Jamie’s Monster – observations and reflections from Kate Cowan (Teacher in Greenfinch Room and project co-ordinator at the nursery)
Within his Nursery classroom, Jamie was usually one of the quieter members of the group, often seeking out support and reassurance from familiar adults. During the woodland project, several members of staff commented on his change in persona and growing confidence. I was lucky enough to spend many of the sessions with him, closely observing and reflecting upon this development..
Jamie’s first weeks in the wood were extremely fast-paced, running quickly from area to area, covering most of the park. We tried to keep up and listen to what he was saying as he ran, which was usually about “finding the others”, being “lost” or looking for someone “missing”. Despite this sense of urgency and danger, Jamie himself did not seem worried, and although he seemed to be seeking out the rest of the group, when Jamie met them he would usually change direction and continue running on alone. Sometimes other children tried to follow Jamie, but couldn’t keep pace or didn’t understand his personal quest. Ellis, for instance, asked me, “Why is Jamie always going in circles?”
Over the weeks in the woods that followed, Jamie introduced other ‘quests’ into his movement around the park, such as looking for “treasure”, and one day suggesting that “there might be a monster”. Jamie’s monster then featured heavily in many of his visits. He searched for it and described its appearance in detail. When we discussed the woods between sessions, and when we brought images and materials from the woods into the classroom, Jamie’s monster seemed to become more and more vivid.
Jamie had explained that the monster would come in “through the gate”, pointing to the big wooden gate on the edge of the park:
“The monster came from the gate. He opened it. He gone back in the woods. Back all the way in. He lives in the woods. He eats children. Other children. Not Jamie, me and Ben and Tom. I need someone to be in the monster’s mouth. Girls be in the monster’s mouth. He’s not a friendly monster”
I became a companion in Jamie’s monster search, and during one visit to the woods we sat with the gate in view and patiently waited (for about 20 minutes, although Jamie said it would take “29 hours”), but still no monster appeared.
Jamie seemed genuinely keen to find and meet his monster, stressing that although it was “scary”, he wasn’t scared. His talk was often about saving the others, who were themselves usually engaged in their own power play. I interpreted Jamie’s monster quest to be in some way about bravery and his own sense of power, perhaps in relation to his peers. I wondered whether the search itself was enough for Jamie, or whether the satisfaction of ‘meeting’ the monster was important to him too.
In our final visit to the woods, I joined Jamie on his monster search once more. Several other children followed, and although two soon found other interests to pursue, Joe stayed with Jamie in his monster play. Joe, a member of Little Owls and not familiar with the majority of the group, had in his own way been peripheral to much of the power play in the woods, quietly showing interest in it from a distance.
Jamie usually talked to me as he explored the woods, but in the final session he began to direct his talk to Joe. He took Joe to his most important ‘monster places’ and incorporated him into the story of the monster, which I scribed for them on their final visit.
In the company of Joe, Jamie resolved my question of whether or not he would finally meet his monster. In his play, Jamie himself ‘conjured’ the monster into appearing to them – “Abracadabra!” – followed by extended role play which encapsulated all that it seemed Jamie had been trying to achieve; bravery, power, a quest, fearlessness, and protection of ‘the others’.
After an hour or two of play, and knowing the final session was drawing to a close, I asked if the monster story was over.
“No! We’re not finished,” Jamie told me assertively, continuing his adventuring through the woods with Joe. It certainly seemed as if many more happy, engaged hours could have easily been spent battling their long-awaited monster. Knowing we needed to return to the camp, and then to Nursery school, I tried again to bring their story to some sort of resolution by reading back the last lines of their narrative.
“Was that the end?” I asked.
“No,” said Jamie, and after a brief pause, “No End.”
Although we did have to wind the play to a close, and return to the base camp for our jam buns and juice, I felt satisfied that Jamie had finally met his monster, controlling its eventual appearance, and the opportunity this created to play with his power and influence in relation to the people and place around him. The change in Jamie throughout the woodland visits has been fascinating to watch, and I felt reassured that this wouldn’t be his last monster meeting or the last chapter in his story.
Jamie’s story (combining Jamie’s answers to some of Kate’s questions, and his free narration):
“Once upon a time Jamie and Ellis and Joe and Amarah went to a dark place with footprints. They had to be noisy so the monster would hear them, so they said, ‘RAAAH!’ They had giant sticks for whacking monsters – really scary monsters. The monsters tried to take the sticks away because they wanted to whack Jamie and Joe. Jamie banged the monsters and Joe shot them with the highest stick.
Jamie showed Joe his hiding place. They had to stay there a long time, because the monster was not there. It had to come in through the gate. And Jamie said, ‘Abracadabra!’ and the monster was there!
‘Ready Joe?’ said Jamie. ‘Yeah,’ said Joe. ‘You go that way and I go this way.’
Joe and Jamie were the biggest. They were really strong. They were the goodies. They locked all the monsters into the baddie cages.
Kate: “Was that the end?”
Jamie: No. No End.