Let The Children Do It: A Helicopter Story Nativity

Guest Blog:

Kathryn Stevens

Pre-school Teacher, Watermead Day Nursery, Leicestershire

“Do a Nativity,” they said.
“The parents will love it,they said.
And so we did.

We bought a script and rehearsed for hours and hours, during the months of October, November, and December.

The whole process was extremely stressful, and I am still not convinced on the advantages of it for the children. Yes, they gained some performance experience, but I suspect for most of them this was not a particularly positive one. Yes, the parents loved it, but we didn’t.

Then I came across the book, Princesses Dragons and Helicopter Stories, by Trisha Lee.

I introduced Helicopter Stories to my classroom over the Summer Term, and what followed amazed me. Children who had never before expressed any interest in mark making had stories to tell. Not only did they want to dictate their ideas but they began to show a greater interest in mark making in general. Helicopter Stories was such a hit that I wondered if I could use the approach as a new way to organise the Nativity.

I suggested to my boss that we could write our own Nativity, using the Helicopter Stories approach, and I explained to her what I would do. She was interested, and allowed me to try it out. We spent September and October running Helicopter Stories sessions, encouraging the nursery children to tell their stories and act them out.

At the October half term I took in a simple version of the Christmas story and spent a couple of weeks telling it to the children, in different ways, until they knew the story well and could tell it to me and to each other.

We then began the process of collecting their Nativity stories. Each child was given the opportunity to dictate the Christmas story. I got very many versions, all with their own impressions of Christmas mixed in. Between them they told the whole story, so I stuck it together, adding songs between “scene changes.” We had many Helicopter Stories acting sessions, so they could act out the versions they had written. I think we only had two run throughs in all, and we sang all the songs lots in the two weeks leading up to the performance.

On the day, I put out a load of costumes, asked parents to bring dressing gowns, tea towels, etc. and the children made it up as they went along. I narrated and the children acted their hearts out – they even demonstrated their ownership of the performance by adding their own characters.

We have run this cycle through twice now. It has been so popular with the parents that we had to hire a separate hall for the performance this year – it turns out you can’t fit all the parents, grandparents, and the whole pre-school into one room.

I can thoroughly recommend a Helicopter Stories style nativity – let the children do it.

Extracts from the script:

Mary and Joseph. There’s a baby in her tummy. “Look! She’s got a baby in her tummy!”
They went on a journey and it was a long journey and they wanted to sleep.
Joseph walking. And then on the donkey. He’s going “Clip, clop.”
It got a bit dark. The girl was tired. “Can we have a bed?” There no room.
Night time.
“Have you got any space?” And “No.” The man didn’t have any room. “No room.” Because they keep knocking and they have no space. There’s too much people in his house.
“Oh no, we’re full. You sleep with the animals round the back,” they said. “We got no space.” And then they said, “You can stay here if you want to. If you want you can sleep with the animals.”
Cow and donkey. Donkey at the stable. The spider gone up the walls. And a mouse.

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  1. Can I ask? Did children have specified parts or did you go around the circle at each scene asking the next person to act, Mary, the donkey, innkeeper etc? How long did it all last? We have 2 reception classes so am thinking children may choose to be shepherds, Angels, sheep etc in advance? Sylvia

    1. I think Kathryn went around the stage in true Helicopter Stories style. Once the script was there – created by the children, they didn’t rehearse much. Just a few goes through so the children knew how the bits of their stories fitted together. I’ve heard stories from other settings who’ve tried it and it’s been far less stressful. I’ll try and get Kathryn to tell you more.

  2. Hi, In answer, we went around the stage for the rehearsals, Helicopter Style. For the performance, there wasn’t room to sit around the edge of the stage so we made a group semi circle, as you may be able to see in the photos. However, the children happily chose roles on the day, putting on the appropriate costume and knew the story well enough that they needed little prompting.

  3. Thank you for your replies Ladies. So Kathryn, did you have a selection of Marys, different for each scene? I’m thinking how we keep it manageable with 60 children.
    Even if we don’t act this for our parents I’m loving the idea of the children writing their own version that we combine to make a script. As I’m thinking it through, maybe we try it out with the Rama and Sita story first (I’ve had an issue with a parent not wanting religion thrust on her child so want to make sure that it is a ‘story’)

    Can I also ask which version of the nativity you used? I have Miffy’s Christmas somewhere I think.

    Kind regards

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