The benefits of using Makaton signing

by Emma Loughran. Using Makaton signing can boost a child’s confidence and communication skills - and encourage them to express themselves creatively.

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Look at the noticeboard in your nearest library or community centre or flick through the local ‘What’s on’ guide for children and carers, you will probably find a baby/toddler signing class somewhere on the list.

Meanwhile, the use of Makaton signing is becoming more and more commonplace in pre-school and Early Years settings.

But if your child is showing all the signs of meeting their developmental age-related goals, do you need to bother teaching them to sign? What benefits are there in learning another form of communication when your child is interacting well with you and their peers?

How CBeebies can help

Makaton is the nationally-accepted form of signing for those with special educational needs or communication disorders. CBeebies show ‘Something Special’ provides a great starting point for you and your child to familiarise yourselves with Makaton.

Presenter Justin Fletcher gives clear and fun guidance to children on the use of Makaton signs and symbols.

The show always begins with Justin greeting the viewer and introducing himself. There are many other examples throughout the programme of ideas that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine, such as saying ‘Thank you’ or expressing feelings and emotions. The slapstick character of Mr Tumble is used to help with repetition of any key themes which are explored.

Justin’s vibrant and confident approach embraces the ethos of Makaton signing - to remove frustration and enable people to connect with others and the world around them, thereby opening up all kinds of possibilities.

How to make a magic moment

Attending a local baby/toddler signing class is an obvious starting point. Go along and get a taste of what they are doing there – it may be something that you and your child find fun and a good way of making friends.

Baby/toddler signing classes are usually music and rhyme based, with a focus on getting babies and children used to signing in response to known and repeated words and phrases.

My own children regularly use the signs from ‘Something Special’. Why not have a go at some of them with your child? You can find a selection on the show’s web pages on the CBeebies website.

Finally, why not have some fun experimenting with your own signs and actions to go with familiar songs. Encouraging your child to embrace the idea of alternative communication skills can help develop their general confidence and self-esteem - and also prepare them for signing and symbols used in the pre-school and Early Years environment.

Extra information

The formal approach of Makaton is not the only way to develop children’s communication, language and literacy skills.

Devising informal actions and signs to go with known songs and rhymes can help your child meet some of the developmental goals set out in the Early Years Foundation Stage profile, e.g. the EYFS goal which states that a child 'listens with enjoyment to stories, songs, rhymes and poems, sustains attentive listening and responds with relevant comments, questions or actions'.

Children’s creative development and their ability to memorise songs (by matching actions with words) can also be encouraged by the use of actions and signs.

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Top tips

  • Watch
  • episodes of ‘Something Special’ and jot down any easy signs that you think you
  • could use during your daily routine.Go
  • along to your local baby or toddler signing class.Get
  • in touch with the Makaton charity to find out more about their work in helping
  • people with communication difficulties.Model your own ideas
  • for actions and signs to go with familiar songs to encourage your child to
  • express themselves.

Expert opinion

I have seen Makaton being used successfully within mainstream education, allowing younger children who are shy or reluctant to communicate verbally to interact with teachers and school staff. It has given them greater confidence and self-esteem. As their speech developed, the children naturally dropped their reliance on signing and symbols as they approached the end of the Foundation Stage.

And I have used signing regularly to encourage children to take part confidently in singing (from Early Years right through Key Stage 2).  

Emma Loughran, Primary school teacher

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