Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... Monsters

Monsters offer a rich source of activity to develop children's creativity and explore fear and emotions. By Marianne Sargent

Monsters are often regarded as the subject of children's nightmares. This is certainly true, making a topic about monsters ideal for exploring feelings and emotions. However, monsters can also offer much opportunity to get children's creativity flowing.


Create large-scale monster pictures outdoors using water balloons and poster paint.

Adult role

  • Set out some large sheets of paper in the outdoor area.
  • Ask the children to choose from a selection of coloured paints and help them to fill the balloons. Allow them to use more than one colour.
  • Guide each child as they throw their balloon at the paper to create a large splat.
  • While the paint is wet there is opportunity to sprinkle on some glitter. Then leave the splats to dry.
  • Provide paint for the children to add extremities, such as arms, legs and tails. Give them space to do this independently.
  • Provide a range of craft materials for the children to add facial features and other details they like.

Possible learning outcomes

EAD Exploring a variety of materials, techniques and experimenting with colour and form.


Use this picture book about inventor Monty, by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort, as inspiration for the children to invent their own monsters.

Adult role

  • Work with the children in small groups.
  • Provide pictures and books featuring monsters for the children to look at.
  • Draw the children's attention to the features of each monster. Ask them to describe what they can see. Do they have any ideas about why each monster has particular features? For example, why might they have flippers, wings, claws or horns?
  • Invite the children to invent their own monsters like Monty.
  • Provide pencils and paper for the children to design and draw their own creations.
  • Help them to label their pictures, pointing out the different features on their monsters with brief explanations about the purpose of each.
  • Extend the activity by providing junk modelling and craft materials, playdough or clay for the children to make models.

Possible learning outcomes

CL Using talk to organise, sequence and clarify thinking

PD Using a pencil with good control to draw a picture

EAD Representing their own ideas through art.


Explore the emotion of fear using stories about monsters.

Adult role

  • Read The Monster Bed by Jeanne Willis and Suzanne Varley (Andersen Press) - a story about a little monster who is afraid of humans.
  • Discuss the story. Ask the children to explain how the little monster was feeling. Can they explain why?
  • Divide the children into small groups to talk about fear. What are the children scared of? What does it feel like to be scared? What kinds of things can the children do/which people can they go to, to help alleviate their fears?
  • Take care not to push children too much. If they do not wish to talk about their fears, they should be allowed to abstain.

Possible learning outcomes

PSED Expressing and responding to their own and others' feelings.


Set up a role-play monster sanctuary for lonely and abandoned monsters.

Adult role

  • Read Love Monster by Rachel Bright, a touching story about a little monster who cannot find anyone to love him. Use the book as a springboard for discussion about being left out. Ask the children to consider how the little monster must be feeling and how they would feel if they were in the same position.
  • Introduce a toy monster to the children and explain that he has been having the same problems as the monster in the story. Ask them for ideas about what they can do to make him feel better. Let them take the lead and observe them as they try to take care of the monster and make him feel welcome.
  • After a couple of days have another monster turn up at the setting. Explain that he has heard that this is a good place for lonely and abandoned monsters. Continue to do this until there are a number of monsters in the setting.
  • Join in with the children's play and engage them in discussion. Talk to them about the needs of the monsters. What can the children do to make them feel happy?
  • Help the children set up a monster sanctuary: set out a reception area, a small kitchen and some beds; provide books for the children to read to the monsters and toys for them to give to the monsters.

Possible learning outcomes

PSED Awareness of others' feelings and trying to help and give comfort when others are distressed

EAD Engaging in imaginative role play and using available resources to create props to support play.


Monster bingo Copy and stick monster pictures on cards and laminate to create a bingo game - you can download monster pictures from www.thecolor.com/Category/Coloring/Monsters.aspx or pixar.wikia.com/Category:Monsters,_Inc._Characters. Alternatively, play Monster Bingo (for developing colour and shape matching skills) and Monster Catcher (for developing counting skills and colour recognition), available from www.orchardtoys.com.

If you're a monster and you know it Make up an alternative version of If You're Happy and You Know It and ask the children to move and make sounds like monsters For inspiration, use Rebecca and Ed Emberley's picture book, If You're a Monster and You Know It (Orchard Books).

Five big and scary monsters

Sing this rhyme to the tune of Five Green and Speckled Frogs using actions as follows:

Five big and scary monsters (stand up like a monster)

Hiding inside a cave (crouch down)

Making the most disturbing sounds - growl, grunt (make growling and grunting sounds)

One monster leapt off the floor (jump up)

Pounced and gave a big ROAR! (roar really loud)

Then there were just four monsters left - growl, grunt

Repeat with four monsters, then three, two and one.


  • Search for 'monsters' at www.bbc.co.uk/cbeebies/ to find stories read by television presenters. Stories include There's No Such Thing as Monsters by Steve Smallman and Caroline Pedler, Morris the Mankiest Monster by Giles Andreae and Big Scary Monster by Thomas Docherty.
  • Hide small monsters around any foliage you might have in the outdoor area to create a miniature monster realm. Use a flowerpot to make a cave and set up little piles of stones and pebbles. You can get a pack of ten Moshi Monsters from Amazon.co.uk for under £10.



Gather the following resources together to support the suggested activity ideas:

Splodge monsters Large thick pieces of paper, poster paint, water balloons, glitter, paint brushes, stick on eyes, feathers, scissors, felt, crepe paper and felt pens.

Monstersaurus! Paper, pencil colours, crayons, junk, craft materials, playdough and pictures of monsters. Ricky Gervais' series of Flanimals books (Faber and Faber) is a great resource for this topic. He has also produced Flanimals pop-up book (Walker Books).

Scary monsters More useful books that deal with fear are Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett, Bear Feels Scared by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman, The Owl Who was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson and Paul Howard and Molly and the Night Monster by Chris Wormell.

Monster sanctuary Selection of cuddly toy monsters (find some in charity shops and ask parents for donations), blankets for beds, kitchen equipment and utensils, and a telephone.


Monster lovers are spoilt for choice when it comes to picture books:

Bedtime for Monsters by Ed Vere - a humorous picture book that has lots of fun vocabulary.

Yuck! That's Not a Monster by Angela McAllister and Alison Edgson - a lovely story about why it is fine to be different.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - classic picture book about little boy Max who ventures to the land where the wild things are.

The Scariest Monster in the World by Lee Weatherley and Algy Craig Hall - a funny story about a monster who just cannot get rid of his hiccups.

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems - the story of a cute little monster who is no good at scaring anyone.

Not Now, Bernard by David McKee - a story about a little boy who is ignored by his parents and gets gobbled up by a monster.

Two Monsters by David McKee - the tale of two monsters that just cannot get along.

Calm Down Boris!, You're Not so Scary Sid and Hello Dudley by Sam Lloyd - these are just three of a series of books built around a bunch of cuddly puppet monsters.

The Monstrous Book of Monsters by Libby Hamilton, Jonny Duddle and Alexei Bitskoff - this book is more suited to children aged five years and over. However, for the braver children in the group it is a terrific fact file that will fascinate. Otherwise it would be very useful to provide inspiration for practitioners.

Marianne Sargent is a writer specialising in early years education and a former foundation stage teacher and primary and early years lecturer

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