Makaton - Not just a Buzzword

Written by Abbey Towsey

What is Makaton? It’s a word we hear used a lot in early years, but what is it actually all about?

Makaton uses speech with signs (gestures) and symbols (pictures) to help people communicate. Over 100,000 children and adults use Makaton, either as their main method of communication or as a way to support speech.

Jess Allmark is based within our Andover nursery and has successfully implemented this within her nursery to benefit children’s learning and development.

Jess has always had a passion for improving her Makaton, and shares why she feels it’s so important:

Makaton is an invaluable tool which can be used to support the development of speech and communication. I think it’s a wonderful way of being able to facilitate communication for those who find it difficult. This allows those children to have a 'voice' of their own and become an integrated part of their environment and community. Makaton helps to create a level of equality across all users to aid in development, understanding and social interactions.

It is also important to help the development of language and not to replace it, verbal speech should accompany the use of signs and symbols to gain more context”.

Makaton in Practice

It is clear to see from Jess’ explanation of Makaton how it can benefit children’s learning within early years settings. It is not just the understanding but the implementation that is invaluable.

We encourage the team to use Makaton at routine times of the day and through transitional periods such as nappy changes, meal times and sleep times. We also use it during singing sessions with the children and enjoy seeing the children start to use signs along with us. I have set up a Makaton group through Tapestry[AL1][EM2][AL3] where we share a 'sign of the week' and a monthly 'signed story time' or ‘signed song time'. Through the team's passion for learning Makaton we have also set up Makaton Learning Sessions where I lead a session with some of the team who would like to learn more about Makaton, its uses and the different concepts. We also share our 'sign time' videos on our nursery Facebook page.

Making a Difference

Makaton can make a huge difference in helping children with their communication skills and their confidence:

“I consider making an impact with any child a success. My biggest successes include two children I had at the setting who had additional needs and difficulties with communication; one child with Downs Syndrome couldn't interact with the team or his peers when he first started with us, but through the use of Makaton we were able to build a strong bond together. By the time he left our setting for school he had a good level of communication and a strong set of friends who he played with and interacted with fully.

The other child had global development delays, neurofibromatosis type 1 and a brain tumour. This little boy would bang his head on the floor or walls in frustration when he first started due to not being able to communicate fully. I can still remember the first time he started signing back to me, we would have special 1:1 time together and his favourite thing to do was being tickled. I would encourage him to choose where he was tickled by pointing and I would use the Makaton signs for 'stop' and 'more' to continue the game, getting him to nod, then suddenly he started signing more to me to continue with the tickles.”

These are fantastic success stories about how Makaton has dramatically impacted upon a child’s communication and engagement. However, like any journey there are bumps in the road;

When I first found Makaton I thought it was so brilliant that we had to use it all the time. The team at the time got very overwhelmed by the idea of 'learning a whole new language' and the children got confused by me suddenly signing all the time. Through my training I have found the different stages of signing and now know to differentiate for the users and children I am with at the time. Now I use more of a key word stage of signing, and when introducing new signs I use a functional stage to get the children and team used to the concept.”

How do I Learn Makaton?

Level 1 training is the starting point for learning Makaton and is recommended for parents, family members, carers and workers alike. For more information about learning Makaton, click here.

Jess’ passion to build on her Makaton knowledge led her to The Makaton Charity, where she embraced the opportunity for professional development through their Zoom sessions:

Makaton is a fairly niche field of learning and it is something that I have wanted to learn professionally for years. I have currently completed my level 1 and 2 and am hoping to continue on to my levels 3, 4 and tutor training.”

Top Tips for Learning Makaton

If you are keen to learn Makaton, Jess has three top tips for how:

  • Keep it simple - start with signs that will get used often in order to embed knowledge and then build from there.
  • Make sure you use your body language and facial expression to help with the signs and the understanding for the users.
  • Use it or lose it - like anything if you don't practice and use signs and symbols everyday then you will forget them and how to use them.


Useful Resources

*Please note that this list is general signposting and is not a specific endorsement or recommendation by Bright Horizons. Should you utilise or download any of these resources, any exchange of data is solely between you and that provider – please note that these resources may be subject to their own terms and conditions and / or privacy notice. (As Bright Horizons has no control of the contents of the external resources, it can assume no responsibility or liability for these resources or the provider’s use of any data you share with them.)