What is Makaton?

Makaton uses signs, symbols and speech to help children and adults communicate.

A child demonstrating a Makaton sign


Makaton is the sign and symbol language used in the CBeebies show, Something Special.

Makaton is designed to support spoken language - signs, symbols and speech are used to help children and adults to communicate.

Signs are used, with speech, in spoken word order. Using signs can help children who have no speech or whose speech is unclear.

Symbols can be used to support communication in many different ways. Using symbols can help people who have limited speech and those who cannot, or prefer not to, sign.

Makaton is very flexible and can be used to:

  • share thoughts, choice and emotions
  • label real objects, pictures, photos and places
  • take part in games and songs
  • listen to, read and tell stories
  • create recipes, menus and shopping lists
  • write letters and messages
  • help people find their way around public buildings

Who can Makaton help?

Makaton can help children and adults who have difficulty with:

  • communicating what they want, think or how they feel
  • making themselves understood
  • paying attention
  • listening to and understanding speech
  • remembering sequencing

Extra information

Makaton is a visual way to develop communication skills which helps stimulate sounds and words. This visual way of communicating in turn helps to encourage language development, i.e. putting words together. Makaton helps understanding, giving the child or adult an extra visual clue.

Makaton signs help convey meaning, because the signs give an extra clue when speaking, for example ‘Hello’ and ‘Drink’. The signs used in Makaton are from British Sign Language (BSL) which is the language of the deaf community in Britain.

Makaton symbols help learning. A Makaton symbol is a simple black and white drawing which shows the meaning of a word. Symbols are lasting and permanent. Symbols give a child or adult more time to take in information.

The Makaton Charity exists to ensure that everyone living with learning or communication difficulties has the tools and resources they need to communicate.

The Makaton charity:

  • provides training to parents, carers, and professionals, via our nationwide network of licensed tutors and trainers
  • develops and produces printed and electronic resources - from nursery rhyme DVDs to vocabulary books and electronic collections of signs and symbols for computer use
  • works with others to make their information accessible - e.g. translating materials using Makaton symbols
  • provides advice and support to families and professionals - e.g. the charity has a free family advisory service
  • works in partnership to influence society and empower people. The charity has worked with organisations such as The National Portrait Gallery and the BBC to promote communication and use Makaton so that more children can take part.

How to make a magic moment

Play a shopping game together. Gather together a collection of toys, books or clothes and take turns to go shopping to buy things using Makaton to help. A real basket makes this game even more fun - as can using real fruit and vegetables!

How CBeebies can help

Have you seen Something Special and Mr Tumble on CBeebies? You too can learn to use Makaton like Justin and Mr Tumble.

If you haven’t watched the show, why not a get a flavour of it by visiting the Something Special web pages on the CBeebies website? There are lots of printable sheets which are a great way for your child to learn the Makaton signs for key words. Each word is written out and also represented by a photo, picture and sign image. And there are also Something Special games, songs, video clips and stories, a recipe for a Mr Tumble cake and printable colouring-in sheets for your child to enjoy.

Watch Something Special, visit the Something Special website, and contact The Makaton Charity to find out about Makaton training in your area.

Print this article

Want more fun?

See all fun activities

Expert opinion

Children learn language by gradually making sense of the words adults and other children use. Makaton can help children learn as the signs give extra clues about the meaning of the spoken words and can help children remember them.

Speech and Language Therapists recommend that children learn lots of action words (verbs) as well as the names of objects, people and words for describing things and making requests.

Makaton is an excellent way of helping children learn these important types of words to develop their understanding and support the development of expressive language skills.

Dot Reeves, Specialist Paediatric Speech and Language Therapist

Parent's tale

Finn is 3 and now, after using it for 18 months, Makaton is an integral part of our life, and most importantly for us Finn's speech is improving from using it.

His favourite signs are 'chocolate cake' and 'more'. And thanks to the 'Animal Rescue' episode of Something Special, he also loves getting a laugh with 'rabbit poo'!

We are now working on his symbols, starting to get letter recognition ready for school. We have a pot of symbols for us to go shopping with, we make lists of things to find when he visits grandparents, and have a 'this week' pin board in his room, which he loves adding to. His best friends also use Makaton, and it is lovely to see them all signing together, especially when his mainstream friends are showing off the signs they have eagerly learnt from Mr Tumble.

Katie, from London

Top tips

  • When using Makaton:use the sign or symbol for the important word in the sentenceremember to speak and sign at the same timeuse clear, short sentencesremember to make eye contact and use facial expression, body language and gestureuse real objects and mime to give reference and meaningyou may need to guide your child’s hands to help them to make the signreward any attempt at communication and use the sign and symbol for ‘Good’ to give praisehave fun!

Answers from the web

More from the BBC

Elsewhere on the web

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.