Little Learners is a small pre-school in Gulval, Penzance. I am one of two managers and together with our three other staff members we have been working hard with our parents and the local primary school to promote the use of Makaton for all children who attend. We started this about 2 years ago and recently one of our area SENCOs said we should apply for Makaton Friendly status. We did not know that there was such a status but immediately we sought to find out what more we would need to do to apply.
When children start in our setting they are often only 2 years old and many experience frustration due to limited speech and being unable to make themselves understood. Over the years we have used basic Makaton to support the children’s communication. We have also experienced times when a child joins us who needs extra support with communication or has Special Educational Needs, so all staff felt it would of great benefit to our setting to seek training in Makaton signing and working with visual support with the aim to use it constantly with our children. Our vision was to teach all our children a core level of signing which could enable both their own communication and with others that they would meet in their school life and beyond.
My own daughter is now 21, she has severe learning disabilities and autism. Limited signing has always been her main method of communication and it could have enabled her to want to communicate more when she was younger if others in society just understood a few signs.
Our basic understanding and training had a big effect on the way we looked at our learning environment and we sought to use visual support for our daily routines and introduced symbols to label and use as signs in our setting, both inside and out. We have introduced visual timetables, daily snack boards, toilet routines as well as information signs such as ‘no computer’ and please ‘wait a minute’ or ‘coats on’, and we have introduced them to indicate danger on a wet day outside: ‘slippery slope’ ‘no climbing’ ‘stop’.
All staff use these signs and support with Makaton signs throughout the day. For individual children; key persons use the symbols on lanyards that support them personally with their daily routines to reduce both their frustration and anxieties. All the children respond really well to an instruction or question when it is accompanied by a visual cue.
Our older and more able children have learnt more advanced signs like colours, animals the weather and days of the week, and this is continuing also each week during the local school assemblies. We are also on the same site as a child development centre, the teacher is very helpful and looks up a sign for us if we are unsure.
We have found that doing this over a length of time has ensured that signing is embedded into our daily lives, we often see children’s hands signing as they are playing together and they use the visual cues around the setting with no prompting. We will continue to keep up this level of signing and any new staff entering setting will be required to attend training.
We continue to share signs of the week with our parents and are mindful to return back to core signs when new children/families attend. Our enrolment forms now ask if the child knows any Makaton (usually Mr Tumble) and it is one of the first conversations we have with parents before their child starts at Little Learners so they are aware how and why we promote signing and also that their child will probably start to use signs at home. Many have made positive comments about signing and how quickly their child’s speech and confidence to communicate improves when the start with us at Little Learners.
We would like to help our local primary school to also gain Makaton Friendly status, and it is a long term goal to promote this amongst other local primary schools in our area so that signing is not lost at pre-school age. I would like to thank all the staff at Little Learners for all the hard work they have put in and all the children and parents for their enthusiasm to sign. Thank you also The Makaton Charity for recognising the passion and devotion we have had to this area of development for our setting.
Emily, Diane, Aly, Lisa and Claire