Newest Review: ... has confused a few people who wonder why we still use signs now he's starting to talk. ==Something Special== With each episode lasting a... more
Close your eyes and touch your nose
Member Name: sandemp
Advantages: Educational, fun, inclusive, interactive, on freeview
Disadvantages: None other than it has to finish
==Makaton, what's that then?==
Before I go any further, it's perhaps important to talk a little about Makaton as it's the use of this that makes Something Special so, well, special.
Makaton is a communication system that incorporates signing and symbols and is used in many special schools and by speech therapists to help children with speech and language difficulties communicate more effectively. Although loosely based on British Sign Language, it has been greatly simplified and children are encouraged to say the word at the same time as signing. By using the signs to augment the child's speech, rather than replace it, the child's confidence in speaking is increased as even unclear speech can be understood by those who understand the signs. In fact, as the majority of the signs are self-evident, there's a good chance that even those who do not technically know the signs may be able to work out what the child is saying/signing. As well as simply helping children communicate, Makaton can also help improve their behaviour, a lot of a younger child's temper tantrums stem from their inability to communicate their needs and wants. Imagine being hungry or thirsty and unable to tell someone, you would get frustrated and possibly angry, just as a child would. This is easily solved by helping the child with unclear speech to learn the signs for eat and drink.
My own experiences with Makaton span over ten years, my older son uses Makaton and has done from the age of six (before that he used a slightly different system). More recently I've been using Makaton with my now three year old son, Freddy, who has a learning disability and has a very large speech delay. It's taken a lot of time, but Freddy is now able to communicate his immediate needs with a mix of signs and words and can even hold a very basic conversation. Something that has become very apparent is that the use of Makaton has actually encouraged his vocalisations, rather than hinder them, which is something that has confused a few people who wonder why we still use signs now he's starting to talk.
With each episode lasting approximately 20 minutes, Something Special has followed the same basic format, with slight changes in each series. The original series was very much studio based, but later series have involved everyday situations that children may experience, such as visiting a supermarket or going on holiday. As they are the two formats most commonly shown at the moment, the rest of this review will now focus on "Out and About" and "Fun With Friends".
The undoubted Star of Something Special is of course Justin Fletcher, who not only plays himself but also stars as Mr Tumble, Granddad Tumble, Lord Tumble, Aunt Polly, Aunt Suki, Cool Tumble, well you get the idea. Each episode opens on Mr Tumble, who is instantly recognisable in his clown outfit and has three special things he wants Justin to find as he explores a different scenario with his friends. In the earlier series these special things were shown as framed photos, but in the latest (Fun With Friends) the photos have been replaced with a tablet called the Tumble Tap. Either way, Mr Tumble puts the three special things in his spotty bag, which we then send the bag off to Justin using the magic. It's at this point we are introduced to the other stars of the show, the children, and I love that the children encompass a wide range of disabilities, especially as I believe that disabled people are grossly under-represented on television as a whole.
In each episode, Justin meets up with his friends and they then explore a place or concept. All kinds of different concepts have been explored, including a visit to an animal sanctuary, a supermarket, leisure centre and even a camp with Beaver Scouts. This vast range of activities over the different series has allowed a large number of different items and signs to be introduced, in a way that is relevant to young children. As the episode progresses children are encouraged to look for the three special things, waving or cheering when they find them. As each special thing is found, both it's sign and symbol is introduced, with Justin signing first followed by some children signing. I love the sense of inclusion in this aspect, the way that both vocal and non-vocal children are encouraged to look for the special things and signify that they've found them. I also love the way that the children signing all have different levels of skill and speech, meaning that Freddy doesn't feel that his signs have to be perfect to be understood. Another aspect I like is the way that Justin speaks to the children, he is in no way patronising and really does seem to get down to their level.
At some point while looking at/for the special things the action will cut to Mr Tumble and his family as they play out a skit focussing on the concept being explored. This is by far my own favourite part of the programme, and is the perfect mix of slapstick comedy to keep Freddy entertained. I love all the different characters in Mr Tumble's family, even though they are all played by Justin himself, they are all so different. The one that really brings a smile to my face has to be Cliff Tumble, a very obvious parody of Cliff Richard (Cool Tumble is a very similar character). Freddy's Daddy's favourite character is Granddad Tumble, but we both appreciate the humour that is very firmly aimed at grown ups and helps stop our brains going to mush as we watch the same episode for the tenth time. After the Tumble Tale has finished and we've found all three special things, it's time for the good bye song, which may or may not be signed (depending on the series).
==Freddy and Mr Tumble==
There is absolutely no doubt that three year old Freddy absolutely adores Something Special, it is the first programme he will ask for each morning and one that he would watch repeatedly if I let him. The way this programme catches his attention and has helped him learn to sign and communicate is shown by the way he asks for it to be put on. He'll sign Tumble, while saying "bumble" and then once it's on he'll sit in front of the TV, copying the signs and trying to say the words. It's really wonderful to watch him interacting with the programme, rather than rampaging as he usually does. He also uses the signs he's learnt in everyday life, it was so sweet watching him sign to Santa that he was his friend just before Christmas.
Both Freddy and I love Something Special and can't recommend it enough if you have a child under five. It is a fun, educational and interactive programme that is loved by all young children (special needs or not) and one that we watch several times a day. Both Freddy and I are giving Something Special five stars out of five, although I'd imagine that Freddy would give it twenty or more if he could.
Summary: Excellent pre-school programme