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Family Sign Language

Photo: Learning sign language with everyday activities

Learning sign language can seem like a daunting task so we've created lots of videos and tips to introduce you to British Sign Language (BSL) and practical and fun examples of how you and your family can use it.

Doing things together 

Everyday activities are a great way to practice signing and introduce new signs you've learnt. Whether it's signing about the rubber duck at bath time or about the food you're having for breakfast.

If you’re just starting to learn to sign, try to learn a few new signs every day. With just two new signs a day, you’ll know 60 signs by the end of each month! Try and include the whole family and friends in learning to sign. That way everyone can get involved and your child will be more confident about communicating with others. Here's some ideas to get you started:

When people come and go from the house, make sure your child is aware of what is going on. For example when Mum or Dad go to work, make sure your child knows when someone is leaving so they have a chance to say goodbye.

Make sure your child is familiar with the names for all the members of your extended family – put photos of them on the wall, or in a book with their name written next to their picture.

Create sign names for family and friends – pick something that is memorable about them!

By learning how to talk about emotions, your child will learn to express themselves and be equipped to cope with difficult feelings when they arise. Facial expressions are important for deaf children to understand your emotions, as your child may not be able to hear your tone of voice. You can also think about other ways you can express emotions.

Mealtimes are a great time to get the whole family together to practice signing skills. You can talk about what food everyone does and doesn't like, or what you've been up to that day.

With lots going on at mealtimes it's easy for your child to miss out on what's being said. To help with this you can:

  • position your child where they can see the whole family
  • use a regular seating plan so your child gets used to where everyone sits
  • use touch to get their attention if they look away or you want to get their attention so they can join in with the conversation.
  • Over time, your child will get used to interacting at mealtimes and will join in more often. Watch how the Fitzgerald-Woolfe family involve everyone at mealtimes.

Playtime gives you lots of opportunities to introduce new signs and concepts. You can play games based on real life situations, like crossing the road. This will help your child to understand how to be safe when you go outside.

Here's a few tips.

  • Tell your child the name of each toy, book or game so that they build their knowledge of what everything is called.
  • Play games that are short enough to hold your child's attention, especially when playing them for the first time.
  • Make games more visual like our family do when they play musical chairs.

Look at how you can integrate sign with leisure, hobbies and celebrations and how to make these events inclusive. 

Going outside is a great opportunity to practice signs that you've learnt. Here's a few tips to help you with this.

  • Tell your child as much as you can about where you're going so they can get excited and anticipate it.
  • Show your child pictures of where you are going so they know what it will look like.
  • Involve your child in getting ready and packing for a trip to give them an idea of what will happen and explain why you need certain things you are taking.
  • Take lots of photos when you are out so you can go through them and talk about your trip afterwards.
  • Play lots of visual games when you are out like I-spy so you can practice signs and fingerspelling.

We have also made 12 videos covering different topics related to family life. These include vocabulary and conversational skills and parents and children can learn together, at a time and pace that suits them.

Specially tailored videos are available for the following regions: 

Use the links above to find lessons for your preferred nation.

Also have a look at our page on our online Family Sign Language courses and our commissioned Sign Language courses webpage which organisations can commission us to deliver to families they work with.

Visit our section on Storytelling  and watch our videos to discover more ways to communicate using BSL while making the most out of your environment.