Let’s Play: Monsters and Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John


Here are the results of my very informal pole of 5 kids on the subject of monsters: Monsters bite. They are white. No hair. Teeth. They live in caves. Monsters bite everything. Nice monsters don’t bite. They are small, tiny. Why? Because they are monsters. Monsters are brown, purple and pink. Two eyes. Five feet. Ten arms and hands. As tall as a mom (This mom must have a side I have not seen.). They live in a house but the house hopped away. A monster house. Monsters eat seaweed and water. Red eyes are creepy. They have no toys. The babies are born brown. The interesting contribution by our 10 year old neighbor, “There is a potty monster. If you make a mess in there or have an accident the monster eats you up.” Monsters are cute and fuzzy. Some mean. Some nice. I like the nice. They are weird, hairy creatures that crawl into your brain and make you hallucinate.

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My daughter and I did a bit of brainstorming over breakfast. What monsters could we make? My idea for a bubble monster was shot down. “Mom that is not scary. It would just be cute. All a kid would do is pop it and then no more monster.” My idea was blow away by six year old logic. We worked out that swamp monsters had to be super slimy, green and brown and that they only could be out at night. Cute and fuzzy colorful monsters are not really monsters. They are something else that we could not really label.

Monsters started being of interest with us around age two. The idea comes and goes. We always made it fun, read stories and talked about them being pretend. I like to think this helped us escape the idea of monsters under the bed or in the closet. A fear of monsters never became an issue. We had a crazy phase at age 3 where each night after dinner was spent drawing monster after monster after monster. The idea recently came back so we decided to make a mural and work on it together. We started by taping a long strip of 18 inch wide paper to the bottom of our chalkboard (this is a hollow core door on its side painted with chalkboard paint). I added a few items while my daughter was at school. Just enough to get her thinking. I put out a few monster related books. We went a bit crazy with coloring book cutouts, drawings, paper mountains, a paper city and a cardboard house. We needed the house so we could tackle the idea of monsters under the bed. We found some glow in the dark monster stickers. Lucky find. We went super crazy with making all 50 paper monsters in the book Papertoy Monsters by Castleforte. That was a feat and took far too much time over six days. We had fun but the mom list of to-dos was pushed aside a little too long. A good lesson for me that sometimes play just has to win out over all the other stuff. Along the way many ideas were explored, talked through and played out. Monsters eating dollhouse people. Bloody teeth drawn in. Monsters devouring Northampton at night. Monster teachers that say mean things to kids. Monster food that eats you from the inside out. Today after school a friend joined her and made the monsters eat up my old Jawa action figures from 30 years ago.

We were elaborate. Not necessary. Making a mural at home can be very simple. Big paper, crayons, markers and ideas. On a sunny day, you could head outside with chalk for the driveway. It always amazes me how putting out a few simple supplies and talking out an idea or two can lead to hours of play and making. For younger children it might be fun to just trace them on paper and use markers or paints to turn them into monsters. Maybe some giant eyes, pink claws and yarn hair to add on. Older children could make a monster book with drawings and a short story or they could add comic strip word bubbles to a mural to tell a story. Have fun.



We are always collecting and saving items in bins for creative projects and play. Try to keep a few bins of supplies within your child’s reach.

  • a roll of white paper—this comes in various sizes and can easily be found where they sell kid art easels
  • stickers—all kinds from animals to people to buildings
  • tape—colored tapes, scotch tape, masking tape


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

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