Learn signs with your child in a playful way

Using gestures to communicate with your child is becoming increasingly popular in the Netherlands. By using gestures you give a child the tools to communicate before he or she can actually speak. Logically, this brings many benefits, such as reducing frustration and increasing self-confidence. An important condition for using gestures is that the gestures are used frequently so that the child learns them well. Because targeted exercises can be boring and uninteresting for a child, in this article I describe various ways to practice the gestures with your child in a playful way.

Reading with gestures

Children often enjoy being read to. This makes reading aloud a good method to playfully learn signs with your child. This interactive way of reading aloud gives the children plenty of opportunity to participate in the story and help with the reading.


Before you can start reading, some preparation is necessary. Firstly, it must be chosen which book will be used. Choose a book with a subject your child likes (for example, a favorite character), preferably a picture book. Make sure there is not too much text and that there is repetition in the book. After this, you see which words are repeated several times, and from these words you choose a maximum of 6 words whose gestures you want to use. Then find out which gesture corresponds to the words. You can use a name gesture for main characters (see name gesture section).

To work

Now that the initial preparation has been done, the real reading can begin. First practice with your child the gestures you want to learn (often this can be done with the help of the image and title on the front). After this you start reading. You read all the text as you normally do when reading. Only for the selected words do you make the corresponding gesture while pronouncing the word.

Example: You want to learn the gesture for ‘sleeping’. You read the sentence: ‘Look, the dog is sleeping ‘, and at the moment you say the word ‘sleeping’ you simultaneously make the gesture for ‘sleeping’.

Then give your child the opportunity to imitate the gesture. This way you can read the entire book together with your child. You can also ask your child questions, to which he can answer with gestures.

Example: ‘Look, there you see the dog. What is the dog doing?’ The child gestures ‘sleep’. “Yes, the dog is sleeping.”


  • First practice reading aloud a few times and using the gestures at the same time.
  • Use a stand to put your book on, as you often need both hands for the gestures.

Singing with gestures

Children love to hear songs, sing and dance. You can use this to teach the children signs. It is not without reason that many things are taught at school in the form of songs and rhymes!


In preparation, choose songs that match what your child likes and the gestures you want to learn. It is better to learn several short songs with two or three new gestures every time, than one long song with multiple gestures. After you have chosen a song, think about which words you want to learn the gestures for. In short songs it is best to choose a maximum of three words. Then you learn the gestures for these words and make sure you know the song well.

To work

Once you have selected the song and know the gestures well, you can start. You can choose to practice the gestures with your child in advance, or to start singing right away and demonstrate the gestures while singing. You sing the song and the moment you sing a word whose gesture you want to learn, you make the gesture.

For example: ‘The chicken was so happy, she laid an egg ‘. While singing the words ‘chicken’ and ‘egg’ you make the correct gesture at the same time.

The first time you sing and the child watches and listens. After this, repeat the song and encourage your child to join in.


  • Practice the song with the gestures a few times yourself, so that it is firmly in your head.
  • Don’t sing too fast. If you sing slowly you have more time to make the gesture and your child also gets the chance to participate.

Sign games

In addition to reading and singing with gestures, you can also use games to learn gestures through play. Well-known games can be adapted so that they become gesture games. For example, you can play guessing games with small children.

Example: Place four objects in front of your child. You make the gesture of one of the objects. The child points to the object from which you made the gesture.

This game can also take other forms, for example objects under a cloth, letting the child make a gesture and the like. Another example of gesture games are movement games. Your child not only makes the gestures you want to learn, but he/she moves with his/her entire body.

Example: You tell a story. Your child reproduces the sound with his whole body and the gestures you want to learn. ‘The cat is sneaking through the bushes. Suddenly she stopped. The child signs ‘cat’ and then sneaks around the room like a cat, before suddenly stopping.

For older children, you can think of games such as bingo or quartet, where you make the gesture instead of saying a word.

Example: You play a quartet. But instead of asking for the ‘dog’ card from the ‘animals’ category, act out the words ‘dog’ and ‘animals’ without talking.


  • See what games your child likes to play and consider whether you can adapt them into a sign game.

Additional information: Name signs

A name gesture is a gesture you use for a specific person, just as your spoken language uses a name. For example, the name gesture for Miffy is two fingers crossed in front of your mouth. If the name gesture for a particular character is not known, you can make up your own.


  • Together with your child, think of a name gesture for certain characters
  • Come up with a name gesture for your child. You can also ask older children to come up with a name gesture for you.

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