Marwell Zoo near Winchester has become the first zoo to gain a Makaton Friendly award, something that we are very proud of! With around half a million visitors and over 40,000 school children we aim to make sure every one of them has an amazing experience at the zoo.
Many of the school pupils who visit our education centre communicate using Makaton, so for several years we have offered signing in our workshop sessions. Our teaching team are all trained to stage 4, and some to stage 8.
Visiting school groups can choose to book our discovery boxes. These include extra resources and ideas for activities around a selection of animals. Within each chest is a separate blue box with some sensory items, a symbol matching grid, and the Makaton signing for that animal.
We have also started to roll out the training to our Public Engagement team. This will allow them to include some signing during their daily talks out in the zoo. The amount of signing within the talks is dependent on the animal enclosure – it is difficult to sign when your hands are full of mealworms for the meerkats or carrots for the coatis!
There are lots of resources that can be downloaded from our website, not just for schools to use! All of our SEN resources are available with or without symbols. They are free to download for anyone who might find them useful. Plus if you would like to give us some feedback on them we are keen to hear from you!
It’s not only our classrooms or talks where we are looking to improve our communication methods. We have introduced PECs books for use at the ice cream hut and in the main restaurant, and our Duty Managers and First Aid team carry a communication fan for use with lost or injured guests.
With over 150 staff at the zoo, we have not yet managed to send them all on a Makaton course! We have been producing some reference sheets and basic instructions on a few key signs that staff may find useful when communicating with our guests.
For us this is not the end but a step in the right direction. We are always open to suggestions and ideas on ways to make your visit more enjoyable so if you have any comments please send them to Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org
We look forward to seeing you soon!