For the purposes of this blog, the child in this case study will be called Molly. Molly is three years old, she loves dinosaurs and playing fairies. Molly comes from a very creative family, and is used to playing with clay.
In this exercise I first asked Molly to draw a monster of her very own creation. This can be seen in the drawing above. Initially Molly’s monster was a big furry ball, when asked if the monster was going to have arms and legs, Molly said that it would not, and instead it rolled its way around like a giant ball. Later in the exercise this changed slightly to the monster having smooth scaly skin but this soon reverted back when Molly decided the name for the monster would be fluffy.
Once Molly had drawn her monster I asked her to create the lair where the monster would live. To make the lair I had provided Molly with terracotta clay and found natural objects I had collected (shells, sticks, conkers, stones). At first Molly had a little trouble in thinking of the materials as anything other than what they were. For instance Molly put the clay in a shell and said “the monster eats clay out of the shell”(this is quite normal for children so young). However when we worked a little on the idea that the clay could become lots of things, Molly soon got into her stride. When thinking about her Monsters lair, rivers were mentioned several times, often the monster/dinosaur lived under the river and had to swim through it to get to their secret den. Molly also mentioned her monsters/dinosaurs having to squeeze through holes that were too small for them to enter their house. I thought it was interesting how the monster/dinosaur had to go through challenges to get into their lair, rather then simply creating a door for the monster to walk through. When creating the lair Molly also “chopped a bit off so the dinosaur could see the sea”. Obviously being able to see out is important in Molly’s fantasy den. Molly also made several comments about what the monsters were eating without being prompted. This could indicate the importance of the ritual of food in a child’s play (although this might be an individual trait).
During the monsters lair building exercise I asked Molly some questions suggested by Susan G. Solomon in the article How to Engage Kids and Community in Playground Design. One of these questions was ‘Where do you go to be alone? To be with friends?’, to both questions Molly’s answer was dinosaur valley. When asked another question from the article ‘What is the most dangerous, scary places you have ever gone?’, Molly did not give a place but described some music that was described as dinosaur music from a dinosaur film Molly and her mother had watched together. I find it fascinating how one of the things that she finds the scariest is also the place she wants to be. Something that is also interesting about Molly and dinosaurs is that despite of being able to name and describe many dinosaurs from the long necked diplodocus to the ridged backed stegosaurus, Molly still prefers the tyrannosaurus rex, one of the deadliest dinosaurs of all time.