Donkey HQ

Lauriel Woodley
25th November 2015

Staff and children signing 'donkey' standing next to two donkeys


You can’t easily walk through the doors of the Donkey Assisted Therapy Centre, at The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, without either being greeted by a donkey braying, or seeing the Makaton symbols and signs leading through the play area, into the riding arena, and out to the sensory trail ride beyond.

It really is everywhere, and being used all the time by the children with additional needs and disabilities that visit, as well as their support staff.

Makaton symbols and signs for drink and foodAs a team, we decided that one common language for all our service users and their families (as well as a love of donkeys of course!), could be Makaton. So we kicked off the year with a staff and volunteer training session where we learnt the skills to really put our ideas into practice. We soon realised that many of the children already used Makaton in their daily activities, so we had a lot of catching up to do!

I have included a couple of photos from the Centre to show how we use the Makaton signs and symbols to support children throughout their therapy sessions. From the kitchen area where the children wait to select their lunches, to the mounting block, where children can follow the instructions to prepare to ride. We even encourage them to choose the poster that most shows how they are feeling, which is usually ‘excited’ or ‘happy’!

Makaton line drawing of the sign for donkeyWhen the weather is nice and children have the opportunity to ride on our recently constructed outdoor sensory ride, they all have the challenge to spot as many of the model farm animals as they can around the trail, making the noise of the animal and also the sign. They love doing this and are often signing the animal before it even comes into view.

It probably goes without saying that one of the first signs you will learn as a visitor to Donkey HQ, is the one for ‘donkey’!

Lauriel Woodley
Centre Manager, The Donkey Sanctuary

If you are interested in becoming Makaton Friendly, please contact Sarah Drew on 01276 606760 or

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