Friday 27 June 2014

Montessori Moment: Training the Hand and the Brain

"Never give the mind more than you give to the hand."
Maria Montessori

From 7 months old Culturebaby started to to show a great interest and dexterity with shape sorters, and this began with the simple action of putting a ball through a hole in a box again and again. This is an ideal introduction to the fabulous world of puzzles and serves to train the grip of the hand, the brain in observing the effect of depositing a ball and seeing it emerge elsewhere, and helps the infant to connect the two - using intention to place the object in a specific place to cause a simple process.

With this in mind, yesterday we created a homemade puzzle activity for 7 month old Culturetot. Here's how we did it:

Find a small sturdy shoe or gift box and cut a hole in the lid large enough to fit a small ball through.
Cut out an archway at one end. Then slice a paper towel roll along its length and open up to create a shute. Fix one end around an inch high using a card platform, and the other to the base of the box. Attach lid.
Provide a couple of balls (we had a ball and a rubber egg) and demonstrate a few times. The leave the baby to practice and explore...

Meanwhile Culturebaby, now at two and 8 months, is concentrating on refined hand work. She really enjoys threading so I put this tray out for her as a simple invitation to play:
She also needs to work on strengthening her pincer grip (very important for writing, cutting etc...) so we rigged up a simple clothes line using a long ribbon and provided a basket of wooden clothes pegs. We could see her develop her confidence and dexterity with this as she went along.

Soon she was ready for a home made activity I created to develop both her skills in differentiating between shades of colours and her pincer grip. I saw this clever idea out there in the blogosphere and have been meaning to do it for a while. It is simple to create and great practice for her in both these areas.

Collect two matching paint swatches showing gradations of colour from dark to light from a hardware store. Keep one whole and cut the other into strips. Attach each strip to a wooden clothes peg with contact adhesive.

With each new activity of this sort, start by demonstrating and discussing the aim. Here we need to match the correct shades in pairs by fixing the clothes peg to the card. Offer one colour at a time and give the child a choice of which. As the fixing element of this task is tricky and Culturebaby is still using two hands to squeeze the peg, she needs help holding the card. Happily she managed to match the shades well and we will continue to work on greater strength and independence with this one. When Grandad arrived she immediately introduced him to this new activity, so she must have enjoyed it. This cost around £1 to create and makes a great portable busy bag.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Keeping Mum

Photograph courtesy of Fiona Hanson Photography
In May, we were invited to the opening of a wonderful new exhibition at the British Museum and with my little ladies accompanying me I was able to indulge two of my great passions in one fell swoop.

A mummy undergoing a CT scan at the Royal Brompton
  Hospital. © Trustees of the British Museum
For centuries the British have been engaged in a turbulent love affair with the early inhabitants of the Nile valley.  At times this was a rather one sided and destructive relationship. First we ate them. From medieval until early modern times it was (utterly bizarrely) believed that the ingestion of ground up 'mummiya' was a universal panacea. Then we feared them. Even in the 19th Century the poor old Pharaohs were hacked to pieces out of a misplaced supersition that transporting them whole in ships would lead to disaster. Then we made a sport of unwrapping them in huge public spectacles, which often resulted in irreversible damage. Finally, however, we began to respect and understand them through the use of ever increasingly scientific methods, use of X-ray and non-invasive techniques. The British Museum was ahead of the curve in this respect and for the past 200 years have been exceedingly restrained - resisting unwrapping any of the mummies in their collections to ensure they preserved them intact. The development of scanning techniques has therefore been crucially important and their groundbreaking exhibition Ancient Lives; New Discoveries uses state of the art technology to allow visitors to virtually explore inside mummy cases unseen for, in some cases, thousands of years. Visitors are invited into a dark and sepuchral-feeling series of rooms housing eight inhabitants of ancient Nubia and Egypt spanning 4000 years from the Pre-dynastic to the Christian era, and through them we are able to gain many new insights into the challenges and joys of life and death in this most magnetic and addictive of civilizations. At last we are respectfully allowing this ancient eight to truly live again unscathed and in turn teach us something about the history of humanity...

My love affair with Egypt began at Culturebaby's age and I thank Manchester Museum's enthrawling collections for my lifelong obsession. Given that we haven't yet done a huge amount on the topic, nothing could have delighted me more than the first time Culturebaby pointed at my bookshelves and asked for the 'Tukamun One' (a large volume of Harry Burton's photographs of the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun) or went to bed clutching her Sphinx-shaped rubber duck. With this burgeoning interest in mind we therefore leapt at the opportunity to attend a press view of Ancient Lives, and our mini reporters loved the experience.

On entering the exhibition we encountered the startling foetal skeleton of a man of around my own age who died over 5000 years ago. With awe you see that not only was he older than the pyramids, more ancient than the pharaohs, but Gebelein Man B, preserved directly by the hot desert sand is also still in possession of his skin, hair, nails and beard. With thanks to the care of Wallis Budge's excavation over 100 years ago, we know he was buried with care and grave items by a people who already believed in an afterlife.

Culturebaby, with credit to our local Roman museum, once nervous, is now happy to examine skeletons and she identified this natural mummy as such as soon as she entered the exhibition. She then realised with delight that in the next room she was able to operate large screens on the walls using a simple touchpad to turn and examine a number of other mummies. These clever 3D scans allowed us to see below the in-tact wrappings, spot amulets and organs, discover the gender of these ancient people, get clues to how they died and see something of who they were in life. She spent a long time concentrating on these, examining them, turning them. She was rather preoccupied by the fact that one of them was temporarily not in operation, and still mentions it. We may have to go back to see it working.

 Though she began by saying she was scared of the images, she acclimatised quickly and became completely animated when her younger friend arrived. She took him around the exhibition again pointing out details and waiting to hear his reactions. Observing her on this and other recent trips I'd always recommend taking a little Culturebuddy along to these sort of exhibitions if you can. Culturebaby seems to take more in when she talks about it to others and has the chance to be a mini-tour guide for (tolerant) peers...

So, through the almost magical animations in the subsequent rooms we saw a number of ancient personalities come to life. We met an older man from Thebes from 600BC who has been carefully mummified and may have been a person of status. He seems to have had trouble with his teeth, and scans tell us had a number of abcesses, which have led to blood poisoning.
Cartonnage of a priestess, adult, casing with a gilded face named Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut.
Found in Thebes, 22nd Dynasty (c. 900 BC). © Trustees of the British Museum

Then there is Tamut, a high ranking priest's daughter and 'chantress' at Amun's temple, from round 900BC who suffered with cardiovascular disease. She was discovered with her painted coffin over 100 years ago, but now we can finally see inside. She was buried with beautiful amulets, including wax images of the sons of Horus, scarabs and sheet metal winged deities across her heart, feet, and pelvis representing re-birth and protecting her heart in the hall of judgement, and a winged goddess Tamut across her throat to ensure her immortalisation. These are all preserved in situ but have been printed as 3D replicas. On her finger and toe nails are thin metal coverings- probably gold leaf - to reinvigorate her body in the afterlife according to the Ritual of Embalming.

4 CT scan 3D visualisations of the mummified remains of Tayesmutengebtiu, also called Tamut, showing her skeleton and amulets. © Trustees of the British Museum

Then we meet Padiamenet, a temple door keeper from around 700BC who owns a bright and colourful coffin, which was slightly too small for him. Whoops! As with mummification in certain periods, most of his brain appears to have been removed through his nose and his chest and pelvis have been packed with other materials. The scan also shows a pole was inserted to stabilise his head which had been removed. The authors of the Book of the Dead would perhaps not approved of this method - the body was supposed to stay in tact. Again he had trouble with his teeth and bones and may have eaten too much animal fat in his lifetime.

Next comes Tjayasetimu, a young temple singer of only around 7 years old who was considered important enough to have been (unusually for her age) embalmed. We see her developing teeth and long hair. She has a (rare) wig, beauty items and her harp and clappers, which Culturebaby loved - particularly given that one of her current favourite stories features a little Egyptian girl with a harp (reviewed below).

Then there's a very unusual mummy from the Roman period, with his natural hair uncovered and his arms, legs, fingers and toes all individually wrapped with details that are made to look like clothes and jewellery. And a Christian woman from the Sudan around 1300 years ago, who sports a tattoo on her inner thigh of the Archangel Michael, the patron saint of the Sudan. With her we almost return full circle to the first mummy. Her grave was simple and her mummification natural. Consequently her expression is a little disturbing.

The most emotive and interesting exhibit on this occasion for both Culturebaby and me was the beautiful but sad little coffin of a little boy of Culturebaby's age. She seemed to recognise that this was a peer and spent a while looking at the scan of his tiny body, which was displayed on a block of perfect height for her to reach. She placed her teddy on top of this image - perhaps she noted the similar shape, or perhaps she thought he might like it. Either way she went back to this little area, which also contained some ancient toys, a number of times.

This exhibition was fascinating, tacile and a perfect size for children. The lights and movement were also great for Culturetot who at 6 months was alert and stimulated by the contrasts and images revolving before her, the gilded masks and bright coffins and excited chatter of her older sister. I can imagine that this would be the perfect exhibition for any primary age child interested in Egypt who wants to know more about the process of mummification and look inside real mummies. It is a great lesson in scientific investigation and showcases the use of technology wonderfully. Though very clinical, there is something truly magical about the way the scans bring the ancients to life. The only problem was that some of the exhibits were too high for our little Egyptologists. I've suggested that the BM put out some small stools for parents to carry round the exhibition with them. If I were taking a slightly older child to the exhibition I might print off a little image of each mummy, a couple of lines of detail about who they were and include details to spot or clues to solve about each. I think one of the best ways to make an exhibition about mummies memorable is by feeling you know them by the end. With Culturebaby I never actually get to pause and read the detail during a visit so I need to prepare before or read up afterwards. The exhibition guide for Ancient Lives is brilliant. It has a wealth of detail about each mummy, gorgeous photographs and readable background on a range of related themes.

To get us in the mood for the exhibition we planned a few accompanying activities, which you may also like to try. The day before we ran a little excavation. Using the wonderful handpainted educational Ancient Egyptian TOOB from Safari Ltd and a couple of other little models I have picked up, I buried a selection of amulets and figurines in Culturebaby's sand table. She excavated each of these and we named and talked about our discoveries as we went.

 We have also in recent weeks (particularly during a double whammy of chickenpox and the consequent quarrantine) been making shoe box galleries and 'visiting' a range of museums at home. This is so simple to do. We used our excavated items and a selection of miniature toy characters. Peppa Pig and pals are really becoming really rather cultured these days...

We've already blogged about Egypt for tots here and how, that favourite of toddler subjects - animals - is a perfect way to start this journey. The British Museum has aptly been christened by Culturebaby 'The Egyptian Cat Museum' and after lunch we completed our Mummy-themed visit by hunting through the sculpture galleries for a selection of creatures, and again used our Safari TOOBs to find some of the 'twins' of our miniatures. This is a really simple and effective activity. There is something about the tactile nature of these models that makes them particularly perfect for a hunt like this, but postcards can also be very effective for a game of I-Spy.

In the shop we picked up a great sticker book featuring the BM collections, which Culturebaby couldn't wait to get her little paws on, and a little model sarcophagus complete with removable bandaged mummy. Along with her great Tutankhamun magnet set we found in the Manchester Museum shop, she's rather enjoying playing with him at present, but he is soon to star in a homemade shoebox tomb for Tutankhamun to prepare for a trip to see Harry Burton's photos at the Ashmolean. You can equally make a simple sarcophagus and mummy from playdoh or clay and cloth. Older children might also want to have a go at embalming on this great little animated programme from Manchester Museum or this interactive game on the BBC History site.

I have previously bemoaned the lack of great Egyptian books for babies and toddlers, and this is still the case, however there is a small but brilliant selection available. You can see the reviews for 1. One Blue Hippo, An Ancient Egyptian Counting Book, 2. Tickle Tut's Toes by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo and 3. We're Sailing Down the Nile, a Journey Through Egypt by Laurie Krebs and Anne Wilson by clicking here.

Beyond these I was delighted to discover a trio of beautiful books on the topic for slightly older readers. I hold Usborne books at least partially responsible for my choice of degree. As a child I fell in love with their young tour guides who, through detailed and stunning illustrations, drew me into their Roman and Medieval worlds, from which I suspect I never fully emerged. I would have been absolutely delighted by the brilliantly designed and hugely engaging Usborne Look inside series, with their plethora of flaps to lift, facts and detailed cartoon-like illustrations. Their brand new Look inside Mummies and Pyramids has been published this month and we were treated to a sneak preview. Guaranteed to capture any child's imagination, the little Egyptologist is taken on a tour of the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings, invited to examine a funeral procession and peep inside containers galore, and there is a fanstastic double page spread on the process of mummification - an ideal read to accompany this exhibition. This book works on a number of levels for a range of ages. Culturebaby has been captivated by the flaps and through a discussion of what she uncovers she has taken a surprising amount in... Usborne has also produced one of Culturebaby's current favourites, a story set in Egypt entitled In Egyptian Times. This simple tale charts a day in the life of a young brother and sister who get the opportunity to see the Pharaoh pass through their town. It's one of the best early history books I've found for a two year old.

Finally, for the primary school age child, Jessie Harland's How the Sphinx got to the Museum is a clever introduction to the complex journey an artefact makes from creation to exhibit. Following Hatshepsut's Sphinx from Nubian quarry to the Metropolitan Museum in New York, this book answers very important questions about how exotic objects end up in museums and all the work that goes on by so many different experts to get them there. Culturebaby's inquisitive six year old friend loves this series of books (which also include a journey of a dinosaur and a meteorite).

Disclaimer: We were invited to the British Museum press opening and given a copy of the exhibition guide for review purposes. The BM also provided the photographic images noted as such. Usborne kindly sent us their new Look Inside Mummies and Pyramids to review, on request Safari sent us their fabulous Egyptian TOOB via their UK distributor Asobi Toys, and PGUK sent us Blue Apple's How the Sphinx got to the Museum. All other materials are our own, as are all our views!

Saturday 21 June 2014

My Mini Matisse

 Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs at Tate Modern is such an exciting exhibition and I've become rather an evangelist for its vibrant charms for children of all ages. For babies it is bright, vast, colourful and full of contrasts. For toddlers it is bold, dynamic and memorable; a catalyst for creativity. For older children it serves as a mine of inspiration. Youngsters, in particular those who still struggle to etch complex images and, like Culturebaby, get frustrated that their drawings don't yet look on paper as they intend, can perhaps see in the aged Matisse a kindred spirit who distilled shapes down to their simplest form to create something wonderful. They too can use ready-made cut-outs to create an exciting artistic composition or, for the slightly older tots, take a pair of scissors and use them to 'draw' simple shapes.

I adore some of Matisse's paintings from earlier periods in his life too, but Tate's exhibition focuses on Henri's inspired 17 twilight years, when he was recovering from cancer, was often too sick to hold a paintbrush and had to work sitting down. Matisse had his assistants paint large sheets of paper in a wide range of colours, he cut them into shapes and then had them arrange these on his studio walls. He cut and arranged and re-worked these until he had his perfect composition. Matisse believed with his cut-outs that he was anticipating the future and he himself said "it seems to me that I am in a second life". He thought that he had never achieved before such balance in his work and said he was deeply contented and, though bed ridden at times, he surrounded himself with a bright paper "garden" of his own creation. Many critics also believe that this was his most important phase and his cut-outs the highlight of his career.

I've recently been harbouring a mild addiction to free online courses. My inner boffin leapt for joy when I realised I could simultaneously study Warhol, Ancient Nubia and Earth Science in my PJs, whilst feeding Culturetot. In bed. The mischievous instigator was an incredibly helpful course put on by the Museum of Modern Art in New York designed to help educators use the enquiry method in their teaching - essentially getting children to deduce and work out answers for themselves with a peppering of prompts, rather than loading them with a lot of information up front. This has been so useful in thinking about how to engage Culturebaby with art in an interesting way for her and devising tactile and sensory means to achieve this. My study buddy and I used the opportunity of the (then) upcoming Matisse blockbuster to design - in advance - some activities to bring the experience alive for our 6, 3, 2 and 5 month year old rabble. We created a pack of activities for each of the older three and it really helped focus their attention on the exhibition.

 Before I dive into detail of these activities it is worth noting that amongst our happy little band, five month old Culturetot was as delighted as any of us. This exhibition reminded me of visiting Kusama and Hirst with Culturebaby two years ago when she bounced in her carrier, babbled happily and visibly adored the colourful and dynamic artworks. Back then I believed that it was never too early to introduce tiny tots to art and Matisse renewed my conviction. There's a danger with a second child that they come along for the ride as you continually engage with your vibrant toddler. Their experience is inevitably different from the relaxed earth-motherish days of a single baby when you could meander through galleries and talk about the art (though of course it never felt like this at the time). These days I need a permanent stock of stickers, a timeturner and running shoes. It is therefore always a joy to be reminded that the chilled-out second child is also a little sponge, with her own preferences, joining in, taking in all the action and delighting in her own first experiences. Culturetot really concentrated on the cut-outs, expressing preferences as she strained her neck to return her gaze to favourites that she had been prematurely extricated from. In particular she loved the luminous stained glass in the final room. With its bold, colourful and simple images, this would be a perfect first exhibition for any baby.

For our older art explorers, we had a number of tasks at the ready. I always find that if I can engage Culturebaby in tactile and sensory ways with artworks, get her to work on something simple herself, read her relevant stories and provide opportunities for movement and imaginative play, it is astounding what she remembers and how well she can concentrate. Of course not everything always works, not all days are as successful and not all activities suit every child, so we ensured that a range was available for our visit.

On a number of occasions Culturebaby and I have 'danced' the wonderful book Matisse Dance for Joy by Susan Goldman Rubin. This inspired little boardbook has been a favourite for a while, particularly given Culturebaby's penchant for ballet. It takes a number of Matisse's cutouts which involve dance and movement, and provides a simple text which directs the reader to recreate the movements and join in. It brings the images alive and gives a sense of the dynamism and energy of Henri's works, which were very much inspired by his love for music (he was a keen violinist) and dance. We re-read it on the train and over lunch with the children. We also gave each child a few colouring sheets in the cafe that my creative friend had produced featuring a simple line tracing of the Blue Nude II. They were each shown the original and were invited to copy it, or create their own version in one or more colours - with a range of results from each of them.

We then went into the exhibition, armed with the little book Dance for Joy. This was a doubly wonderful find as most of the works used within it featured in the exhibition. The children were tasked with using the simple book to hunt for the corresponding picture throughout the gallery. This was a really sucessful activity and Culturebaby and pals collaborated with excitement and summoned us with pride to a number of works they had located in their picture book. On our second, swifter, visit to the exhibition a couple of weeks later, Culturebaby and I repeated this activity and I was amazed at how well she had remembered it. She led me to certain works and flicked through her book until she located the appropriate page.

We moved through the exhibition locating works from the book, talking about the ones the children liked the best and why, and trying to recreate some of the contorted positions Matisse's cut-out figures were striking on the gallery walls. It was particularly good to show the children the films of Matisse working with his scissors. These images of the artist in action were both gripping and served as inspiration for future cutting work for them. Towards the end of the exhibition we reached La Gerbe (The Sheaf), Matisse's vibrant foliage creation where we offered each child a felt pack I had created with a white background and the right numbers of coloured leaves. They were asked whether they wanted to copy the original or create their own. The children set to work, and even Culturebaby immediately grasped the task in hand. The two younger children made rough versions of their own, which each resembled Matisse's original, but it was really interesting to see the scientifically minded six year old painstakingly recreate the original. Despite risking the cutting-out equivalent of tennis elbow after producing the third pack of these (I can see why Matisse saw this activity as a good workout for his hands) this busy-bag was so simple to produce and successful in practice. We could use it in the gallery as it didn't involve pens and can be used again and again.

We'd really recommend the creation of a pack of these before your visit and in fact here's two other foam versions created by friends inspired by our original. Aren't they wonderful?

Following the exhibition we set up a final activity in the auditorium foyer on the ground floor. This quiet area was a perfect place for the children to concentrate and create. My friend had produced a brilliant little activity for them that was again simple to make and worked so well. They were each presented with a glue stick, several sheets of coloured paper to tear and a set of instructions - complete with laminated images of Matisse's snail and a photograph of a real snail. Following a little demonstration our mini Matisses were invited to make their own version and were also encouraged to create any other animal or images they wished. The children were quite tired by this point but this actually served to focus their energies and they each worked for a surprisingly long time on their (multiple) creations. This proved the best activity for Culturebaby who REALLY enjoyed working on several versions of the snail. We then settled down to read Dick Bruna's Miffy at the Gallery and Miffy the Artist (reviewed below) before we left for the day.

 Finally we invited the children to select postcards of their favourite works and in the following days we each created our own shoebox galleries for their toys to visit. I had seen this idea on the internet and it was a fantastic way to discuss and recreate our visit and look at the art again. Peppa Pig and a host of other characters travelled by train to the Tate, viewed the exhibition and even stopped for a spot of lunch in the cafe. Culturebaby played with her shoebox for several days, and since then we have created and visited every possible sort of museum in the same manner (I shall blog about some of these another day).


There are some brilliant books out there for children about or inspired by Matisse, and these are not only wonderful for preparation for a visit, but also for use during and for follow-up activities. Here's a selection of ten for a whole range of ages:

1. Matisse Dance for Joy by Susan Goldman Rubin is the book we used for our gallery I-spy. Suitable and wonderful for dancing along to from a few months old this is simply one of the best first art books for babies and toddlers I have found. It worked brilliantly with the Tate exhibition and is worth buying in advance. and 3. Miffy the Artist and Miffy at the Gallery by Dick Bruna - I have written about these books more extensively in this post here. These brilliant little classic story books by the iconic illustrator Dick Bruna, who took inspiration from Matisse's bold use of colour in art, feature a visit by the endearing little bunny with her parents to a modern art gallery and serve as a brilliant introduction for any toddler doing the same. They cleverly introduce easier concepts of both figurative art and sculpture, but also surrealism, collage and use of mobiles. They even contain a bunny ears version of Matisse's La Gerbe. Miffy becomes an amateur art appreciator and critic, and in turn is inspired to go home and try painting for herself in Miffy the Artist, a clever follow-up book produced by Tate and Dick Bruna that majors on the inspiration art galleries can give to a toddler for their own creativity. These are two of our top books we'd recommend as first stories about art for young children.
4. Again for the very young, Julie Merberg's A Magical Day with Matisse is part of the clever Mini Masters Board Book Series. We have covered another from this series here. With small sturdy pages and a selection of Matisse's paintings (NB from his earlier periods) this book is a lovely intro to the artist for the very young. There are mixed reviews of the text of these books (some think the language could be better), but I think the book (and series) are a great idea and the rhymes help the book flow. I would really recommend them as sturdy first art books for toddlers.

5.  In the Tate shop we picked up a stunningly illustrated and beautifully written story about Matisse's life Henri's Scissors by Jeanette Winter that is perfect from age two upwards. Culturebaby really enjoys it and it has been read and re-read since our visit. The sumptuous and colourful images, peppered with the odd quotation from the master himself, detail the inspiration for Matisse's art as a younger man, but focus in particular on his cut-out phase, explaining why his disability caused a change in his technique, but demonstrating how happy his new art made him. The book includes illustrated versions of a number of Matisse's iconic works and the text is simple but highly imaginative. It also contains one of the most beautiful descriptions of death possible for a child in how it imagines Matisse's peaceful passing. For this alone, aside from all its other merits, this is a valuable addition to a child's story shelves.

Meet Matisse6. I'm rather in love with Tate Publishing's Meet Matisse by the clever french illustrator Jean Vincent Senac and I cannot wait for Culturebaby to be old enough to appreciate this brilliant little book. The author begins by conjuring up a dream set in Matisse's studio where the room is filled with bright and beautiful things and Henri's cut-outs come alive. And then there is Matisse himself, inviting the reader to join him in creating some cut-outs too. Using well chosen quotes from the artist himself, Senac turns Matisse into a tutor who walks us through his tips on how to create a composition, the importance of harmony in arrangement and repetition to fully understand the subject, and the beauty of simplicity - where the viewer is left with the space to dream. He then initiates us into the methods he used to chose colours and the crucial importance of these selections in the atmosphere they create. "A single tone is just a colour; two tones are a chord, that's life". He then encourages us to cut, to follow feelings and to cut in a different way depending on each colour. The subject matters less than the composition, the background selection is crucial. He encourages us not to be afraid of being original. This book is an ingenious blend of exhortation and practical instruction. You emerge feeling as if you know the artist better and utterly inspired to create. It is rare such a little book leaves me feeling elated. This did. I'd recommend this from a bright mid-primary up to the oldest age!

7. I now have a trio of activity books to recommend. The first is Prestel's newly published and beautifully produced Cut-Out Fun with Matisse by Hollein, complete with a good selection of reproduced works and photographs of the artist. Coming with the high praise from the six year old, who read it cover to cover on the train home, the book begins with an imagined scene with Matisse cutting, arranging, creating. Snip snip, snippety snip. Every possible shape you can imagine. Then before Henri's very eyes his shapes come alive. The blue nude begins to dance, others join in. This scene is then followed by others. Henri realises the answers to his dreams lie in his hands. He can create his own tropical retreat, grow his own paper garden, fill his own oceans with life. He discovers what it is to see the world through the eyes of a child and realises what a wonderful tool scissors are. Then in the second part of the book, the reader is presented with several sheets of beautiful glossy paper, a number of ideas and invited to start snipping... As readers will know, I love Prestel's colouring book series and Henri Matisse Colouring Book by Annette Roeder is no exception. As always these books contain activities simple enough for a two year old, through to complicated tasks suitable for much older children. Peppered with interesting facts about the artist, the child is encouraged to re-tell the myth of Icarus, complete partial works in their own way, draw themes from their imagination, colour in line drawings, and of course create their own cut-outs using coloured paper provided. These books are a brilliant resource that can last through childhood.

My Cut-Out Pictures9. Tate Publishing has also re-produced a cool retro book for children from 1931 in time for this exhibition. Designed by Nathalie Parain for young children My Cut-Out Pictures, created with Pere Castor, is addressed to the child, inviting them to use the coloured paper provided in the middle of the book to cut, stick and replicate the simple bright illustrations throughout the book. Creativity is encouraged and the child is told that soon they will not need patterns and will be able to make their own creations. The original designer of the book was trained in Russian Constructivist practices and was part of an artistic and educational circle which advocated 'do it yourself' and her book is intended to encourage children to also develop this important skill in order to boost their creativity. The book is extremely cool, retro and generally scrumptious - while its ideals are as important as ever.

10. Finally, Henri Matisse Drawing with Scissors by Keesia Johnson and Jane O'Connor, and illustrated by Jessie Hartland, is an excellent introduction to the artist for slightly older children (6 or 7 upwards). Written in the style of a school project, the author explores facts that a child would find interesting about Matisse's life. Cute illustrations accompany photographs and original works 'stuck in'. The accompanying text is very informative, simply written and easy to follow. This would be a great read prior to the exhibition for primary and early secondary school children.

Olivier  Berggruen - Henri Matisse: Drawing with ScissorsIn addition to this selection it is always useful to have some good, large source books available to share with children and to research works in advance of discussing them. Two particularly good ones on the cut outs are the stunning exhibition guide from Tate Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs. This exhaustive volume is brimming with full colour reproductions, photographs and expert essays. Prestel's wonderful art publishing department has also produced a gorgeous guide to this period of Matisse's career Henri Matisse Drawing With Scissors; Masterpieces from the Late Years. In addition to a wide range of images, I really like how this book looks at other artists who have taken inspiration from Matisse from Ellsworth Kelly to Andy Warhol.

"Colour is a liberation."
"Do not be afraid of being banal. If you have originality it will come out."
 Henri Matisse

 Disclaimer: We received copies of the three Prestel books and the three Tate Publishing children's books for review purposes. Miffy at the Gallery was received and reviewed a while ago as part of Miffy Uk's recent re-launch. We own all the others. All views are as always entirely my own.
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