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Toddlers can talk in sign language

Pre-school pupils have Makaton lessons, then teach parents

Fiona Tomas

Fiona Tomas


01635 886639

Toddlers can talk in sign language

THE manager of Beenham Pre-School says she has been ‘amazed’ at how quickly her pupils have mastered a new language programme. 

Paula Read says children at the pre-school have made significant progress in learningMakaton – to the extent that they are even teaching it to their parents.  

Makaton is a language programme that uses signs and symbols to help people communicate. 

It is often used with individuals who have cognitive or language impairments, autism or Down’s syndrome.

Beenham Pre-school was granted ‘Makaton Friendly’ status from the National Makaton Charity in January after it introduced monthly lessons for toddlers.

It is the only pre-school in Berkshire to receive the accreditation.  

Mrs Read was first introduced to Makaton at a taster session with Lesley Bungay – who now teaches the programme at the school. 

While there are no children at the mainstream pre-school with hearing impairments or on the special educational needs register, Mrs Read thought the pupils could benefit through learning the language and it would promote inclusivity. 

“It has been absolutely brilliant to see children as young as two teaching their parents to sign,” said Mrs Read, who has already seen results among the children. 

She said: “If a child is sat around a snack table and they want something else to eat, they can sign to an adult for more.

“We are so proud of our small rural setting, which is now leading the way in bringing sign language to the general population.”

Makaton teaching is funded by the pre-school itself and Mrs Read says she’s been taken aback by the enthusiasm of toddlers’ parents, who have also taken to the scheme. 

When the pre-school’s Easter egg hunt had to be cancelled due to wet weather, it invited parents to join their children for a Makaton lesson in the classroom. 

“We had parents coming in during the morning to ask what different signs mean, because their children were doing them at home,” said Mrs Read.

“I’ve been amazed at how much progress the children have made already.”

Mrs Read says she plans to continue with the scheme at the school and is even upgrading her foundation level in the language by doing an advanced course. 

And to avoid making learning the language too monotonous, she is determined to keep lessons as a fun and entertaining activity for the pupils. 

She said: “What I don’t want is the children to come into school and think, ‘we’re going to doMakaton now’.

“I want it to be part of their muscle memory throughout the day.”

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