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Helicopter with parents and teachers

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 Jen’s presentation and her essay below:


The Special People

From the very first time I was able to watch children telling their stories and then performing them around a masking tape stage, I was entranced. These children’s capacity to express themselves through story seemed extraordinary but as I witnessed the same phenomenon in classroom after classroom, I began to understand how innate and simple this technique was for these tiny storytellers and performers.

For me, spending an hour scribing stories and then leading their performances is an hour spent in a magical place of princesses, superheroes or bumble-bees; where anything is possible and the imagination in the room is palpable. For the children – it is instinctive, but for the adults – the teachers and the parents we introduce this technique to – it can be strange, challenging and contrary to their long established habits.

And yet I have watched the most sceptical of teaching assistants grow to love these hours and I have seen them start to listen more, engage more and play more. I believe that this technique, and the philosophy that underpins it can impact deeply on the relationships that exist between adults and the children in their lives.

In Tower Hamlets a group of Bengali mothers were terrified to come to a ‘storytelling’ workshop but, over a cup of tea and a biscuit, shared with me beautifully told stories of their own lives and a few weeks later were telling magical stories that they then watched their children perform. Talking to one of these mothers, a month after the project had ended, she told me how she now carried her ‘story book’ around with her everywhere and how her two children and even her husband now told her stories which they then performed as a family together.

In Kent a teacher explained to me that she was correcting the children’s language when narrating their stories around the stage. It was incredibly important to her that she modelled language well, as this was not happening in the children’s homes. I could see her struggling as I explained the reasons why it was important to honour the children’s words around the stage and suggested that she see their language as a form of poetry; special and beautiful. When I returned the following week she was smiling as she told me how she had suddenly understood what I had meant and had begun to speak the children’s words exactly as written.

Vivian’s vision of the teacher learning from the students is at the heart of the relationship shift encouraged by Helicopter work. It encourages us to reflect on the assumptions we make about children, the opinions and attitudes of our own that we impose on them and the frequency with which we misunderstand what they are trying to express – all of which we do often, believing we know best. Helicopter turns us from authority figures giving answers and controlling children’s expression into avid listeners, ready to learn and able to admit our mistakes. In making that shift we take giant steps towards being the special people who inspire and delight.

“Memories of pretend play are often associated with a special person who encouraged play, told fantastic stories, or modelled play by initiating games, who perhaps had a flamboyant personality that inspired imitation or gave wonderful gifts of puppets and picture books or shared exotic travel adventures – who, above all, showed a trusting, loving acceptance of children and their capacity for playfulness.”

(Singer and Singer 1990)