Young TV stars launch Makaton resources at Eisteddfod in Denbigh

Two young stars of a TV series helped unveil pioneering teaching materials in the Welsh language to help children with special communication needs.

Both nine-year-old Fflur Jones, from Brynrhydyrarian, near Llansannan, and Mabli Davies, five, from Denbigh, were at the launch at the National Eisteddfod in Denbigh.

The two girls, both of whom have Down’s Syndrome, featured in the popular series Dwylo’r Enfys, made by award-winning producer Nia Ceidiog.

Speaking at the launch, Children’s Commissioner Keith Towler said providing Makaton teaching resources in Welsh was an important step forward and an “issue of equality”.

Makaton is a language programme that uses speech, signs and symbols to encourage communication. The system is used by more than 100,000 children, many with learning difficulties, and adults.

The new Welsh language teaching packs have been developed by the charity and Nia Ceidiog.

Dwylo’r Enfys (Rainbow Hands) on S4C’s Cyw slot, uses Makaton and earlier this year the ground-breaking series was shortlisted for a Rockie Award at the Banff World Media Festival in Canada.

It’s now been revealed the programme is in the running for an award from BAFTA Cymru in the category for the best children’s programme.

Fflur’s mum, Bethan, is a referral instructor in Denbighshire County Council’s social services department for adults with learning difficulties.

Bethan, 47, and is thrilled that Makaton is now available for those whose first language is Welsh.

“Fflur has just turned nine and has got speech but not sentences, although we can understand her perfectly well. She attends mainstream school in Denbigh where they use Makaton.

“We had to fight for speech therapy, there are hardly any Welsh speaking speech therapists. Dwylo’r Enfys has been marvellous in changing people’s attitude towards people with disability and Makaton has been part of that. Years ago many people with disability were kept in special schools – how society has changed!

“Fflur knows Dwylo’r Enfys inside out. In the episode she recorded she goes to the hairdressers with Heulwen and then to dancing classes in Denbigh.”

Meanwhile, Mabli’s mum was equally delighted her daughter was involved.

She said: “Mabli was born for the stage. She just loves entertaining,” said Manon, who works at the special needs school Tir Morfa in Rhyl.

Commissioner Keith Towler told the launch: “This is an important step forward for Welsh speaking children, their families and carers.

“The development of Welsh Language resources for children with additional learning needs and communication difficulties is an issue of equality and of children’s rights.

“Any development which addresses lack of provision for children to be able to communicate through the medium of Welsh is to be welcomed.”

Nia said: “We worked with the Makaton Charity with the help of a subsidy from Welsh Government to create some training resources to further the work of the Makaton Charity in Wales.”

“These are training resources for Makaton in the Welsh language. The Cyw series Dwylo’r Enfys was historical in the sense it was the first time Makaton had been used publically  in the context of the Welsh language and was a resounding success.

“We put in a joint application with the Makaton Charity for funding from the Welsh Government and were fortunate enough to get it, so we have produced some training manuals for trainers – people training parents, carers, teachers, and speech therapists – to broaden the distribution of Makaton in the Welsh language.

“We have also produced two DVDs, one is a demonstration of the Makaton signs and the other contains several stories showing Makaton in use in the classroom and with adults.

“As part of this approach there will be a website called Arwydd (Signs). This will be the place where parents and practitioners can visit. It will have stories about the people who use Makaton and about their journey with their children, some of whom will have special needs.

“We have launched the material at the Eisteddfod and the website and materials will be ready in September when there will be Makaton courses available for people to use in the Welsh language.

“The best way for people to access information on the courses is probably to contact the Makaton Charity by using their website ( and they should be able to advise them about Makaton tutors in their area. Or if they already use Makaton they could contact the Makaton teacher or school in their area.

“The Makaton system is extremely effective for children and adults but prior to this the only alternative for children from Welsh-speaking families was to learn Makaton in English from tutors who had to use resources in English, which had to be translated. Now they can be taught through the medium of Welsh using Welsh references.”

The launch of the Makaton resources took place on Wednesday (August 7 at 2pm) on the Welsh Assembly Government stand, attended by Children’s Commissioner Towler.

The launch, which included singing and signing by children using Makaton and a presentation of the Makaton pack, was introduced by one of the stars of Dwylo’r Enfys, Heulwen – Ceri Bostock from Caernarfon.

The series made by Nia for S4C’s Cyw – Dwylo’r Enfys (Rainbow Hands) – introduced Makaton to small children in Welsh for the first time last year.

Each week Dwylo’r Enfys visited children with special needs across Wales.

“Dwylo’r Enfys attracts one of the biggest audiences for Cyw, it’s extremely successful. Children, both with and without communication needs, enjoy signing and you need brothers, sisters and friends to be joining in to have two-way communication,” said Nia.

“We have just completed 13 more programmes for Dwylo’r Enfys which will air in September, and hopefully the programme will give the Makaton resources pack some extra publicity.

“I3 children with special communication needs will take Heulwen on all sorts of adventures  – for example a visit to the Air Ambulance at Dinas Dinlle, the Colwyn Bay Mountain Zoo and the Heatherton Country Park in Pembrokeshire.”

Nia, who also wrote the original versions of Fireman Sam in English and Welsh and produced the award winning Y Diwrnod Mawr for S4C, , said: “Dwylo’r Enfys is a very important project. The programme was first time that children with special needs were given such a stage on S4C.

“One of the reasons we made the programmes was to reflect Wales in all its diversity and the Welsh language. Before the programme children with learning and communication disabilities were not seen to this extent on S4C in a Welsh language context.

“We are hoping its appeal will spread and that people presently not able to access resources and training will be able to do that.”

Sioned Roberts, S4C’s Content Commisisoner responsible for Children’s, Learning and Digital, said: “The Dwylo’r Enfys series has been hugely popular with children and their families watching Cyw, the children’s service on S4C.

“It is therefore a pleasure to see that a comprehensive Welsh medium Makaton  has been created as a result of the series. By using the resources it will be possible for teachers and carers to provide specialist help to children.

“I would like to congratulate the company, Ceidiog, Makaton and the Education Department of the Welsh Government in forming this partnership and I hope that schools across Wales will have fun learning Makaton with Heulwen and Cawod on Dwylo’r Enfys.”

Elizabeth Leverton, Technical Director of The Makaton Charity:

“We would like to thank the Welsh Government for their support in funding our most popular training and resources into Welsh and S4C for their promotion of the Makaton Programme.  Having these Welsh materials will enable us to help more children and adults with learning and communication difficulties to be able to communicate.

“Using Makaton can make a huge difference to those with communication disabilities and to the parents, carers, family, friends and professionals who share their lives.  Using Makaton enables individuals to interact with others, participate in school and work, and access information and services.  It helps individuals to be included in society, increase their independence, express preferences, reduce frustration and achieve their potential.”

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