Expressive arts and design: Fantastic beasts

Karen Hart, education writer and practitioner, London
Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Channel children's fascination with imaginary creatures such as dragons, unicorns and mermaids into creating characterful artworks, including finger puppets and 2D artworks that they will be proud of.

Karen Hart

Imaginary creatures they well may be, but that hasn't stopped their longevity in any way, and they remain as popular with children today as they ever have. You certainly can't get too far round the supermarket without coming face-to-face with a unicorn shaped birthday cake, pencil case or swimsuit…

All activities are suitable for children from two years of age with a bit of help and guidance.

Playing and exploring

  • Children investigate the life of an imaginary creature
  • They use their dragon in imaginative play
  • They have a go at 3D model making skills

Sand play area

This is a game we had lots of fun with and which is a perfect accompaniment to the making dragon craft. Add just a couple of toy plastic eggs; we used egg Maracas, under the sand in your sand tray.

Tell children there are dragons’ eggs hidden in the sand and their job is to dig them up and put them in the nest – a basket – for safe keeping.

Give everyone playing a play spade and encourage them to begin digging. This simple game is perfect for younger children and really good for encouraging children to invent their own games and stories.

Children went on to bring all sorts of characters and scenarios into the game even though they were only playing with eggs, sand and a basket. You can extend the idea by hiding other similar sized objects along with the eggs to make the finding more of a puzzle, increasinsg the difficulty of finding the right object. Carry the ideas and storylines talked about into circle time sessions, where children can draw on their experiences to contribute to a dragon themed story the whole class help devise.


You will need: one cardboard tube per dragon, paper pattern of flames and eyes for children to colour, colouring pens, paper and glue.

Before you begin the craft, talk to children about imaginary creatures from stories and books, such as giants and trolls. Ask if anyone has ever been read a story or seen a film with a dragon in it, to familiarise children with the idea of imaginary creatures and to make sure everyone knows what a dragon is.

Start the craft with children painting their cardboard tube in a colour or colours they think would be best for a dragon. We used Squeeze ‘n Brush paints here which gave a lovely effect.

Once dry, draw on nostrils, a mouth along the sides of the tube and a few ridges across the top to make the dragon's snout.

Next, give each child a sheet of pre-drawn dragon flames and eyes to colour in. Cut out eyes and flames, making sure you leave a little tab under each eye for fixing in place. Fix flames inside the nostril end of the tube and the eyes, standing up above the nose; we used double-sided tape for this.

Use your dragons to join in games before taking home (see sand play).

During circle time, ask children to imagine they have a pet dragon, asking how a dragon might be useful? Maybe for making toast, or lighting the barbecue. Also what would be a good name for a pet dragon? Maybe something that reminds you of fire, such as Crackles, Toasty or Blaze. Our top names were Firey and Flamey!

Active learning

  • Children pay attention to detail as they make their model
  • They collaborate with others
  • Children are proud of what they have created through their own efforts


You will need: one cardboard tube per unicorn, white paper, pipe cleaners, coloured pens or pencils, coloured yarn and paper glue or glue stick.

Start by giving each child half a sheet of A4 paper to colour or decorate with rainbow colours for their unicorn's body, which can then be used to cover their cardboard tube with a little glue. Alternatively, you can cover your tubes with tissue or crepe paper which is even easier as you can simply tuck in the ends. Add a simple unicorn face. Next, make a mane and tail by cutting a few strands of coloured yarn and folding over a pipe cleaner before twisting together to make a mane and a tail. Fix the tail in place by making two little holes in the unicorn body by pushing something pointy, we used a pen, through the tube, then pushing the pipe cleaner ends through and twisting to secure. Don't forget to put a ball of Blu tack inside before you make the hole to protect your fingers.

Finish your unicorn by cutting a unicorn horn and ears shape from paper or paper card, then colour and fix to the top of your unicorn's head – and that's it!

Tell children that although unicorns are storybook creatures, there are lots of real animals that have horns which are just as amazing, such as – narwhals, Jackson's chameleons, saiga and reindeer, which you can all look at together on the internet.

Suggest children have fun using their unicorns as finger puppets to join in with a unicorn themed story (see book list) before taking home.

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children explore strategies to complete a task
  • They make links in their learning through talking about mermaid stories and films
  • They change strategy and review their efforts


You will need: one cardboard roll per mermaid, A4 paper, colouring pens or pencils and paper glue.

Give children sheets with tail and mermaid hair shapes pre-drawn for colouring. Cut shapes out and fix onto the cardboard tube using paper glue. Finish off with a smiley face and you might like to add a few sequins or self-adhesive gems to add a bit more sparkle.

You could extend this activity by drawing a simple, large outline sketch of a mermaid with a long tail, for the whole class to take turns decorating in small groups using cellophane, sequins, glitter and glitter paint to create a really sparkly mermaid to use as a wall display.

And of course, for a bit of extra fun, play the song, Under the Sea from The Little Mermaid Disney film, so children and their mermaids can dance and float around like sea creatures.

EYFS Early Learning Goals

Children are given many opportunities to tell others about stories, games, and films, from their own experience, and to use this knowledge during the activities, making them good for fully covering the learning goal for Communication and language – Speaking: Children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners’ needs. They use past, present and future forms accurately when talking about events that have happened or are to happen in the future. They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events

Useful resources

  • 24 piece egg maracas set, £8.99-Amazon UK.


  • Peppa the Mermaid (Ladybird books)
  • The Singing Mermaid by Julia Donaldson (Macmillan Children's Books)
  • Peppa's Magical Unicorn (Ladybird books)
  • That's not my Unicorn by Fiona Watt
  • That's not my Dragon by Fiona Watt
  • That's not my Mermaid by Fiona Watt (all Usborne Publishing)
  • Dragon Post by Emma Yarlett (Walker books)
  • Dragon Stew by Steve Smallman (Little Tiger Press)
  • Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima (Simon & Schuster Books)


Key learning points

  • Children use lots of fine motor skills
  • Chlldren make excursions into imaginary worlds and develop fascinations
  • They explore the techniques of combining several materials and components together to create a model
  • They explore a variety of craft skills, such as cutting, gluing, colouring, twisting and decorating
  • Well-known stories and picture books provide inspiration
  • They find out about real creatures which have mythical physical characteristics
  • Children are supported to speak with confidence using the past and present tense

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