Wednesday 21 May 2014

Music To Watch Toddlers By

Culturebaby is increasingly showing a propensity to sing and dance anywhere and everywhere, and Culturetot never looks happier than when she is in the presence of live music, so with that in mind I've been looking for opportunities to continue to introduce them to good quality music. 

One of the fabulous things about living near London, is the kaleidoscopic array of cultural opportunities for children, and within this, there are some really exciting initiatives emerging within the Tot's music scene. Now parents can go along to a number of beautiful venues around the capital, sip coffee and listen with their babies to a range of live classical concerts specifically designed and performed by professional musicians for them. I've been meaning for a while to go along to these inspired Bach to Baby events, where feeding is accepted, crying is expected and toddlers can happily dance and have the opportunity to examine live instruments. Given my love for the genre, when their founder, award-winning professional musician and professor of music Miaomiao Yu invited me along to their first Jazz month I leapt at the opportunity. 

We headed over to a 4pm session in Highbury where Oliver Weston, professional saxophonist and Jazz educator, and Jonathan Taylor, professional pianist and jazz teacher, took us on a great journey through the history of Jazz from the 1920s to modern day. They talked us through each piece and I felt like I too learned something and had an enriching experience for myself - so important when you spend all day in toddler classes or playing with your little ones. And the children LOVED it. The wonderful thing about these concerts is that they showcase excellent composition, introduce improvisation- so important to the development of creativity- and through their intelligent choices of music they show a fundamental respect for the child. Children can enjoy and concentrate on complex or classical melodies or rhythms. They can be introduced to the glorious nature of a live concert in an inspiring venue. I love what Miaomiao says about the inspiration behind her idea: "My idea is to provide top quality classical music to entertain adults, while giving children the chance to hear and explore live instruments up close during the crucial early years. Children have an innate ability to understand complexity almost through osmosis. It is my firm belief that the music our children listen to doesn't have to be dumbed down". I absolutely agree.

Culturebaby at just under two and a half, sat engrossed for a while, interacted with her four month old baby sister who was happy and engaged throughout, and though she made the odd tear away dash at the tempting altar steps she spent much of the later half of the concert dancing, alone or with other toddlers. The canter through jazz history culminated in a wonderful selection of improvised nursery rhyme pieces. The audience was asked what they wanted to hear and were rewarded with innovative and inspiring versions. We filmed a few short clips and Culturebaby watched these over and over for weeks afterwards. She declared that she wanted to attend another concert and we will absolutely be going back.
I'm delighted to hear that Bach to Baby have just raised enough seed funding to produce their own CD. We can't wait to hear it. For a list of upcoming concerts and information about the CD do have a look at their website. Adults pay £10 per concert and children are free. It's worth every penny. If you go to the Foundling Museum sessions you even get museum entry for free. 

Happily, chatting to Miaomiao, we were introduced to another exciting musical project for pre-schoolers. Nicole Wilson, who is Principal Second Violin at English National Opera, and a group of her professional musician colleagues have produced a fabulous nursery rhyme album called Funkey Rhymes. You'll hear me enthuse in a variety of posts about the value of nursery rhymes for babies and young children. Interesting research shows that singing traditional lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies and infants before they learn to speak, is "an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional wellbeing" as "song is a special type of speech" and "lullabies, songs and rhymes of every culture carry the 'signature' melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child's ear, voice and brain for language." At one stage Culturebaby loved them so much that we had at least 6 nursery rhyme books on the go and they often replaced bedtime stories. We've been known to spend over an hour entertaining her on car journeys with one request after another so there had to come a time when some recordings were a must - certainly for the sake of Culturedad's sanity and my voice box. 

There are, as you have no doubt discovered, some pretty excruciating nursery rhyme CDs out there so I was delighted to be sent this innovative recording, and to discover that this was happily no ordinary nursery rhyme compilation. Rather a test is that we can listen to it over and over whilst we play, and there are even certain tracks that I personally really enjoy. Produced with a real variety of musical styles and instruments, Funkey Rhymes features a couple of original tracks plus some brilliant adaptations of classics. Imagine This Old Man with a Big Band, Madness performing Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes, The Grand Old Duke leading an Orchestra and Oh Soldier Soldier with his own speakeasy - this latter one really is the coolest version of this song you could imagine. The only track that is not my bag is a cockney version of three blind mice, but it makes Culturebaby laugh, so who am I to argue? Many of the tracks are absolutely brilliant for dancing and for getting out our basket of instruments and playing along to. Here are samples of three of their tracks:

This Old Man
I'm A Little Teapot
Old MacDonald

Funkey Rhymes has also produced an App, which includes 6 tracks from the album, some really cute artwork and the opportunity for children to record themselves singing along and even email it to Grandma. I gather that this App, which is currently a bargain at 69p, will soon have a new version with 6 more songs.

It's a great initiative to support - we absolutely need more artists producing quality for our babies. Go and buy this album. Here.

Well Done Sister Suffragette

Suffragettes, England, 1908
Suffragettes, Manchester, 1908 from WikiCommons
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. 

I love being the mother of two beautiful strong willed little ladies. I love that they have been born into a nation and a time where they are more free than the brave bearers of our mitochondrial DNA might have thought possible. There is so much I want for them. I want them to know they are loved, every minute of every day. I want them to know that they are beautiful and precious and to grow up in a world where a newspaper contains news not boobs. I want them to know that knowledge is life-giving and smart women should be celebrated not feared. I want them to know that feminism comes in many forms and the vocation of women contains a kaleidoscopic range of possibilities for them. I want them to be free to believe they can make a difference, contribute to society, study for its own sake, follow their dreams. I want them to know that mothers are heroes; that they are worthy of respect and are equal partners in a marriage.That two becomes one does not mean two becomes him. That their Dad believes this too.

Britain Before the First World War Q81834
Emily Davison's Funeral from WikiCommons
And I want them to know how well fought and hard won was the battle for their freedom of faith, freedom in education and freedom to vote. One day they will learn about the Pankhursts, the Emily Davisons of this world. The women who were humbled and humiliated, starved to death and chained themselves to railings, died at the feet of the King's Horses, and those who peacefully held their placards at the roadside. The brave women who dreamed the impossible, the martyrs of female emancipation. But just for tomorrow, and filled with pride that at two and a half, whether she understands it or not, my daughter can sing the words "...well done, well done, well done sister Suffragette!" I shall march down to the polling station with her, show her what I am doing and tell her why. 

Much of life's wisdom can be found in musicals and none less than the indomitable Mary Poppins. Today we've been singing rousing choruses of this excellent of numbers. Ladies if you're wavering, please read it, read it again, and even if you are unimpressed with the spectrum of greasy-pole climbers on offer tomorrow, look for the best and join us as we push our pram to the polling station and place our vote out of respect for our sister Suffragettes and in anticipation of a better future for our daughters.

We're clearly soldiers in petticoats
And dauntless crusaders for women's votes
Though we adore men individually
We agree that as a group they're rather stupid
Cast off the shackles of yesterday
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus

Well done, Sister Suffragette

From Kensington to Billingsgate one hears the restless cries
From every corner of the land womankind arise
Political equality
And equal rights with men
Take heart, for Mrs. Pankhurst has been clapped in irons again

No more the meek and mild subservients we
We're fighting for our rights militantly
Never you fear!

So cast off the shackles of yesterday
Shoulder to shoulder into the fray
Our daughters' daughters will adore us
And they'll sing in grateful chorus
Well done
Well done
Well done, Sister Suffragette!

From "Mary Poppins"
Composed by Robert B. Sherman and Richard M. Sherman

Sunday 18 May 2014

Pop Goes the Warhol

I'm harbouring a mild addiction to free online courses at the moment. I'm an extraverted boffin - much happier in a supportive herd. One such course is a new initiative run by Artist's Rooms and Edinburgh University on Andy Warhol. I've never studied him so I thought it would be a great opportunity, whilst providing some inspiration for projects to share with the Culturebabies. Happily I have a likeminded study buddy and we've been really enjoying creating some joint arty activities for our 6, 3, 2 and 1/2 year old in recent weeks.

I've discovered that Pop Art is a really accessible movement for little ones to grasp. It is bright and simple, features strong shapes and everyday objects, people and animals, and it uses a variety of media that is easy to emulate or replicate. Pop was short for popular and what better to engage little imaginations than the familiar presented in a new way? One of Culturebaby's first favourite board books was a gorgeous little production as part of a series by Susan Goldman Rubin entitled Andy Warhol's Colours. I have reviewed this before here and regularly recommend it to parents of young babies of Culturetot's age (6 months plus). This book works so well with this age group as it is a great size and feels lovely, it showcases colourful images of that perennial toddler favourite of topics - animals - and has a really good rhyming text to accompany the art.

Last year Culturebaby and I also visited Tate Modern's blockbuster Lichtenstein retrospective which celebrated the king of comicstrip art. She visibly and vocally enjoyed the huge colourful canvasses with their bold lines and dots and, given her age of 18 months when she was deep into the pointing stage and learning words, it was a perfect to way to play I-Spy. She was able to identify vehicles and household furniture and objects such as telephones and food. I came away with a great packet of postcards and a beautiful ABC book, which we will be returning to shortly as she is currently learning her letters.

The Warhol Course set us an assignment to create our own work inspired by the artist and after a mild moment of panic, I realised that this would be a great opportunity to make some pop art with Culturebaby. At two and a half, she is very much engaged with creating her own drawings but is still learning to colour-in with increasing precision. She's also never happier than with a pritt-stick or a set of stickers (I'm forever peeling them off furniture, floors, her sister, and regularly find I'm inadvertently sporting a number of the back of my skirt or shoe). After a little while considering the options and scanning the internet where a plethora of creative people regularly and generously post their fabulous ideas, I gathered a few together (you can view a selection on my Pinterest Board here) and we set about creating age appropriate materials.

Amongst other things, Warhol liked to see himself as a machine and, as his works were in high demand, he produced prints of his works and invited his friends to his aptly named Manhattan 'Factory' to join him in 'Colouring Parties'. We began our Warholian Colouring party by having a look at some Pop Art for inspiration. We read one of our favourite art books Pop Warhol's Top by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo. The text of this book leaves rather a lot to be desired, but the touchy-feely imagery is utterly inspired. All the children loved popping the top of the Campbell's Soup can, fluttering Marilyn's eyelashes, pulling the lettuce out of Oldenburg's Two Cheeseburgers and, best of all, feeling the sticky sauce on Lichtenstein's Mustard on White. 
We then propped up the picture of Warhol's Marilyn 1964 and gave them a set of sepia photographs we had created of each of them as a repeated grid of 4 (a style Warhol used a lot). This is really easy to produce using apps such as Instaframe. Following a demonstration they set about industriously customising their own portraits using felt tip pen. The results were wonderful. Since she was a baby I've noticed that Culturebaby has always been interested in looking at photographs of other babies and children, as well as spending time examining images of herself on my camera, so this was a perfect activity for her age. It also ensured that even with simple marks and colours the results looked credible to the children and reminiscent of the simple Marilyn in front of them.
We then presented them with a selection of other Warhol-inspired worksheets to choose from - a set of repeated images of our family cats, multiple images of soup cans that we obtained from this great site, a template of Warhol's Flowers 1964 to complete (from Red Ted Art's fab blog), and (mainly for the six year old) a set of blank tin labels for him to design his own contents and flavours (from here).We also provided blank paper, which the six year old used on his own initiative to create his own artwork with grid structures and patterns.

The children moved between the various sheets and a real set of identical tinned tomato cans that we placed on a mat for them to handle, explore and build with. This proved to be an engaging activity. Six year old really enjoyed building with them, creating structures then taking his own digital images using a range of effects on our cameras. He then worked with Culturebaby to create her own structure and photographs. Whilst she at times got frustrated and sucumbed to her innate toddler urge to knock them down at regular intervals, I was delighted to find that she had remembered the experience, as two days later I found her removing all the cans from our cupboard, carrying them carefully to a mat and replicating the experience alone.  

Likewise, I had left a number of the sheets and the pens available on her play table, and a week on, she has still been selecting them unprompted, and working on them with a range of materials. Yesterday, for instance, she used a set of foam stickers to embelish a set of images of herself, and appeared to be practicing drawing lines and colouring facial details on a set which depicted her sister.

Using materials already available and with a limited amount of prior preparation, I couldn't recommend this art appreciation activity more highly. I am absolutely certain that through producing her own art, Culturebaby will in the future be able to recognise and remember a Warhol and hopefully she will feel that she too, and indeed anyone, can also be an artist.

In addition to the two books I recommend above, here are two further recommendations for slightly older children:

Andy Warhol by Mike Venezia - I have written about this great series 'Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists' before in my post on Paul Klee for Kids. These brilliant books are both funny and informative. They each summarise an artist's life and inspiration using facts children will be interested in and pepper this with a selection of art and amusing cartoons of imagined events. These could be shared in a meaningful way with a pre- and primary schooler, but they could also be read by literate children over the age of 5 or 6 alone.

I was so impressed with Prestel's Paul Klee colouring book that they kindly sent me their Andy Warhol Colouring Book by Annette Roeder to look at too. Again this is an absolutely brilliant resource to be used in a plethora of ways from toddler age all the way through childhood. Using a selection of Warhol's art the author skillfully selects details of interest to this age group to encourage them to engage with and think deeply about the art and how it was produced, whilst learning about the artist and his techniques and creating their own images. Readers are invited to try dance steps, illustrate shoes, select colours and complete paintings, paint by numbers in the style of Warhol, host their own colouring party, customise photographs of themselves, create comics, draw pets and make ink blot art. These books are an educator or homeschooler's dream... We'll use this for years.

Here are twelve great facts about Andy Warhol that your children may find interesting, and some questions or activities to use with them:
  1. Andy Warhol initially wanted to be a famous tap dancer. [What do you want to be when you grow up?]
  2. He loved comics and creating his own drawings and cut-outs as a child. His mum was a good artist too and she encouraged him. [What is your favourite art material - e.g. paint, crayons, felt tips, photography, chalk, collage, playdoh?];
  3. As a child he wasn't always well. He got quite nervous and was also very pale. He had to rest a lot in bed and read comics, listened to the radio and read magazines about films. [What do you enjoy doing when you feel poorly?]
  4. Andy really enjoyed drawing pictures of footwear and he started off his career as an illustrator of advertisements for shoes. He also designed department store windows, [Which of your shoes would you illustrate? Create and/or draw your own shop window display];
  5. He liked to create a lot of art, as if he were a factory, and he invited his friends round for colouring parties to help him produce multiple paintings [Activity - have your own colouring party];
  6. He often produced art by changing and colouring in photographs already available of famous people - especially beautiful women. He also made films. [Who would you like to use if you were going to do the same thing? Activity: to select and customise pictures of famous people from magazines];
  7. He liked to make art out of normal things in the home like washing products and food. He created art called Pop Art - which was short for popular art. He liked to use things in art that were important to ordinary people - he even painted money! He also used repeating images a lot as he thought things are often repeated in real life. [What are your favourite things? What would you use in your pop art?];
  8. He had a lot of cats and loved to paint pictures of them using bright colours such as pink or green. He called all of his cats Sam [Activity: to produce art or colour images of family pets];
  9. He made art sometimes from just blotches of paint or ink [Activity: simple paint blotch art using paper you fold down the middle to make symmetrical patterns];
  10. He once put on an exhibition especially for children containing pictures of toys that were hung low down so children could see them properly. What a great idea! [Activity - use pictures to design your own exhibition for yourself, teddies, friends]
  11. He liked to surprise and shock people. Some people thought his art wasn't really art because it was made out of such ordinary things. What do you think? Do you like it?
  12. By the time Andy Warhol died in 1987 he was very famous (as he had hoped) and had made a lot of money.
Disclaimer: Prestel sent us their Andy Warhol Colouring Book for review purposes. All other books are our own. We have linked to sources of ideas where we used worksheets others have created.

Sunday 4 May 2014

We're Going on a Bear Hunt

We're Going on a Bear HuntWe're going on a bear hunt.
We're going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day! 
We're not scared.

One fabulous book dictated the rhythm of our summer and formed the soundtrack to our holidays. At around 20 months Culturebaby fell in love with Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury's beautiful, clever and addictive 'We're Going on a Bear Hunt'. With its rhythmic text, which can be chanted like a song, simple words and concepts, stunning illustrations and host of little people heading off on an exciting adventure, this book really has it all. Celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year, this illustrated rhyme is a classic and I truly believe no toddler's home should be without it. Happily it is now available in a special board book anniversary edition (also smaller and perfect for popping in the bag when you go bear hunting in the wild), and a larger paper version. There's even a Bear Hunt Baby Book. I'm hopeless at starting memory albums and absolutely will be inspired to do this as it will serve as a wonderful reminder of a book so important in the formative months of Culturebaby's language development.

We spent much of our summer holidays bear hunting. As the artist John Ruskin noted: “Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather." Ruskin lived in the Lake District and as we landed there this August we too experienced almost the full array of possibilities (sans snow). So we donned our macs and wellies and we marched out into the drizzle. Culturebaby was never happier than splashing in puddles, wading through shallow brooks, exploring forests and clambering through vegetation. All the while we chanted about our grizzly goal. 
Then the following week in Wales, we encountered even more possibilities, and slightly better weather. We bear hunted through a huge range of 'caves': Castles and ruined palaces with their dark nooks and crannies, Neolithic Monuments with their awe inspiring standing stones, reconstructed Iron Age Houses with real fires, and finally an actual sea cave. Our Bear Hunting became a game of hide and seek, Daddy morphed into "Daddy Bear". It really was a fabulous way to help Culturebaby explore her environment and bring joy to even the soggiest ramble. 

Back then, I was amazed at how many times this little book was requested again and again. It came with us everywhere, and we had a mild panic when we thought we'd forgotten it in our holiday packing. (Happily we hadn't). Now at two and a half, Culturebaby still adores this book and can complete every line. She also loves little things, and is really engaged with imaginative play landscapes, so I've created a simple felt bear hunt for us to explore together. This is so easy to put together with simple things from around the home and a packet of felt. I'm no domestic goddess, but this is easily achievable for anyone and is one further way to bring the book alive.

One of the joys of being the last to post in such a wonderful blog hop is that I also get to share some of the great ideas of my illustrious fellow hoppers. Here's some further ideas for you to try out:

To celebrate and share the joy of this fabulous book we put up our bunting, made maps and signs, bought cakes (no I'm not really a baker - Mummy Mishaps has put me to shame) and invited our friends to a Bear Hunt round our local wetland environment. Sadly this was ultimately rather the rhythm of our last two weeks:
"We're going on a bear hunt, we're going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We're not scared.
Uh huh. Spots, red and icky pox! 
We can't go over it, we can't go under it. Oh No! We've got to go through it.
Spot, itch, calamine. Spot, itch, calamine.

We're going on a bear hunt, the pox have finally cleared up. What a beautiful day! We're not scared! 
Uh huh. Rain, ridiculous amounts of rain.
We can't go over it, we can't go under it, and frankly we can't go out in it. 
Pitter patter. Thunder patter.

We're going on a bear hunt, the sun has almost come out. What a beautiful day! We're not scared! 
Uh huh. More pox! Little baby pox!
We can't go over it, we can't go under it. Oh No! We've got to go through it.
Calamine and no sleep. Cabin fever and no sleep.

We're going on a bear hunt, we're going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We're not scared! 
Uh huh. A sickness bug, a pyrotechnic sickness bug. *seriously?!*
We can't go over it. We can't go under it. Oh no! We've got to go through it.
Stumble wretch, stumble wretch. 

Go downstairs, lock the door, back upstairs, under the covers.
We're not going on a bear hunt today. "
However, when we finally lose our status as a plague household we absolutely plan on reorganising our bear hunt. So in case you fancy joining us too here's our best laid plans for you to share...

We printed off the free activity sheets from the fabulous bear hunt anniversary website. These range from colouring for tots through mazes and a make-your-own bear ears. 

We created a laminated map of the area. The only environment we didn't have was snow, so we planned on sticking up some customised doilies. 

We printed and laminated some bear hunt signs to stick up in each environment for the tots to find. Frankly, there is little that Culturebaby enjoys more than 'finding things' when we are out and about or visiting museums, so this will be the perfect activity for her and her pals. We got as far as the cakes and activity sheets, but the bear hunt itself can wait for the next beautiful, (contagious) illness-free day. 

This book continues to endure, and its publishing phenomenon is no accident. It is a classic. It provides endless play possibilities. Gift this to your children.

Watch Michael Rosen and illustrator Helen Oxenbury shed some light on the origins of the story – and how the book could have looked very different had Helen not ignored Michael's original ideas.
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