Helicopter Story BlogUsing the approach of Vivian Gussin Paley to gather stories and act them out
There was a giant muddy puddle and somebody called “2”. She was surprised because there was a massive big puddle. Then three other cars came along, they were called Jack, Olivers and one was called Ronnie. Then the builder came along to build a house for all of them. Then they lived happily ever after in the house, the house was made of bricks.
Our minibeast theme during the summer term provoked lots of stories from the children in Cherry class.
Some of the children decided to create a story as part of a group when they were sat together at snack time:
The spider and the pretty butterfly
The spider founded a butterfly in the big broccoli tree. They spin webs. The butterfly flies and takes the spider home to the bush. They play hide and seek then they get in the bath of leaves and bubbles. They dry themselves and then they say goodbye.
The butterfly goes home into his cocoon and eats his dinner, he eats steak pie and gravy.
Lily the butterfly met a spider called Jack on a leaf. They get married, the girl will wear some clothes and the boy will wear some marrying clothes. Then they will marry. They will go on the stage. They will dance on the stage and make a spider web, people will come and break it.
Here are a few Helicopter Stories that one of our Helicopter Centres of Excellence – Beecroft Garden Primary School, have collected so far this term:
Once upon a time there was a red angry bird called red and the black angry bird came and the black angry bird was bomb and then the white angry bird came and the white angry birds name was Matilda and the other angry bird was called the three blues and the pigs can be in it too and the pigs got the eggs and that the angry birds made and there was king pig and king pig he eats the eggs sometimes when the angry birds aren’t looking and that’s the end now.
There was a princess Sindi, a lady bug in the garden. Safi’s the lady bug. Um a prince, Graham’s the prince, Graham give the princess a ring.
Little red riding hood went to the forest to give her mother some cakes. And the big wolf came. He take grandma into his tummy.
*names have been changed
The spring term has been a busy one for Kemsley Primary Academy. News of Helicopter story acting and story telling seems to have been spreading in Kent and we have hosted visits from colleagues from schools in Maidstone and Deal. All our visitors went away with enthusiastic plans to start to develop the technique in their schools. We have also received an email from colleagues at a kindergarten in Washington USA who are planning a visit in the summer to find out more about Helicopter, exciting times!
Closer to home the new starters in our nursery have enjoyed their experiences of storytelling and acting and we recently shared these with some of our families when they were invited in for sharing sessions as part of our parent consultation week.
Here are some of the stories told by some of the children last term.
“One day a lion was in the jungle and he looked behind the long grass and when he looked he seen five cows. The lion was going to eat all the cows. When the cows saw him they went in the house but one cow carried on playing, then the lion ate the last cow.”
“Once upon a time there was a queen called Gemma and there was a king called Kevin and there is a little baby princess called Elsa and the sister is called Elsa and there’s another sister called Elsa.
A baddie comes and tries to take the sisters and the baby. Gemma and Kevin fight the baddie and then the baddie is dead….the end.”
“Two trains were heading towards each other. They jack knifed and bashed up. Then there was a London train coming into the platform and there’s a Sheerness train coming that doesn’t have any coaches”
*names have been changed to protect their identity
I have been meaning to write a blog on this for quite a while now and it wasn’t until the other day when I really started to think. I was working in a nursery for the morning and two children in that morning referred to me as ‘Miss’. Now it could have been quite funny that the boy had mistakenly said it but he hadn’t. The boy said it naturally as if I was being weird in correcting him and saying ‘My names Simon’. It was so natural for this child to see an adult and call ‘Miss’. What do you call a male practitioner in a nursery? It’s so rare the children don’t need to know.
Over the past year I have been able to visit lots of nurseries and deliver ‘Helicopter Stories’. One of the unique parts of the approach is that it allows children to feel listened to and valued, which is so different to what they are used to.
When I enter a nursery children run up to me, excited for my arrival, stories ready to tell. I see children engaged, wanting to play, wanting to talk to me, to tell me everything they have been up to, 100mph conversation and I listen to them. They say they love me within an hour of me being in the nursery. One girl told me her story. She was so excited to have it acted out. Always looking to me to get my approval. Waving to me, that bond is something special.
It’s as if I am a famous person, as if I am dressed up in their favourite superhero costume or story character but I’m not, I’m just Simon and I’m listening! And this is the same response that I see children give to both male and female workshop leaders who have entered their settings to deliver ‘Helicopter Stories’; but is it completely the same?
Do the children have a different response to male practitioners in a nursery? I think they do.
In a recent study only 2% of early years professionals are male. This is shocking and needs to change. I have been able to experience children’s response to a male in their setting and it has been so rewarding for me but most importantly for the children. In my opinion, having a male there gives it a completely different dynamic.
So the question could be asked am I engaging to the children because of my personality as Simon or is it my gender that’s engaging them? In my opinion and that of a colleague of mine is that children are fascinated by males because they don’t always associate dad with play or stories. This Is not something that dad does – a male does, it’s something that mum does with me – a female. So when I enter the nursery as a male and ask them to tell me a story and I listen to them it’s something so new and exciting they don’t want me to leave.
This was no more apparent than when I recently led some ‘Helicopter at Home’ sessions. A session open to all parents to learn the approach so that they can do stories at home with their children. 10 parents arrived. 9 mums and 1 dad. It could be said that it’s the morning and they work but when I finished the session and started to walk out to the playground, I was met by the parents picking up their nursery children, the 9 mums but also at least 10 dads. Why did they not come to the session? Is it because dads don’t do stories?
It has been so special for me to do the ‘Helicopter Stories’ approach with the children. To sit down with them and listen to them tell me their story. I love the approach and I am lucky to be able to visit lots of different nursery settings. Hopefully I can have a positive impact on those children in the short amount of time that I am working with them.
One other unique part of the ‘Helicopter Stories’ approach allows for boys to play girls and girls to play boys. A boy becomes a princess and a girl becomes a builder. A safe space is created for children to experience this and the children love it. It’s just a shame that in today’s society, adults can’t learn and follow the children. We need more men to work in early year’s education and more women engineers. There is no judging as children and there shouldn’t be any judgement as adults.
My hope is that maybe one day in the future, a female practitioner gets mistaken for a male! But then again, we are back to my earlier question, what do you call a male working in the early years? If only I could come across one to ask…
Congratulations to two of our Creative Associates- Simon Batchelor and Paul Andrew, who became Level 2 Helicopter Deliverers on Wednesday 18th March 2015.
They are now fully qualified to deliver the sessions in the classroom and team teach with the in-class teachers to handover the approach.
Here are some photos of them in action:
Ellie* might be described as a shy child. She will watch things very closely, sometimes from a distance, but she needs time to feel confident enough to join in.
She didn’t usually join in with the acting, but she had told a story before, after a few weeks of watching: ‘Lion’. And when she acted it out, she stood in the corner of the stage, and gave the gentlest, most beautiful of little roars, with a cautious curling of fingers to indicate claws. I regret asking everyone to roar like a lion after that, as the giant wall of sound that met my request quite overpowered the beauty of Ellie’s original brave little roar, and she looked somewhat intimidated as she sat down. Lesson learnt: sometimes a lion needs to roar on her own.
Last week, we asked her friend Taylor* to tell a story, which Taylor was eager to do. As Taylor chose a spot to tell her story, I could feel Ellie’s eyes following us around the room, and when I looked over, I could see her craning to see what was happening. It wasn’t long before she started to drift over towards us, pretending to be casual about it, but fully focused on what was happening. When Taylor finished her story, Ellie was close by enough for us to ask if she wanted to tell a story. ‘No’ she said, but she stayed nearby, coming to sit next to us when the next person came along to tell a story. As each next story was told by a different storyteller, Ellie would be there, at the teacher’s elbow, intently watching each word as it was written down, and occasionally looking up at the storyteller’s face for clues on what the next part of the story might be.
After the fifth storyteller had had their turn, we asked Ellie again ‘Would you like to tell us a story?’ She solemnly nodded. ‘Iron Man’ she said. ‘Iron Man can fly.’
And this time, despite the crowd of parents who had turned up to watch the session, despite the line of children before her who didn’t want to come up and act out stories, Ellie proudly accepted every role that was offered to her, coming to stand in the middle of the stage, acting with some caution, but also with quiet conviction.
‘Iron Man. Iron Man can fly.’
*Names have been changed
Samuel* has difficulties with communication. He doesn’t give you eye contact, he struggles with interaction, during circle time he runs off and goes and does something else. He has a board in the nursery with pictures of a toilet, his coat, the outside play area, etc, so that he can show what it is he wants or needs, as he cannot yet find the words to express himself.
Initially, Samuel* did not join in with the story acting. He would play by himself in a corner. But gradually, he started to interact with the story circle and stage area: sometimes coming to sit with the other children in the circle for a few minutes; sometimes walking right across the stage to get to another corner of the room; and, more recently, just staying on the stage the whole time. He gradually started joining in with the acting in his own way, smiling to himself as the stage got busier and busier, and getting angry and upset when we would all clap thank you and go sit back down.
We had asked him before whether he wanted to tell a story, and had had no answer, or a very firm NO. But last week, I decided to give it another try. Samuel was playing out in the garden, and I followed him and described what he was doing: ‘Oh, I can see you holding on to the bars and stepping very carefully from one log to the next.’ I was rewarded for my interest and narration by a smile to himself. So I decided to press on: ‘Would you like to tell me a story?’ ‘Yeah, 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10,’ said Samuel, pointing at the hopscotch letters on the ground. I scribbled the numbers down hastily. ‘1 2 3 4 5’ he said again. ‘1 2 3 4 5’. Then he ran over to the puppet theatre, pulled back the curtains and said: ‘Peekaboo!’ I followed, scribbling as I went. ‘Come here’, he said, grabbing my arm as he pulled me over to yet another number line. He started off down the line, hopping on each number as he went, and I followed, scribbling his words as I hopped ‘1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8’. Then he ran off, and further attempts to discover whether there might be any more to his story were met by silence. I decided that probably meant there wasn’t.
Then we sat down for the story acting. Samuel was on the stage right from the start, occasionally joining in with the sounds the various characters were making. Then it was his turn. ‘Look everybody,’ I said, ‘It’s time for Samuel’s story, and he’s on stage and ready to act it out already’. Huge smile. As I read out the story, Samuel would repeat some of the numbers, even bending down and touching the ground as he had done in the playground. Then I read ‘Peekaboo’ and, huge smile still in place, he started to play peekaboo, and the whole class joined in with the game, playing peekaboo from outside the stage, with Samuel standing proudly in the middle. We finished the story and clapped thank you, and even Samuel clapped for himself, looking as if he might burst with pleased-ness.
And then, to top it all off, when we sang the frog song at the end of the session, he gave me eye contact all the way through and joined in with all the actions.
Over the course of my time with Helicopter (which hasn’t been all that long, after all), I’ve been amazed and touched by the progress made by all the children. It’s very rare for the Helicopter Stories not to somehow touch children and spark their imagination, their curiosity, their sense of playfulness, their bravery. But watching Samuel being given the freedom to be himself during the sessions (wherever that self might choose to place himself), and seeing him open up gradually to the point of actually telling a story has been an especially poignant example of how and why this approach works so well. And what a fantastic example he has set for other children who struggle to communicate, and for the teachers who struggle to communicate with them – the sessions with Samuel have felt like watching a different film version of Vivian Gussin-Paley’s The Boy Who Would Be A Helicopter. What an absolute privilege.
*Name has been changed
We are pleased and proud to hear that one of our Helicopter Centres of Excellence, Kemsley Primary Academy, has made a huge improvement since we first started working with them and last week was awarded as an Ofsted ‘good’ school, a fantastic result!
The Early Years provision is particularly glowing as Ofsted state that ‘children have a very good start to academy life in the Nursery and Reception classes’. Headteacher, Vicky Franks, says ‘Although not officially named they were very impressed with our Helicopter Storytelling and Story Acting!’
“The use of storytelling is outstanding. The youngest children in the Nursery enact their own stories. They use their imaginations vividly; for example, children decided that the giant in one version of ‘Jack and the beanstalk’ chases princesses away and eventually eats them!” – Ofsted Report, Kemsley Primary Academy, February 2015
Please visit: http://www.kemsley.kent.sch.uk/index.php?page=ofsted-report to read the full report.
On Thursday 12th February 2015, we awarded the UK’s sixth Helicopter Stories Centre of Excellence award to St Werburgh’s Park Nursery School, Bristol in recognition of their work with Story Square.
St. Werburgh’s Park Nursery School, funded by Bristol City Council since 1931, has a long history of successfully teaching young children. Every member of staff is qualified to work with young children and is passionate about children’s learning.
Helicopter Stories: Letting Imagination Fly is based on the Storytelling and Story Acting curriculum of Vivian Gussin Paley. There are many different approaches that are based on this curriculum and one of them is Story Square. St. Weburgh’s Park Nursery School have been involved with Story Square for many years.
The presentation began with a short 15-minute demonstration of the approach followed by a presentation of the plaque by the MakeBelieve Arts Creative Director, Isla Hill.
“Thank you so much for a truly inspiring day! The day was just what we needed … you lifted us and enabled us once again to focus on Vivian’s work and how it so resonates with our children and families here at St. Werburgh’s.”
— Liz Jenkins, Head Teacher, St. Werburghs Park Nursery School