The recent evolution of Helicopter Stories, Letting Imagination Fly

It's a very exciting time for Helicopter Stories. Since the beginning of the academic year MakeBelieve Arts have been developing the approach in a mulititude of ways.

Helicopter Stories Centres of Excellence

A year and a half ago the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation funded a robust evaluation of the Helicopter Stories approach and The Open University also evaluated the approach. One of the suggestions and outcomes of the evaluation was to award settings as Centres of Excellence in the approach.

These awards are given to those select Early Years settings that deliver regular Helicopter sessions and are able to share the benefits of the approach with neighbouring schools.

They are ambassadors of the approach, host observational visits from teachers from other schools and actively use the Helicopter Story blog to blog stories, anecdotes or videos ofHelicopter Stories in action.

Chisenhale Primary School, Tower Hamlets became the first Centre of Excellence in June 2013 and Kemsley Primary Academy, Kent has recently become the second.

MakeBelieve Arts has been working with Vicky Franks, EYFS Leader at Kemsley Primary Academy, since October 2012 and from the very beginning Vicky saw the potential for her class to develop their speech and language skills in an interesting and stimulating way.

Vicky very quickly took to the approach and wanted to take it into all classes up to year one. Vicky talked to the other teachers about it and they became very interested in the stories from the nursery.

Then, in February of this year, there was the opportunity for those teachers to attend a Helicopter starter training session. Kemsley Primary Academy have been using Helicopter Stories ever since the initial training.

The launch of the Kemsley Primary Academy Helicopter Stories Centre of Excellence was fantastic, the school had used the launch as an opportunity to invite parents into the nursery and show them a Helicopter story session with the children.

After the demonstration, parents, staff and governors moved down to the hall where Vicky Franks had prepared a presentation of stories using photos and film. She had also set up a display of the children's stories which everyone enjoyed reading. The local press from the Kent messenger came along to cover the launch.

Isla Hill, Creative Director, then spoke about the work MakeBelieve Arts has done with Kemsley Primary Academy, working with not only the staff and children, but also with the parents in our Helicopter at Home project.

Helicopter at Home is a programme that grew out of The Family Learning Project, which was funded by The Royal Opera House Bridge and took place in Spring 2013, in Kent.

The project trained and encouraged parents to use Helicopter Stories, with their children, at home.

After the success of the project, Helicopter at Home has become a core element of the Helicopter Stories approach. During the series of workshops parents listen to their children’s stories, write them down and then act them out.

Our third Centre of Excellence was awarded to Beecroft Garden Primary School, Lewisham. The launch took place on 27th March 2014.

Beecroft Garden Primary School has been incorporating Helicopter Stories into their work for many years and have proven to be an excellent example of how it can transform a classroom and the children within it.

The morning began with a demonstration of the approach for the parents, showing them how their children use the approach. The turnout was incredible and feedback from parents was fantastic. The morning then finished with a whole school assembly where the school watched a short video aboutHelicopter Stories, produced by Beecroft Garden Primary School themselves, then the plaque was presented to Glenys Ingham, Headteacher.

Helicopter Stories Training Levels

At the beginning of this academic year, we developed Helicopter Stories training levels. There is Helicopter Starter, Level 1 – Helicopter Practitioner, Level 2 – Helicopter Deliverer and Level 3 – Helicopter Trainer.

Helicopter Starter training is a basic, one-day introduction to the approach, including the philosophy, the history behind the work and a practical guide on how to implement it. The training is for early years practitioners who are in regular contact with children.

Level 1 (Helicopter Practitioner) training is for practitioners who attended the one day introductory course followed by 3- 6 weeks of in class training.

Level 2 (Helicopter Deliverer) training is to enable workshop leaders to team teach with early years practitioners in the classroom. It supports them in introducing and delivering weekly helicopter sessions in-class, encouraging practitioners, reflecting on the practice and feeding back their observations.

Level 3 (Helicopter Trainer) further develops the philosophy and ethos of the approach, including analysis around the importance of story and how children learn. This level is about reading around the subject, having a thorough knowledge of all Vivian Gussin Paley's work and an extensive use of the approach in the classroom. It enables Deliverers to run INSETs independently.

Currently there are only 2 Helicopter Trainers – Trisha Lee, Artistic Director and Isla Hill, Creative Director.     

If you’d like to become a Helicopter Starter MakeBelieve Arts can come into your setting and work with as many of the staff there that you’d like in a whole, half or twilight training session.

Alternatively MakeBelieve Arts have recently organised a training day in both London and Kent where places were booked individually. This was a great success and a good opportunity for individuals working in early years to train in the approach.

Early Years practitioners receiving the 6 weekly in-class sessions will reach Level 1 (Helicopter Practitioner). This enables them to run helicopter sessions with their children and pass the approach on to other members of staff in their setting.

Isla and Trish have been working with 6 Creative Associates who applied to become Helicopter Deliverers. They have each done 6 weeks of training at an Early Years setting and will now go on to running sessions in pairs where they can develop their practice together, enabling them to be reflective and progress in their use of the approach.

They’re just coming to the end of their initial 6 weeks and after Easter they embark on the next and final stage of their training.

“They have been a pleasure to train, bringing huge amounts of passion and enthusiasm to their experience” says Isla Hill.

Thurrock Council and Helicopter Stories

Thurrock council have provided the funding for 27 settings across Thurrock to receive a full day of Helicopter Starter training with accompanying resource pack and 6 weeks of in-class sessions.

The project has been really well received with staff very excited about using this approach with their children and seeing some fantastic results. Just the other day we had a four year old girl, who was holding a pad and paper, go up to another child and say 'tell me your story' and then, in wonderful emergent writing, she wrote the story down.

While another little boy, age four, wrote a series of stories and handed them to me to be acted out, his favourite being 'Joseph with Mary and baby Jesus in her tummy!' Followed by twinkle twinkle little star!

A proprietor, at one of the settings, saw such potential in Helicopter Stories that she wanted to take it on as an approach used throughout the setting.  So we have trained all of the staff there.

The children are getting so much out of it, their stories are developing rapidly, it is also helping the staff in the way they ask questions of the children making sure they are open questions and that they really listen to what the children are saying.
— Nursery Proprietor, Thurrock