Making Magic: Inspiring Children with Art
How do you spark excitement about art history in young children? For this HENI Talk, we filmed leading arts education charity, Magic Lantern, run an inspiring workshop for the pupils in a north London primary school.
We follow Director, Matthew Sanders (or ‘Magic Matt’, as he is known to his young fans) explore the theme of ‘Winter’ by looking closely at masterworks such as Hokusai’s Great Wave and Brueghel’s Hunters in the Snow. Using creative techniques such as role play, storytelling, and Where’s Wally?-like puzzles, Matt inspires a thirst for knowledge in the children and shows how learning about paintings from the past can be fun and transformative.
[Teacher] Now, we’re going to focus on this painting that you’ve been looking at today. Who can tell me what is happening?
[Matthew Sanders] Magic Lantern is an educational charity that runs interactive art history workshops in classrooms around the country, to show that anyone can enjoy and understand art.
[Alara] We all get to go into detail of the story behind this painting.
It’s me, Susan Jonathan. I’m not surprised, this day was like most days – nobody bought my flowers. It was freezing! My feet were aching, but I battled the cold…
[Kevin Ward] We can give him practically any topic…
[Matthew Sanders] Children playing in the winter… Christmas!
[Matthew Sanders] Snowman!
[Kevin Ward] and it’s also… fun
[Matthew Sanders] 1, 2, 3… FREEZE!
[Kevin Ward] Often the paintings will have hidden things that, you know, Matt will ask them to look for. And, so, they just really enjoy that kind of quest of finding out, you know, as much as possible.
[Child] This is one!
[Matthew] Yeah, very good, that’s enough, perfect, just one each! You’ve got this one perfectly there, with the lovely gown, and a crown – that rhymes…
[Kevin Ward] Every response, from every child, is received with a really positive response from Matt.
[Matthew Sanders] Can you see the star? Yeah, well done! The star is up there! So all the clues are there. Once again, the artist has put all the clues in. In fact, there’s another clue. How did Jesus and Mary get there? Did they call an Uber…? What did they do…?
[Child] They rode on a donkey.
[Matthew Sanders] They rode on a donkey! Can you see where they’ve parked their donkey? Have a look around, you have to get closer and closer… c’mon, where have you seen it? Well done!
[Izel] We see pictures that artists have made, and we identify exactly what it means and why the artist has put it there.
[Child] And there were like loads of kings around them and I thought that was really weird cause normally kings don’t go and see babies like that.
[Matthew Sanders] That’s brilliant, thank you very very much.
It draws out responses from children who might not join in in a traditional educational setting.
[Kevin Ward] It does build confidence. It means that they’re able to articulate their thoughts, and whether it’s about the narrative of a painting, what’s happening there or the technique, the style of the artist…
[Elizabeth] In a normal art lesson we just have to like sit down and have to draw or paint or something like that, but in Magic Matt’s we can just stand up…
[Kevin Ward] Matt has really clever ways of getting the kids involved, so whether they’re striking poses that they can see in the paintings or giving sound effects, or he uses a speech bubble which is really great, so that they can say the thoughts of the character.
[Matthew Sanders] How do you feel about what you’re doing?
[Matthew Sanders] Cheeky! Thank you very much.
[Joe] He always creates inventive ways to teach us.
Child makes sad dog sound effect.
[Matthew Sanders] Oh that’s lovely. Wow, there was a lot of emotion there. Ok, as a class, after 3, let’s hear the sad dogs. 1, 2, 3.
Children make sad dog sound effects.
[Matthew Sanders] That’s great.
I love the fact that they can now look at a painting and basically hear it come to life.
Children make soundscape.
[Matthew Sanders] OK, now the kids are going to stop… and now the crows are going to stop… and now the dogs are going to stop… and now the fire’s going to stop… and now the footsteps are going to stop. Guys, that was amazing, thank you very very much.
[Zeren] Well there was one of the paintings where there was a young girl selling flowers and we thought about why she was selling flowers and a bit of background information and we wrote a diary entry.
They think I don’t notice, but I hear every last remark. All the ‘Stay aways’ and the ‘Don’t touches’ and worst the ‘Oh mys’. One lady, dressed up in so many ridiculous furs that she looked like a bear and could barely walk, took one look at me, hid her child around her and veered around me. To top it all off, I only made one penny.
[Joe] I’m just a normal, lifeless speck in this dreadful city. I reluctantly discovered a new hole in my dress. I’ve also uncovered a settlement of fleas in my ear. Unpleasant as they are, they are better company than the drunks at the tavern.
[Matthew] They are amazing at empathetic reactions. They put themselves in the picture.
[Joe] It helps me think more about the characters in the story and I think it develops my brain to empathise about people in real life.
[Matthew Sanders] There is something that is going to light up Christmas.
[Joe] I think he wanted to highlight the people and say Christmas isn’t about presents and what you get, it’s about what you already have.
[Matthew Sanders] I think that is a really, really lovely thought and I totally agree with you.
[Zeren] Well I really like writing so I might be an author. I also love acting and I might want to become and architect.
[Ebeneezer] When I’m older I would like to be a footballer or an engineer or an actor.
[Alara] I want to be a scientist and I want to find like an easy cure for cancer.
[Lautaro] A vet, a steam engine driver or a….
[Matthew Sanders] And these guys would row very, very, very, very fast like this with these very narrow oars and the way it links to fishing is that they would go out from the land to the fishing boats and the second that the fishermen would get all this fresh, lovely, new fish they would race back to the land super-fast. It was a bit like Amazon or Deliveroo or something. They would get there as soon as possible with their fresh fish.
[Lautaro] It’s fun and it takes you a break from like your usual lessons like Maths, English, Science, Gyo – Geography. And it’s just like to learn about painting and like find things that you never saw in the painting if you know it.
[Teacher] Maybe it’s somebody who’s trying to climb the tree?
[Izel] I’d like to see them in real life, see what the artist was thinking, what type of brush or tool they used.
[Teacher] So we’re going to bring this picture into a 3D setting, OK?
[Ebeneezer] We tried to make some figures out of foil in our art class and I made two figures and that they were children and I used cotton wool for snowballs, and I put them in the hands.
[Matthew Sanders] It is important I think to have a range of artists so that children know that you don’t have to be a White man to be a famous artist. And it is funny sometimes I’ll get a child to come to the front to be an artist, to pretend to paint the screen. They always say they need a beret.
[Elizabeth] I like I think Vincent Van Gogh, the ones who draws sunflowers cos they’re yellow and yellow’s my favourite colour, so… I do try and recreate them sometimes and they do turn pretty good.
[Izel] That would have to be Frida Kahlo because of her life story and what she did. I like that when things got her down, she still rose to the top.
[Matthew Sanders] They will go to galleries because they’ll ask their parents to take them and the next time I see them they’re so eager to tell me that they took their parents to see X and Y painting and they told them all about it and then their parents had to check on the caption and it was right, and that’s very exciting to see.
[Zeren] We have a chance to share our opinion and it makes us feel like we’re important and we can have a say that’s valued by people.
All the staff and students at Holmleigh Primary School
And special thanks to
Year 5 and 6 including
Alamy Stock Photo
The National Gallery
Victoria and Albert Museum
Art works shown
John Morgan, 1865
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Hunters in the Snow (Winter)
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, 1565
William Logsdail – St Martin in the Fields
Painters / Alamy Stock Photo
Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) Snow Storm, Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth 1842
World History Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
The Great Wave
Katsushika Hokusai, c.1830-1832
The Adoration of the Kings
Jan Gossaert (Jean Gossart), 1510-1515
The National Gallery
Dressing the Christmas Tree
Betty Maud Fagan, 1895-1932
Wolverhampton Art Gallery
All animations © HENI Talks
- Magic Lantern
- ‘Learning’, The National Gallery
- Tate Kids
- Lydia Figes, ‘The twelve days of Christmas’, Art UK, 12 December 2018
- Ashley Gerling, ‘Ten ways to celebrate Christmas like a Victorian’, Art UK, 11 December 2018
- ‘William Logsdail, St Martin-in-the-Fields’, Tate
- Dr. David Boffa, ‘Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Hunters in the Snow (Winter)’, Smarthistory, 11 December 2015
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