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"When I ask myself the question, 'What is it like being a Makaton teacher?' I immediately think it is a profession that allows you to be creative, and work with a variety of different individuals. Each day brings with it a new beginning, new challenges and most importantly, rewarding moments."
Hayley Ashley is a qualified practitioner at Archfield House Nursery in Bristol and delivers Makaton sessions to babies, toddlers and preschool children throughout the day.
Makaton is the UK's leading language programme used by adults and children with learning or communication difficulties. Around 100,000 children and adults use Makaton symbols and signs, either as their main method of communication, or as a way to support speech.
Ms Ashley joined Archfield House Nursery in 2009 and began learning Makaton so she could communicate better with the children and help them to develop their communication skills.
"Imagine your first day at nursery and finding that not only are you in a strange new place but you are unable to communicate with anyone.
"Whether that would be due to not having English as your first language or because your communication skills have not quite developed, it creates a barrier not just to learning but also to making friends.
"Gesturing is an important stage in typical language development and research shows that signing encourages speech and language development."
Since attending a beginners and advance course in Makaton over five years ago, Ms Ashley has delivered a variety of sessions to children of all ages at Archfield House Nursery, including babies aged just 18-30-months-old.
"I use Makaton throughout my daily activities, during free play time and particularly during transitional periods and group times, where we talk about the weather and day of the week.
"I also teach each child the first letter of their name and how to sign it. This really gives the children a sense of ownership and makes the signing even more relatable."
Once a week, Ms Ashley visits each room within the nursery and leads a 15-minute session of sing-alongs or stories, teaching the children different Makaton signs that correspond with the text or rhyme.
As well as revising over previously taught signs, Ms Ashley introduces a new song to the children every three weeks, which is accompanied by a 'sign of the month'. These are emailed to parents and carers so they too, can join in the Makaton fun.
When planning the sessions, Ms Ashley incorporates the children's current interests and individual abilities. To reinforce their learning further, an interactive display board details the signs and songs they are being taught.
According to Ms Ashley, "children can benefit immensely from using Makaton. It is a visual way to develop communication skills, which helps stimulate sounds and words. It ultimately develops their understanding, self-confidence and facilitates social interaction.
"Using signing can also help empower children to express what they want to say and alleviate any frustration."
The use of Makaton signing is becoming more commonplace in preschool and early years settings as a way of helping young children develop their communication skills.
While having a good memory, good hand eye co-ordination and keeping focused are essential skills for teaching Makaton, Ms Ashley’s main advice is to be "confident in your delivery" and "to always have fun."
Archfield House is a family-run nursery providing care and education for children aged from three months to five years.