Singing Hands

Suzanne and Tracy are the co-founders of Singing Hands. Our son (and daughter) have sung and signed with them on a number of occasions such as the Down syndrome Association Christmas Carol concert. My son always enjoys these occasions. I have taken the following (below the video) information from the Singing Hands website “About Us” page (with permission of course).

Singing Hands

The two of us met through the Project for Children with Special Needs (now the Three Wings Trust in Richmond, Surrey (in the UK) back in early 2000. Our eldest children were born in 1999 and have special 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 to do signed stories and sing-a-longs at the weekly toy library session at the Project. Both of us 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 Suzanne’s 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.

However, despite signing being a necessity at first, it soon became one of the most enjoyable and rewarding things that we did. We soon 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. Both of us were sure this was linked to their early exposure to signing in conjunction with speech. Not surprisingly, neither of us had the time to read the literature on this back then, but 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 the Makaton signs, symbols and software at home and at school.

In Suzanne’s case, because Ella’s trachy stayed in longer than anticipated (nearly 3 years), she moved onto using British Sign Language with her to meet the needs of her growing vocabulary. So, along the way, Suzanne has passed BSL Level 2 and is trying to find the time somehow to do Level 3 soon!

Both of us are trustees of Me too and Co, an independent voluntary organisation which aims to help children with additional needs and their families.

Our two songbooks with accompanying CDs (produced in conjunction with the MVDP) will also be available shortly – we want 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! The past seven years has 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

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