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Helicopter Story Blog

Using the approach of Vivian Gussin Paley to gather stories and act them out

Boys and girls

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.

Language development of an EAL child at Beecroft Garden Primary School

‘M’ has been in the nursery class for a year now. He speaks Afghan at home and was silent for a long period when he started nursery and also after his summer holidays back in Afghanistan. ‘M’ prefers not to take part in the acting out of the stories. These are his stories over a year. He started with his name and moved on to his interests such as spiders and football. You can see the development from single words to sentences.
M’s stories over a year

‘M’ is my name, racing car, I think, spider


‘M’ playing football, ‘M’

Dinosaur, raah yeah, yup, Raah, eat. He is going eat crocodile eat. Dinosaur eat him. He eat dinosaur.

Kicking my brother. I kicking my house. I kicking up there. My daddy said “play football, my house, kicked up there.” Car his car going shopping and my brother lemon water in my house in my fridge.

I was sitting in my big seat. Doctor my tooth was hurting, he gave me Spiderman sticker. He put gold tooth there. Me take my watch and blaster.


(This boys name has been replaced with the letter ‘M’ throughout)

Stifford Clays Primary School becomes our 5th Helicopter Centre of Excellence

stiffold clays cofe

On Wednesday 28th January 2015 Stifford Clays Primary School in Thurrock was awarded Helicopter Centre of Excellence. They are only the 5th in the UK to be awarded this status and the 1st in Thurrock.

Parents were invited along for the presention from MakeBelieve Arts Creative Director, Isla Hill and Harli Green from Stifford Clays. Isla gave a short presentation on what Helicopter Stories is and how it works then Harli gave some examples of stories their children have been telling and linking them to the EYFS and their development.

This was then followed by a fantastic demonstration of the approach with a few of the Early Years children and their teacher Lynn. It was a great opportunity for the parents to see a live demonstration of Helicopter Stories in action and as the school staff put it ‘put some of the exciting, flamboyant and often bizarre, stories into context.’ The storytelling and story acting demonstration certainly got many laughs and smiles from the parents.

Finally there was the presentation of the plaque where Isla explained what they had done to achieve this award and Harli talked about how thrilled the school are to be a Centre of Excellence.

The Magic Space

It was lovely to be back doing Helicopter Stories today at the new settings in Havering.  It was very much like meeting up with an old friend, I nearly always leave Helicopter Story sessions with a glow inside.

Today were the introductory sessions for two schools, whose staff had attended the Helicopter INSET in December. I took a couple of stories around the stage to introduce the children to the idea of storytelling and story-acting.  After a few demonstrations of pre-collected stories (not from today’s children), I asked if anyone wanted to share a story.  One little boy’s hand shot up.  Jobe.  I wrote his name at the top of the page, and let him know that I was ready to start writing as soon as he had his story.

He thought.

We waited thirty seconds.  A minute.

A year ago this kind of pause would have panicked me.  It would have panicked me one on one, let alone in front of 29 pairs of small eyes.  But, as I looked around, the other 29 children were waiting with as much anticipation as I was for Jobe’s story.  This is the magic space… where the sparks are flying, the words are darting around, a story it beginning to weave itself ready to be known.

We waited another minute.

“What’s your story for us today?”  I whisper.  This is the crucial magic space, I don’t want to speak so loud I disrupt it.  Finally he takes an inward breath, I put my pen to the paper…


I write it down, reading it back to him as I do.  Another lengthy pause.

“Reindeer.”  He points to the page, indicating that I should write it down again.  “There are two reindeers.”  I nod.  “Father Christmas.  End.”

I read it back, it’s a fine story and lots of fun to act out.

I’m no longer panicked by the magic space like I used to be.  That urge to prompt, or fill the silence is no longer there like it used to be.  Now, I’m curious about it, excited, wondering what thoughts are flying as we prepare to begin.


The Helicopter Stories journey of two children at Chisenhale Primary School

‘K’s Helicopter Stories

The Journey so far…

‘K’ is a Summer baby who came to us last September having just turned 3.She has some speech and language difficulties but has made huge progress through interventions as well as the experience of spending a year in EYFS. Now she is in Reception and is still having S&L interventions but I thought it was interesting to show how her stories have developed. The last story links to a show we went to see called One Snowy Night. I love the way she has connected it with her own interests (Peppa Pig) as well as adding her own twist to the the story. In the real version the animals were cold so went inside Percy’s shed, but in her version they were scared of the forest. This shows that she has really grasped the original story and then is able to make it her own.



Me go helicopter, me go airplane, me go moon.

Me crash! Boing boing bash bash!


I saw helicopter in the sky.


Once upon a time there’s a cat. I ranfaster but I can walk. There’s a dog in the park and there’s a cat in the park too. There’s a sheep and a cow and a pig “koko” like Peppa Pig. They go on a holiday.


Once upon a time there was a princess Peppa Pig in the castle, and Peppa Pig go to sleep in the castle. And a dinosaur go to sleep in the garden and Peppa Pig go to sleep with Mummy.


There was a Snowy Night and Percy go to sleep and the animals came inside and then was scared of the forest and the fox gonna get the duck. A big one and he does get some hot chocolate and get popcorn and watch Peppa Pig. And he played the game with a duck and it was fun.



‘G’s Helicopter Stories

The Journey so far…

‘G’ is another Reception child who came to us in Nursery last year with very little language. he mumbles a lot, says the bare minimum and doesn’t open his mouth very much when he speaks. However he has also made lots of progress. His stories are always linked to real experiences such as the Runner Bean game and all his friends. He is a very sensitive child and so I thought it was interesting that he talks about ‘best friends’ – a term that lots of children are currently using with each other. by making his sister his best friend he is removing any anxiety about his friendship with his peers.



The sun down, it’s cold out there. It’s the bikes, three bikes, big bike, and number 4 bike, little bike. And the wheelbarrow and 4 bikes 6 bikes and 7 bikes 8 bikes 9 bikes 10 bikes 11 bikes, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25.


Bigger, bigger, smaller, bigger, smaller, bigger, smaller.


Spider web, train, numicon, sun, a bed, ice cream, peach, duck, key.


Spider, train, triangle. Triangle did it. The sun did it. Zebra, bus, pie because I play running bean game. Bee is just hitting everybody. The boy sleeping. He said goodbye.


I’m playing racing games with Spider Umair. My spider game catched the ladybird. It climbed over the roof. The ladybird falled it, bumped it head, then it cried. He need to tell the doctor because it feel better and I counted to 20 and found Umair and Maurice. I counted to 18. I count 19 and then Snail bumped his head.


We’re playing baddies and goodies with Hamzah and Umair. We are playing baddies with the cars in the playground. I’m playing Runner Bean game with Maurice. I like playing roller disco and I waited for the bus to come. The 276. The 214 can drive then I went into the bus stop. We are learning 3D shapes and 2D shapes. We’re playing 277 with a big bus.


I’m a baddie to catch Hamzah. I’m going to be the goodies with Umair. Maurice and Kobi will play runner Bean game. Then Kobi is the goodie. I’ve played with the bike. Then I see a polar bear. Percy’s in the shed, the Park Keeper. Then he opened the door. Then I saw letters and words. My sister came to be my best friend.



‘R’s Helicopter Stories

The Journey so far…


Once upon a time there was a little girl and we all played together. And then a monster came and then we got runned away and got into our palace. And then a princess came and her name was called Rapunzel and then a knight came to save Rapunzel from her tower. And then they all had a picnic together. And then another monster came and then we all settled down but we didn’t even look at the monster.



‘A’s Helicopter Stories

The Journey so far…

Aishah arrived in Nursery with very little English language. Look how far she has come.



Pig blue and then red and then blue book.


What can I say first. Once upon a time theres’s a little Goldilocks live in a castle. She had a cat hugging her. It’s a girl cat and her cat run away. Now the bear came and give it to Goldiclocks. And then now she give it t the princess. Now she didn’t give it to the wolf and then she run away from the wolf. The wolf came, another wolf, then so many wolves came, loads of wolves. Now Goldilcoks found the cat.

Kemsley’s New Interactive Helicopter Reading Area

Both reception and nursery at Kemsley have been developing the reading areas in their classrooms.

We have made them interactive by creating books using the children’s helicopter stories, so the children can continue to share and enjoy the stories they have created during their play.

Take a look at the slideshow below to see how it looks …




The community of 2’s

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.

Learning a Language

I ran my first Helicopter project in a school earlier on this year in the summer term, it was a really wonderful experience to work side by side with colleague Emma Deakin in delivering the programme to two schools in Kent.

I’ve always loved language.  I especially love English, because there are just so many brilliant words.  And each word has about five alternatives if it doesn’t sit quite right in a sentence. (I love thesauruses too).  I speak Italian, which I also love for it’s pronunciation and there are many, many great words, but in learning Italian, I realised just how complicated the English language is.  Italian often has one word to cover a variety of similar ideas, for example ‘Su’, can be used to say ‘on’,  ‘up’, ‘above’, ‘on top of’ ‘upstairs’ or ‘upon’.  Or ‘chiuso’, which covers ‘shut’, ‘closed’, ‘locked’ and ‘enclosed’.  Once you know the word for one thing, you can often guess and cover a number of other things.  They don’t have a future tense either.  And their dictionary is a fair bit thinner than ours.

It was in Helicopter that this complicated English language became a huge hindrance to my delivery.  The thing I found trickiest about becoming a Helicopter Level 2 deliverer was learning the language and scaling back the language I used when speaking to the children so as not to over complicate things.  The way to ask children to come up to the stage, the way to ask for a story, the way to NOT use language but sit quietly as a story whirlwinded in a child’s imagination, picking up speed at it readied itself to be born onto the blank page. (“Your story can be as long as you like, but it can’t be longer than the bottom of the page.”)  There was a whole new language to learn, at times it felt difficult as over and over again I realised I’d used too many words or over complicated language, and things would come to a momentary halt.   But, as I got more practice in, spent more hours around the stage, my knowledge of the language developed and I became more fluent.

The other thing I’ve always loved about Helicopter is that the children are allowed to break the language rules without the concern of being corrected.  We may model the correct language during story acting, for instance:

Child:  And then I seed him

Me:  And then I seed him (reading the story)  Can we see you seeing the man?

But, the corrections are very subtle, and the story stays true to the original words it was spoken in.  There’s also something delightful in reading the stories aloud to the group and being allowed to break the grammar rules as an adult.  And of course, by not correcting the children’s grammar, it doesn’t mean that they won’t learn it eventually- it solely means that during helicopter they can freely express ideas and exercise their imaginations without interruption or correction.

I really valued my time spent around the stage earlier this year, the time I spent learning this language and look forward to doing it again.

Welcome to the Helicopter Story Blog…

Helicopter Stories, Letting Imagination Fly is based on the storytelling and story acting curriculum of Vivian Gussin Paley.

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