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Children's Nursing students learn Makaton with Singing Hands

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

Makaton symbols for nurse and ill
Makaton signs for nurse and ill

Sheryl Gettings, Senior Teaching Fellow in the Department of Child & Family Health in the Faculty, writes about a recent workshop Singing Hands ran to teach Makaton to Children's Nursing students. Makaton is a language programme using signs and symbols to help people to communicate. It is designed to support spoken language and the signs and symbols are used with speech, in spoken word order.

We were delighted to host Singing Hands again this year, the third occasion they have provided a workshop teaching our pre-registration undergraduate Children’s Nursing students Makaton. The session takes place within their children’s nursing field specific module ‘The Child with Complex and Ongoing Continuing Care Needs’.Suzanne and Tracy were inspired to set up the Singing Hands company in light of the needs of their own children, Ella and Miles, who each use Makaton to communicate. Their genuineness and insight as parents is threaded through their teaching, giving students the opportunity to grasp the incredibly positive impact they can have in the care of children through learning Makaton.Singing Hands couple music with Makaton, making it fun for everyone to learn sign language. They work with children, young people, parents, care-givers, nurses, students and teachers in schools, universities and hospitals in the UK (including the Evelina London Children’s Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children). Their multi-modal approach to teaching and learning, using pictures, movement, music and song, combined with an amazing sense of humour, is uplifting for everyone who works with them.

Click above to watch a video of Singing Hands and the students learning how to introduce themselves.

Makaton gives children who would otherwise not be able to communicate the ability to make their needs understood. Hospital can be distressing for children, but Singing Hands help reduce children’s anxiety in what may otherwise be an isolating and potentially undignified experience for the child. It is so important to children who rely on Makaton to communicate to be greeted by a nurse who is able to introduce themselves using Makaton and continue a conversation in this way with them. To do so is a way of putting children at ease, and it is respectful to learn to ‘speak their language’ otherwise they may feel ignored or that they have to go through a parent to say anything they need to say. This can be very limiting for them as their parent(s) may not be next to them all the time, and perhaps some things they would like to raise with a nurse they would prefer to say themselves and with privacy.

The workshop Suzanne and Tracy provided was especially tailored to equip our students with some crucial ‘commonly used’ Makaton signs in a hospital or other settings pertinent to caring for children who have complex needs. They also signposted students to further resources to add to their learning beyond the workshop and inspire them to widen their Makaton vocabulary.

Realising there is a paucity of resources for parents to learn Makaton in a fun and entertaining way, Singing Hands have produced five DVDs and a sixth pop­ song themed DVD aimed at teenagers and young adults will be released in the next month. So, their joyful singing and signing will soon be seen and heard even more widely.

Suzanne and Tracy said:
'We are thrilled to be able to share our passion for communicating with Makaton with nursing students. We know from experience how important it is that nurses in hospital are equipped with some core signs to help break down any communication barriers between the child and their care-givers. Using even a handful of simple signs enables the child to get their needs met, to express their concerns or to inform nurses how they are feeling. In turn it allows the adults involved to explain procedures and to alleviate some of the inevitable fears and anxieties of the child in a hospital setting'. 

We look forward to working with Singing Hands again soon.