Here’s a bit of background about why we do what we do!!
The two of us met through the Project for Children with Special Needs (now the Three Wings Trust) in Richmond, Surrey back in early 2000. Our eldest children were born in 1999 and have additional needs. Because of our own children’s difficulties, we both learnt to sign when they were about 8-9 months’ old. Signing for us was a necessity, not something we were doing for fun. It was something we were told we would have to do by our children’s speech and language therapists – little did we know where it would lead us.
We both attended our first Makaton course and, as a way of revising and utilising the signs we had learnt, we soon began running signed storytime and sing-a-longs at the weekly toy library session at the Project. Instinctively, we felt that reinforcing this early vocabulary through stories and songs was such a great way to support our children’s early language development.
We both had another baby quite soon after and we began signing with them as well – primarily to communicate with their older siblings. Tracy’s eldest son has Down’s Syndrome and my eldest daughter had a tracheostomy at the time (plus other additional needs) so signing was going to be a long-term investment in both of our families.
Initially, signing was a merely a necessity but it soon became one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things that we did. It opened a whole new world of communication between us and our children. Later we saw that our second babies were having a great time signing too. Therapists who came to our home to visit Ella and Miles would frequently comment on our other children’s verbal skills too. Both of us were sure this was linked to their early exposure to signing in conjunction with speech. Here we were doing therapy for one of our children but in actual fact it was beneficial to all our children. Not surprisingly, neither of us had the time to read the literature about this back then and the whole concept of ‘baby signing’ was not the phenomenon it is now. Obviously, academic research that we’ve read since supports what we both experienced.
Ella and Miles were due to start nursery in 2003, so from 2002 we set off on a mission to raise our community’s awareness about different ways to communicate. Our children were going into mainstream nurseries and we just felt we wanted to foster an inclusive environment so that everyone around them needed to be exposed to, or using, some signs. Fortunately, we both found nurseries which were already signing with the children in their settings and this gave us further encouragement to pursue what we were doing. We ran free drop-in sessions across the borough — at libraries, nurseries, schools, clinics — in fact, anywhere that would listen! Such was the response, we soon established our ‘Singing Hands’ baby signing classes. This has now grown to include our toddler sessions and all the other schools, nurseries and professional workshop sessions too.
We both went on to complete our Makaton Foundation and Enhancement courses and then qualified as Makaton Regional Tutors in November 2005. We continue to do lots of work with children with learning difficulties who use Makaton signs, symbols and software at home and at school.
In my case, because Ella’s trachy had stayed in longer than anticipated (nearly 3 years), I began using BSL with her to meet the needs of her phenomenal vocabulary. I passed BSL Level 1 and 2 and at some point very much hope to do Level 3.
We soon decided to start work on creating signing resources as, when our children were little, there had been hardly any Early Years’ signing materials available. How times have changed! Can you imagine a life before Something Special was around? We started by publishing our two signed songbooks with accompanying CDs (in conjunction with the Makaton Charity). More recently, we have added a signing DVD to our collection. These items are all available from our online shop. It is our goal to have everyone singing and signing everywhere! We hope that parents, carers and professionals will be able to use these resources to make that happen.
As you can see from our homepage, we have also been lucky enough to work with the BBC on both Tikkabilla and Something Special. This was the icing on the cake. Our Nursery Rhymes episodes are available as part of the series of Something Special DVDs — see the online shop at www.makaton.org for more information.
The past 10 years have been such an amazing journey for the both of us — and one that we would not have made had Miles and Ella not come into our lives in 1999. Big thanks to them, plus Dominic, Florence & Oscar for joining in with this signing lark too! xxx
About our team
We are very fortunate to be joined by some great colleagues who now run classes for us as we cannot possibly be everywhere no matter how much we try. As Singing Hands is our ‘baby’ (so-to-speak), we were certain that we could only hand over our sessions to people who can bring the same passion and sense of fun to each group. Luckily, we found wonderful ladies who offer exactly that!
Vanessa joined us in 2006 and she runs baby signing classes on Fridays, our toddler group on Tuesday and Thursday and our school/nursery sessions.
Julie has also been with us since 2006 and runs the Monday baby signing classes, the Friday toddler group and our school/nursery sessions.
Helen joined the team in 2008 and is our harmonising-drumming-guitar-playing-lady! Helen runs our Tuesday and Thursday toddler group, the Wednesday baby signing classes and our school/nursery sessions..
‘‘I’m sure you’ve all sat and daydreamed about the perfect job…well for the past year and a half I have been living the dream!! Combining my passion for music with core elements of my previous job in social work, Singing Hands is inclusive, interactive and FUN! Hope you enjoy the classes as much as I do.’‘
Brenda is our latest recruit and she runs a tight ship at Singing Hands HQ. Contact her for any questions regarding class availability, orders and any enquiries.
Alli joined us in 2010 and runs the Friday Toddler group with Julie. Alli also brings her accordion, guitar and bouzouki during the term which is lots of fun!