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Iron Man, the Lion and Ellie*

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* tells a story

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

A favourite Helicopter moment

One of my favourite Helicopter moments happened way back in February. I was taking a story from Domas, who had not been in England for very long, and I wasn’t entirely sure he understood what I was there to do: the nursery teacher had set him up at a table with her, he had seen a number of sessions so far and even acted in them, and as I waited for him to start and tried to explain what was going to happen in as many different ways as I could think of, he smiled very politely at me all the way through…but didn’t offer any words. And I wasn’t sure whether this was due to him needing more thinking time, or the language barrier.

But eventually, after another gentle prompt from his teacher, he started:


He watched as I wrote the word down, looked pleased with himself, and said: “Mummy” again.

“Would you like me to write that down?” He nodded.

“Mummy”, he then said, and watched to see that I wrote it down a third time. “Daddy”. “Mummy”. “Baby”. “Baby”. As Domas continued to repeat these three words with increasing pride, glee and joy, and checked that I was writing them down right, I could feel a ‘learned’ grown-up voice in me going:  “Oh dear, this is all repetition, I wonder whether it will be interesting enough for the children to watch” and then of course Trish’s mantra “Trust the child, trust the child” to counter it and then a different voice of my own reminding me that this was, in fact, a kind of poetry.

Mummy. Mummy. Mummy.

Daddy. Mummy. Baby. Baby.

Daddy. Baby. Mummy. Daddy.

Baby. Mummy. Daddy. Mummy. 

Baby. Mummy. Baby. Daddy.

Mummy. Mummy. Daddy. Mummy. 

Daddy. Baby. Mummy. Baby. 

Daddy. Mummy. Daddy. 

Mummy. Baby. Daddy. Mummy. 

Daddy. Mummy. Mummy. 

When it came to acting out, Domas wanted to be Baby. A little boy came up to play Mummy, and did a huge jumping pirouette. A girl came up to play Daddy, and performed the same move (you can see why Mummy and Daddy made such a great couple) . They waited eagerly to see what would happen next. Domas didn’t even need prompting: he had been watching me to see when his turn was, and he got up, stood next to Daddy, and simply held Daddy’s hand while I read the rest of the story.

The children loved the story so much that Mummy, Daddy, Baby and the poetic repetition of their names made appearances in a few more stories after that. And why not? The experience of being a baby and having a mummy and a daddy is a fairly universal one, and far from being boring, the repetition of the familiar words made it even more soothing and wonderfully comforting. Trust the child. Trust the child.


The Enchanted Place

On Friday 4th April 2014, Creative Associates Sonia Hyams, Simon Batchelor, Annekoos Arlman, Emma Deakin, Amie Taylor and Paul Andrew completed their Helicopter Technique Level 2 Presentations and handed in their essays.

Their presentations and essays were based on their chosen theme associated with the Helicopter Technique.

Take a look at the abridged version of Annekoos’ presentation below:

Have a read of Annekoos’ full essay by clicking on the ‘Read More’ button below.


Let’s talk about fruit

Danita, aged 4

There was a talking banana.

And a apple talking the banana.

And there was a talking strawberry banana and there was a talking grapes.

And a talking tree.

And an orange talking and Minnie Mouse eat it.