Matisse’s paper cut-outs were simple but moving. His artistic choices were intentional, full of life, color, and feeling. We discussed how many of Matisse’s compositions were figurative while others focused on abstract design. Most of my students were not concerned with making figurative imagery and were content to cut and paste, exploring shape and color combinations.
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The children’s board book, “Dance for Joy” is a wonderful introduction to Matisse’s paper cut-outs. It communicates both the content and emotion in his work. My only complaint is that the board book is quite small, not ideal for a classroom situation, but the bold prints that were chosen and the simplicity of the text makes for a great  introduction to this project.

Since the images printed in the book are miniature versions I printed out a few photos of Matisse’s work taken in museums that included people to show the grand scale of his work.
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I also found a wonderful photo of Matisse at work with his scissors. I feel that showing young children a picture of the actual artist helps them connect.
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Each child began their own art by choosing a background color. I supplied pre-made strips 1-2″ wide. From these strips children cut shapes. The strips allowed for easy maneuvering and created less waste.
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The material list and process for this project is short and simple and can be done without studying Matisse if desired.

  • construction paper (large background and pre-cut strips)
  • scissors
  • glue stick

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Working with scissors is a valuable skill for children to use. Like holding a pencil correctly, using scissors is a critical fine motor skill that when practiced will aid a child’s success in preschool and grade-school. My youngest students 18M-2.5Y are just learning the mechanics of scissors. I find unless they are adamant about putting the scissors in one hand it’s best to start them with a two handed approach so that they have the satisfaction of cutting paper with minimal frustration.
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As soon as a child shows interest to cut with one hand I move the scissors into their dominant hand and teach them where to place their thumb and the rest of the fingers. Often an adult will still need to help them along, specifically with holding the paper taught and positioned for easy cutting. I often talk new cutters through each cut, “Open, squeeze, good! Open, squeeze, there you go!”.
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Some children get so enthralled with cutting that before you know it they will have quite the stack of pieces. This creates such a beautiful sense of accomplishment. Many students are content with creating a stack of pieces and literally have no interest  in gluing.
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Here is a finished piece from a two year old student.
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