Belfast Telegraph

Video: Cathy Martin: The sign that my daughter spent her summer well... and moved me to tears

Cathy Martin, the managing director of CMPR, on how six-year-old Valentina's achievements over the school holidays have inspired her to add to her own to-do list

Valentina using sign language
Valentina using sign language
Valentina using sign language
Valentina using sign language

As the summer ends and the bank holiday weekend approaches, I have been thinking about what I achieved this summer. Nothing much new, really, if I am entirely honest. But looking at my six-year-old daughter Valentina and what she has discovered and learnt, I am incredibly proud.

Between a couple of trips to France, Spain, London and the north coast, as well as a few different summer camps closer to home, she has some really great takeaways from summer 2018. She learnt to jump off rocks into the sea and to dive under a wave rather than let it knock her down. She held a live snake at Killyleagh Castle and did a car boot sale with me in Dundrum which earned her the grand total of £20 — all spent on plastic tat at a holiday market the following week.

This is Valentina. Another of our tennis & Sign superstars! She’s had a very busy and productive summer on and off court and has progressed so much in just a few weeks. Very proud coach! Well done Valentina!

Posted by Lovetennisni on Sunday, August 19, 2018

She learnt to serve at tennis, and played dodgeball, rounders and Gaelic football as well as speaking some Spanish and French in the shops and restaurants we visited. Granted, just a word or two, but the effort was always appreciated.

I realise all this probably sounds incredibly privileged, but I work very hard and, when it comes to living life to the full, I’ll admit I’m an opportunist these days. I don’t think that’s a bad thing to pass on to your kids, especially because we weren’t as aware of it when I was young. I can’t even imagine having half of those memories in the summers of my youth.

When I signed Valentina up for the Love Tennis NI camp near our home in Holywood, I had an inkling (and heard through the usual mums’ chat) that the founder Anthony Sinclair taught a little bit of sign language alongside tennis, but I had no idea Valentina would come home conversant in basic sentences in sign, within just a few weeks.

When Anthony shared a video of her on the Facebook page just this week, I was moved to tears of pride — I loved how Valentina’s enthusiasm and Anthony’s gentle instruction has given her the groundings of a really essential life skill which not enough people possess. She’ll definitely go into Primary 3 equipped with some extra communication skills.

Learning to sign has helped her to focus on what (and how) she wants to communicate rather than just blurting out words. Of course, as her mother I obviously thought she was cute too, making little whisker signs to explain how cats were her favourite animals and making snapping prawn-like movements to say her favourite colour was pink. Besides the cuteness, I felt a little bit of shame that having spoken fluent French, Italian and some Spanish for over two and a half decades, I never ventured towards learning sign myself — so now it is most definitely on my to-do list.

One fellow mum, who is a doctor, said she used some of her daughter’s sign language from Anthony to be able to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to patients, and it was so appreciated.

Another mum, whose child has a very severe nut and dog allergy praised Anthony for his communications to other parents and vigilance with lunchboxes (because some parents ignore the ‘no-nut-products-allowed’ messages, despite the danger).

Like many working parents, I find summer camps to be a total godsend, a chance to let children spend fun time with their friends in a safe and positive environment where they can burn off that sizzling summer energy while you get the chance to work, but it can be difficult to find the right one for your child.

Cathy Martin with Valentina
Cathy Martin with Valentina

They have their critics, but I’m not in a position to criticise at all. As a self-employed single mum, I desperately need those four to six hours in the day to dedicate to work while Valentina has fun. The fact that she has enjoyed her summer, made some fantastic memories and learnt an important life skill at the same time, makes it all the more worthwhile. As Van the man once said, wouldn’t it be great if it was like this all the time?

Anthony has been teaching tennis for over 10 years and teaching sign at his camps for four. He is a husband and a dad (with a new baby on the way) and his camps are very popular, with some kids coming from as far away as Templepatrick.

And just in case anyone thinks, given my day job, that this is a promotional piece, I didn’t receive any payment or discount from Anthony — in fact, he doesn’t even know I am writing this, but I will definitely be booking Valentina in with him next summer again.

To see the video visit

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