Abstract Monster Sizes

Proscalpin in Canada imageMany children have been interested in the book The Day Louis got Eaten at Forest School. Last week a group grappled with concepts of relative size and reciprocal action based on the story.

Sitting in the tipi we read through to this page, and the discussion began:


“That monster’s enormous” said one child, looking at the largest one. “The others all fit inside it” said someone else. We traced the path of big sister Sarah as she climbed into each monster on her laborious way to reach her brother in the very middle. The children wanted to spend time following her progress with their fingers too, a focal point for their interest. And then the funny bit:


After some obligatory hiccuping and burping ourselves, a boy pointed to the monsters in turn, saying carefully “big, big, big, big, BIG!”. No, said a girl, you have to say “bigger, bigger, bigger, bigger, BIGGER”, pointing to each one again. There was general agreement about this. Now a moment of bravery:


“Is he sick?” asked someone. The redness of Louis’ face here is indeed striking. I suggested “Maybe he’s angry” and read the words above with more emphasis. Yes, definitely angry was the conclusion.

We emerged from our discursive time in the tipi and had lunch around the fire, and the story was requested and read again. And then the children as a group simply took on the discussion themselves, batting ideas to and fro and extending their thinking.


At the page above where Louis scares off the monsters one of the tipi reading group said tentatively: “One saved one, then one saved the other one”. In the pause that followed this slightly obscure remark I said: “Do you mean, the sister saved the brother, then the brother saved the sister?”. He agreed. He hadn’t quite got the words to describe the idea of reciprocity, but had clearly grasped it.

Others then personalised the idea and the comments flowed: “I have a sister”, “I have a brother”, “If I had to save someone I would save my sister”, “If I had to save someone I would save my mummy”, “I would save Ellie” (a teacher).

Saving a bigger person was clearly part of the equation, as was the size of the threat: “I would fight a dinosaur”, “I would fight a dragon, I know about dragons”, “I would shoot it”.

And so this personal but also abstract discussion went on. If we hadn’t had a careful read of the book before lunch in the tipi and discussed relative size, I don’t think the children would have linked this and the idea of reciprocal actions so readily. It takes time and repeated conversations to embed ideas. Not only did they do so, but did it all through talking together, drawing on previous discussions and listening to each other. It was an impressive conversation amongst 3 and four year-olds.

Language truly is the penetrating oil of the mind, making the cogs turn beautifully together. But because  I’m also interested in the concepts the children seem to grasp, here’s a diagram of the ideas they discussed; the maths (and physics) woven into the literacy:


Author: Catherine

Forest School Leader and Early Years Teacher. Advocate for children learning outdoors in nature.