I’ve been working in 2 school nurseries recently delivering Helicopter Stories and I have noticed something refreshing and very exciting. None of the boys have turned down the role as a female character (Mum, Princess, Sister) and non of the girls have turned down a male role (Dad, brother, Prince, Knight).
I have been in these settings for 5 weeks so far and usually by now I have had some sniggering and comments of ‘he can’t be a princess, he’s a boy’ but this hasn’t happened once. I haven’t needed to have the conversation with the 3 and 4 year old’s that we can pretend to be anything we like, a car, a dog, a princess, a house, a daddy, a volcano…
So is this just a one off? Is there something different about school nurseries that really fosters imaginative play with no gender stereotypes? Are 3 and 4 year old’s now more free to explore their role play? Is there something magical happening in the borough of Havering?
I’d love to hear what other people’s experience of this is. It’s so rare to have 5 weeks without gender coming up once.
Last night I was reading ‘In Mrs Tully’s Room’ by Vivian Gussin Paley and came across this passage about the stories of 2 yr olds often having Mummy’s in.
‘Seems like the best reason to tell a story, when you are two, it to keep Mama in mind. And to get everyone to do something with you, on your terms. Maybe you’re not so lonely then.‘
This reminded me of what a beautiful community storytelling and story acting produces, even for those who are just finding out what a community is. As a mum of a 2yr old I see his daily struggles with sharing and finding his place. It is inspiring to think what a wonderful part story acting can play in supporting 2yr olds in building friendships. ‘You are my friend because I am in your story.’
It felt so important and so magical.
On Wednesday 16th September 2013, MakeBelieve Arts Creative Projects Coordinator, Ross Bolwell-Williams and Creative Associates Jen Lunn and Mary Watkins completed their Helicopter Technique Level 2.
They each gave a presentation and completed an essay on their chosen theme associated with the Helicopter Technique.
Take a look at a trailer of Mary’s presentation and her essay below:
The Helicopter Technique and the EYFS
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) is a framework for early childhood education which all child care and learning settings have to work within. In this essay I will explore how the Helicopter Technique relates to three of the four overarching principles of the EYFS.
These principles are
‘Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self assured.
Children learn to be strong and independent through positive relationships.
Children learn and develop well in enabling environments’
The Helicopter technique fully supports the idea of a ‘unique child’. When stories are told and scribed anything the child says is told back to them, written down, read back to the whole class and enacted by their peers. The stories are unique and the way each child interprets their part of the story during the story-acting session is unique. The Helicopter Technique provides an opportunity to celebrate each child’s individual imagination and creative acting abilities. It is a space where practitioners can spot individual achievement in narrative, understanding, gesture, body control and artistic interpretation.
Not only does the Helicopter Stories approach appreciate a child’s individual imagination but it also appreciates their particular language. In the scribing of stories the child is thoroughly listened to by the adult and their language is recorded verbatim. This process recognises that children come to standardised English in their own way and will play with and explore sentence structure, grammar, tenses and word endings. They are not stifled in their language by being corrected so they are free to let their imagination flow without concern over correct standardised English.
The Helicopter Stories approach also creates agency for the child. They are the authors. They create the story and choose what character to play. They choose how to act and if they want to act. They have the option to not tell a story and not to participate in the acting out. Each child is unique and makes their own choices. This is discussed in more depth in the Open University Evaluation Report, Chapter 6: The Helicopter Technique and young children.
In terms of the ‘unique child’, the Helicopter Stories approach values everyone’s individual contribution and a child is listened to and appreciated. This helps to build their confidence, feel self assured in their imagination and language and demonstrate their capabilities as authors and creative actors.
In terms of forging and enforcing ‘positive relationships’ the Helicopter Technique provides an opportunity for child initiated one to one time between practitioner and child. During the story acting session the child’s story is shown to be valued to the whole class by the practitioner and in leading the acting out the practitioner embellishes the child’s work. By structuring the actions, involving the audience, positive praise of story and acting and applause at the end the practitioner is building and enforcing a positive relationship with the child.
The approach is also building positive relationships with peers. The Open University Evaluation research proved that children enjoy participating in the Helicopter Technique. They act out the stories together, listen attentively and enjoy each other’s stories. Children often come to hear other children’s stories being scribed showing that they are valuing the imaginations and creative abilities of their class mates. As an external practitioner positive relationships are made with children in a small amount of time so when done over time it serves well to strengthen relationships between children and the practitioners in their settings.
The Helicopter Stories approach creates a safe space for children to play, explore, share ideas and creatively express themselves. Anything goes and children are free to watch as well as participate. In this way it is an ‘enabling environment’ for learning and development in the Early Years. It creates an inclusive environment. Children can access it in whatever way they wish creating a space of equality. Due to its open nature it can be accessed by children with additional and special needs. It can provide opportunities for children learning English as an additional language to experiment with the language they are learning and also incorporate their home language into class activity. There is space to bring in parents and carers both in the classroom and at home. It creates a structured play environment where all children can participate together.
The Helicopter Stories approach is a highly effective and enjoyable learning activity for Early Years settings. I have highlighted how it addresses three overarching principles of the EYFS. This shows the effect of the technique in broad terms consequently the precise details of the technique link into many of the prime and specific areas of the EYFS and is an extremely beneficial tool for Early Years practitioners.
 EYFS 2012 section IV pg3
 T. Cremin, J Swann, R Flewitt, D Faulkener, N Kucirkova. (2013) Evaluation Report of MakeBelieve Arts Helicopter Technique of Storytelling and Story Acting The Open University. Pg 69-76