelt with parenting tips and tricks coupled with signing as a great boundary teaching (discipline) tool for toddlers. View the schedule of classes at