Once there was a little boy called Oscar. He went to the park with Riley. And he went to see Chelsea. And she went home to see Oscar. And Oscar loves Chelsea. Then they all went home to see my dad because he went up to heaven. And then Mum went home to see her dad and they all cried. Happily ever after.
Before I entered Bluebells Reception classroom that morning I spoke with the teacher who told me that Chelsea’s father had died during half term. Chelsea is 4 and for the last two years her father has been living with terminal cancer.
It was Chelsea’s turn to tell a story that day, so I asked if she would like to, just as I would on any other day. She said ‘yes’, and came and sat next to me.
Chelsea started telling her story. She seemed happy and relaxed, and told it as she would normally. But then, as she got half way through her eyes left mine and fell to her lap. She picked at her fingers.
‘Then they all went home to see my dad because he went up to heaven’ she said in a small voice.
Then she looked at me and said ‘My dad died.’ I didn’t write this down it wasn’t part of the story, she just wanted to let me know.
We had a cuddle. I waited until she was ready to pull away, and then she resumed telling her story.
‘And then Mum went home to see her dad and they all cried.’
This part came out in a rush. Once she said it, Chelsea gave a big sigh, like it was a relief to have got it out. Then she smiled at me and added ‘Happily Ever After.’
Chelsea chose to be her Dad for the acting out of her story. She showed me a band that she was wearing around her wrist that read Stand up to Cancer.
‘I can wear this when I’m being my Daddy, he wore one too’ she said.
During the acting out, Chelsea stood up to take the role of Dad. She immediately pulled up her sleeve to show everyone the special band. The whole class looked at it quietly, as Chelsea walked around the stage making sure everyone could see. Then she flapped her arms, pretending to be Dad, flying up to heaven.
It was a powerful moment, embedding the value of Helicopter Stories at the heart of this community of Storytellers. Chelsea had a place to share her sadness, and her friends were given an opportunity to love and support her.
The poignancy was lost on no one.
So many things happen in the lives of children, good and bad. Why I trust Helicopter Stories, is that it gives all children an opportunity to share what is going on in their lives, to bring their stories to life through acting them out, and to use metaphors, like flying up to heaven, to make sense of some of our hardest moments.
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of the child and her setting.
Trisha Lee’s best selling book Princesses, Dragons and Helicopter Stories is a how to publication on the Helicopter Stories approach