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ASL: How to Sign Songs with Your Baby

Signing and singing with children go together as naturally as peas and carrots. In fact, lots of children’s songs already have motions to them, but be careful to be clear that they’re “motions” and not actual signs.

Pick out one or two words to sign from each song, instead of trying to sign all the words. Pick words that occur frequently in the song or are part of the climax of the song so that you can be dramatic and call attention to those particular signs. And don’t forget to have fun!

The Itsy Bitsy Spider in sign language

At first, you may want to pick out just one or two of the following signs to use with baby:

  • Water

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  • Rain

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  • Sun

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  • Spider

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After you choose the one or two signs you’re going to focus on with baby, sing and sign away:

        The itsy bitsy SPIDER
        Climbed up the WATER spout.
        Down came the RAIN
        And washed the SPIDER out.
        Out came the SUN
        And dried up all the RAIN.
        And the itsy bitsy SPIDER
        Climbed up the spout again.

Old MacDonald in sign

A favorite among children of all ages, this song is a great way to practice the various animal signs. The following example uses DUCK:

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        Old MacDonald had a farm
        e-i-e-i-o
        On this farm he had a DUCK
        e-i-e-i-o
        With a quack quack here [sign DUCK as you say “quack”]
        And a quack quack there
        Here a quack, there a quack
        Everywhere a quack quack
        Old MacDonald had a farm
        e-i-e-i-o

Row, Row, Row Your Boat in sign

Two signs are great to use while singing this song:

  • Boat

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  • Happy (used for merrily)

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Here you go:

        Row, row, row your BOAT
        Gently down the stream
        Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily [sign HAPPY as you sing “merrily”]
        Life is but a dream.

Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star in sign

At first, you can choose among these signs:

  • Star

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  • What

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  • Up

Now that you have your signs, here’s your song:

        Twinkle, twinkle little STAR
        How I wonder WHAT you are
        UP above the world so high
        Like a diamond in the sky
        Twinkle, twinkle little STAR
        How I wonder WHAT you are

Baa, Baa Black Sheep in sign

This song is a fun way to help children understand that wool comes from sheep. In fact, the sign for SHEEP mimics shearing a sheep.

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In addition, you can substitute other colors for black in the song, giving you an opportunity to practice some color signs (here's BLACK to get you started).

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And if you’d like to sign the word YES in the song (just because it’s fun), form the sign by making an ASL letter S and simply pretending it’s a head nodding “yes.”

Got it? Good! Here you go:

        Baa, baa BLACK SHEEP
        Have you any wool?
        YES sir, YES sir
        Three bags full
        One for my master
        One for my dame
        One for the little boy
        Who lives in the lane
        Baa, baa BLACK SHEEP
        Have you any wool?
        YES sir, YES sir
        Three bags full

Mary Had a Little Lamb in sign

This song is always a hit with babies and toddlers. Note that the sign for LAMB is the same as SHEEP, and here's the sign for SNOW:

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With that info in your back pocket, you’re good to go:

        Mary had a little LAMB
        Little LAMB, little LAMB
        Mary had a little LAMB
        Its fleece was WHITE as SNOW
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