Makaton signing: what it is and why use it?

Makaton is the sign and symbol language used in the CBeebies show, Something Special. Makaton is designed to support spoken language – signs are used with speech, in spoken word order to help children and adults to communicate. Using signs can help children who have no speech (either because they have communication difficulties or are very young) or whose speech is unclear.

Many children’s understanding develops ahead of their speech. This can leave them feeling frustrated as they might know what they want but not be able to express it, which can lead to tantrums.

Using signing can help empower them to express what they want to say and alleviate frustration.

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.

Watch expert tips from a speech therapist about helping your child learn to sign and parents of children with special needs talking about how using Makaton has changed their lives

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

The use of Makaton signing is becoming more commonplace in pre-school and Early Years settings as a way of helping young children develop their communication skills.

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 that shows the meaning of a word. Symbols are lasting and permanent. Symbols give a child or adult more time to take in information.

Getting started with signing

There are many baby and toddler classes that give an introduction to how to sign with your baby or child.  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.

On the Something Special page of the CBeebies website you can join in with Justin singing songs and signing along, watch clips of Makaton signs for many words and print off some Makaton symbols.

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.

How to use Makaton

  • Use the sign or symbol for the important word in the sentence
  • Remember to speak and sign at the same time
  • Use clear, short sentences
  • Remember to make eye contact and use facial expression, body language and gestures
  • Use real objects and mime to give reference and meaning
  • You may need to guide your child’s hands to help them to make the sign
  • Reward any attempt at communication and use the sign and symbol for ‘Good’ to give praise

The Makaton charity:

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

  • 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.
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