At the beginning of a new academic year, I am often asked, ‘When is a good time to start Helicopter Stories?’
As schools and settings are meeting new children and settling them in, it can be hard to imagine how to get started. But my answer is always – As soon as possible.
Helicopter Stories is closely linked to fantasy play, and children engage with it quickly and easily from the moment it is first introduced, as if they have been waiting for it to happen. Although it is an adult led activity, it is one that is so inherently child-centered and so carefully conceived by Vivian Gussin Paley, that it meets the needs of all children, and fits easily into any classroom. Because children take on many roles, from storyteller, to actor, to audience member and even writer, Helicopter Stories is quick to set up, highly engaging, and hugely beneficial. Plus it’s a great way to get to know your children.
I have seen so many children on their first day in a setting – walk over to where Helicopter Stories is taking place and join in as if they’d been doing it all their lives.
To me this makes perfect sense. How do we find our place within a community? We do so by finding where we fit within the stories of everyone around us. When we hear other people’s stories, we discover the connections between us, our similarities and the differences. When we tell our own stories, we share the things we see as important and the way that we look at the world.
You like batman? I like batman too. I have a dog. I don’t have any pets. I want to fly. I’d like to be a firefighter.
What greater way is there to get to know a new group of people, than to take time to enjoy each other’s stories. Adults who run Helicopter Stories on a regular basis report that they know their children far better than they have ever done before. Isn’t that what we all want? To get to know our new group, to find out what is important to them, to see what makes them tick.
In 2017, a group of neuroscientists from UCL conducted a study at the Savoy Theatre in London during a performance of Dreamgirls. They monitored the heartbeat of twelve audience members who were seated in various places across the auditorium. During the performance, the heart monitor showed that all of the hearts sped up and slowed down in response to what was happening on the stage. But, even more surprisingly, from the moment the performance started, all twelve hearts began to beat at exactly the same time. Past studies have shown that when heartbeats synchronise in this way, people are more likely to make friends and like each other.
Now, I have no scientific evidence for this next bit, but, having seen a lot of theatre shows, I am pretty sure I know what it feels like when the hearts of an audience beat as one; that moment where you gasp together, or laugh together or jump together.
I am also pretty certain that this sometimes happens during Helicopter Stories. When children are acting out their stories, there are moments when the whole group are focused, whether as actors or audience members. When it feels like a piece of magic is happening , and the concentration in the room is immense.
So if you haven’t had a go already, what better time is there than now. Engage your children in making up stories, and acting them out.
Use it as a way to get to know your new group, and see if you can sense those moments when the hearts of everyone in your room, really do start to beat as one.