Staff at Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice complete Makaton training at their north London hospice building, The Ark – developing their communication skills to promote inclusivity for all the babies, children and young people they support.

 Many of the children supported by Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice are not able to communicate effectively through speech alone, leading to feelings of isolation and frustration. In order to create an environment where all children, regardless of their condition, can thrive and connect, Noah’s Ark needs to foster other communication methods that are inclusive to those we support. All children deserve the opportunity to express their wants, needs and feeling independently – in short, all children deserve to be heard.

What is Makaton?

Makaton is the UK’s leading language programme for adults and children with learning or communication difficulties. Today, more than 100,000 children and adults, including many of the children we support, use Makaton, either as their main way of communicating or alongside speech. The programme combines signs, symbols and speech to give different options for people to communicate.

You may have seen Makaton being used by Mr Tumble and friends on the children’s show, Something Special – or by comedian Rob Delaney on CBeebies bedtime stories!

How can Makaton help? 

By giving them an inclusive and accessible way to express themselves, Makaton can transform the lives of people with communication difficulties. The ability of expression and to be understood is key in child empowerment and alleviating the frustration that is often felt as a consequence of not being heard. By removing this frustration, it opens a child up to all kind of possibilities for children to connect with other people and the world around them. At Noah’s Ark, we want to create an environment where every child feels heard – and Makaton enables us to do this inclusively.

Bringing Makaton to Noah’s Ark

Staff were eager to sign up to Makaton Level 1 and 2 courses when the hospice launched its training initiative. Care and also non-care staff took up the training, reflective of the shared responsibility felt by everyone at Noah’s Ark to create an inclusive environment for those we support, regardless of the role we have at The Ark. By the end of the training sessions, staff had learnt over 250 signs and symbols!

Ellie Butcher, Noah’s Ark Play Specialist and Makaton Tutor, said:

“It has been amazing to see the passion and drive that Noah’s Ark staff have for completing training to improve their communication skills.

Their commitment to implementing small changes into their daily work to improve the care we offer to babies, children and young people is enormous. As well as being forthcoming with new ideas and strategies of how we can use these within The Ark. It is an exciting new focus for all Noah’s Ark staff to learn and improve so we can offer the best experiences to all of those in our care.”

Noah’s Ark have now introduced themed Makaton signs that are up on display in all of the activity rooms around The Ark. We are also looking to expand this across the whole building, including the bedrooms for children and family stays. As well as implementing Makaton signing, Noah’s Ark are also looking to introduce other communication systems, such as PECS, touch cues, objects of reference in and around the Ark.

Top tips for beginners

  • Always use speech alongside signing
  • Try to make eye contact and use facial expression
  • Use body movement and gestures
  • Use clear, short sentences
  • Always use your dominant hand to sign (you may need both hands for some signs)
  • You can guide an individual’s hand to help them sign
  • Encourage attempts at signing; use the sign for ‘good’ and say ‘well done’