Baby Sign Language: 25 First Signs to Learn

Child playing with blocks

If your pēpi is Deaf, hard of hearing, or you simply want to use New Zealand sign language to communicate with them, here are some everyday words to start with.

Our babies communicate with us well before they’ve learnt to talk. In fact, crying is their way of telling us they need us. So, using simple signs from an early age can be a great way to understand what it is that they want.

Sign language is one of the official languages in Aotearoa and more than 20,000 people use it every day. Deaf Aotearoa have kindly shared their First Signs resources with us, illustrated by Shaun Fahey, so you can practice these with your tamariki. For video demonstrations of these signs and thousands of others, visit the New Zealand Sign Language Dictionary.

Me Baby Sign Language

Point to your chest with the index (pointing) finger of your dominant hand (your writing hand).


With your dominant hand flat, tap the side of your forehead twice with the fingertips.


Making a flat looking zero with your dominant hand, tap the side of your forehead twice with your gathered fingertips.


Bring both your fists together, palms facing each other, knuckles touching. Rub fists together at the fingers, up and down, twice.


Make a fist but curve your index finger, like a hook. Bring the hook to the bridge of your nose and tap twice.


Bring both of your flat hands, bent and relaxed at the wrist, to the front of your torso. Move your arms up and down from the elbow, lightly.


Bring your thumbs and index fingers to your face, thumbtips to the sides of your chin. Move your hands apart (outwards) as you close your index finger to your thumbs. Do that whole movement twice.


Do a freestyle swimming motion with both hands, but just in front of your chest, not all the way over your head.


Take your dominant fist with index finger and middle finger extended like legs, and briefly ‘walk’ them in front of your torso.


Start in the middle of your torso with your hands closed, palms touching (like praying), then open your hands out like a book.


Make a fist with index and middle fingers extended. Hold your fist at the side of your cheek with fingers pointing forwards and move your hand forward and slightly downwards.


Take your fist with index finger extended (like making a number 1) finger pointing upwards, palm facing back at you, then move your arm in small anticlockwise circles.


Take your fist with index finger extended (like making a number 1), hold your fist out in front of you, palm facing forward. Shake your hand side to side a few times.


Take your open hands, palms facing upwards, to the middle of your torso. Move your hands horizontally apart to your sides (outwards) and then back again.


Gesture with your flat hand, bending it at the wrist towards you.


Make a loose claw shape with your hand. Take your hand to the middle of your chest, fingertips touching the chest, and then move your hand forward slightly out from your chest.


Take your fists and extend your thumbs (like the gesture for ‘good’), hold your fists out in front of your torso slightly apart, then twist the wrists inwards rapidly several times.


Hold the non-dominant (non-writing) hand at the middle of your torso, palm facing upwards; then take your dominant hand palm facing downwards (as if to clap). Clap the upper palm, move it in a clockwise direction, skim lower palm on its way back around.


Take your flat dominant hand, bring it to your nose so that your palm is facing sideways and the side of your index finger is touching your nose. Slowly drag your hand down your nose vertically.


Take your fist and make a hook with your index finger and also extend your thumb, then hold your fist at your chin with your palm facing to you, and shake it up and down twice.


Take your open flat hands, palms facing upwards, hands held out in front of you. Move your lower arms in vertical circles (from your elbows), your left arm circling anticlockwise and your right arm circling clockwise (mirroring).


Take your flat open dominant hand, place it on your torso with your palm touching your tummy, and make small circles against your tummy.


Take your fists and place them against your chest, slide them up and down your chest as if you’re washing yourself. Make sure that as the left fist slides down your chest, your right fist slides up. Repeat a few times.


Take your flat hand, place it on the side of your head, and lean your head into your palm.


Take your fists with index fingers and thumbs pressed together at the fingertips, bring your pressed fingers to the outside of your eyes and then open your fingers and thumbs as if you’re waking up quickly.