How Makaton helped us communicate our classes during Covid-19
New virtual classes 100,000 views and national TV coverage thanks to pioneering inclusivity online
is an inclusive community bringing children together through dance.
Early on in this pandemic we realised just how much of a challenge
lockdown would be – as both CEO of Flamingo Chicks and mum to a child
with Cerebral Palsy – I too was having first-hand experience.
knew we had to find a way to continue supporting our families when our
usual face-to-face classes weren’t possible. Parents told us two big
challenges were getting their children to exercise and also
there is an overwhelming amount of materials online, there is little
that’s accessible for disabled children, particularly in terms of
exercise. And even less that is communicated in a way that they can
access and understand.
Being out of routine and missing the
familiarity of support from school and the raft of healthcare
professionals is so unsettling - many families reported it felt like
their world had been turned upside down. We wanted to recreate our
content to provide that familiarity, a way for our children to express
themselves and a moment of calm for parents/carers.
with science charity Lightyear Foundation to offer a unique blend of
movement and science – supporting families both in terms of their
child’s physical and mental wellbeing, but also keeping up their school
work, with each session linked to the national curriculum. And
importantly, we recruited Makaton Tutor Nicola Pike from Better
Communication Bristol as it was really important to us that our
communication methods were accessible and also familiar to the children
we work with, lots of whom we see regularly in special schools. Enter
Makaton! Nic appears in all of our online classes, signing alongside our
teachers. We know she’s a big hit with our viewers! Subtitles are also
available on all of our videos.
Each week we release a new
‘virtual class’ with it's own theme, from Space to Le Corsaire (pirates)
and Madame Butterfly to the Human Body. Each has a STEM sub-theme and a
spin-off science experiment from Dr Sarah Bearchall. Sarah is not only
an experienced Science Presenter, she also specialises in working in
SEN, and includes Makaton in her videos too.
As well as helping
with home schooling, we know how much our children value story-telling
and delving into their imaginations. We have produced a collection of children’s stories,
written by our truly incredible volunteers, based around the theme of
inclusion. Read by celebrities such as Ben Shephard, the extra sparkle
is definitely the Makaton,
again signed by Nic. The clear concepts that Nic signs really pull the
stories together and enables everyone to engage with them.
and movement provides a way for disabled children to not only develop
their physical skills, such as balance and co-ordination, but to also
express themselves in different ways, increasing their confidence, and
enabling them to reach their full potential. Dance also develops key
skills such as teamwork, communication skills, and problem solving
whilst immersing children in a creative environment where they can feel
free to be themselves.
Translating our inclusive and highly
interactive classes into filmed sessions has certainly had it’s
challenges. From green screens and lights in our living rooms, to
matching up the Makaton with the class footage (ensuring the speech and
signing are in unison) - all whilst working in isolation! However, our
teachers found that Makaton was a really useful tool in keeping the
content of the classes concise and clear. A key learning was to try and
simplify the language of the sessions, to aid children's understanding.
Knowing that the footage was being sent to Nic to sign really helped our
teachers, as Nic would then pull out the key concepts, instructions and
words from their speech to sign. This in turn helped the teachers
realise the key message of their dialogue, and reduce their language as
much as possible, to concentrate the content.
are now on session 7 of our weekly virtual classes and the response has
been phenomenal. We’re up to 100,000 views across our platforms and
we’ve been covered by a host of national TV programmes including Good
Morning Britain, This Morning, Sky News and Channel 4. We’ve had a sea
of emails, messages and social posts from families as well as health,
social care and education professionals saying how valued these new
resources are. We know they are being used in homes across the UK but
also in settings like children’s hospices and hospitals and SEN schools
looking after key workers’ and vulnerable children. The thread through
all the responses is the sense that disabled children and their families
don’t feel alone – they feel connected again and part of something.
from families regularly includes the delight in Makaton being used so
heavily, and some of the videos we’ve received show children excitedly
pointing to Nic signing on the screen. We hope that our classes will
provide people with truly meaningful experiences that brighten their day
and provide joy in the moment. We also hope they empower our young
people - building confidence in their abilities and helping them learn
new skills, whilst also celebrating who they are and creating a
community of people that feel included, recognised and able to fulfil
Update: Flamingo Chicks have won the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service