Inspired by this year’s Festival of Ideas theme, Truth, educators from the Fitzwilliam Museum and Museum of Zoology created activities to help young children and their families explore the “true” essence of colours in art and nature.

The Fitzwilliam Museum and Museum of Zoology have collaborated on Early Years activities in the past, but this time we wanted to change the emphasis slightly. Rather than exploring the collection through a story as we had done previously, this time we wanted our young audience to use philosophical questions as a starting point, building on the Philosophy for Children approach.

Families with children aged between 3 and 5 were invited to begin by thinking about how many colours there are in our world. Do we have enough names for them all? We searched the gallery of Dutch Flower Paintings to find examples of some of the different colours we had thought of.

Exploring the Dutch flower paintings

Do colours even matter? What if everything were the same colour? We reflected on the relationships shown in the paintings-if you are a flower trying to attract a pollinator, or an insect trying to hide from a predator, colour is really important!

We were able to see some real insects from the zoological collection and to experience how they use colour to camouflage themselves within their habitats.

Looking at insects from the zoological collection.

So far all our experiences of colour in the activities had been visual. We wanted the group to consider whether there are other ways of understanding colour. We read The Black Book of Colour together – an unusual picture book which explores the multisensory aspects of different colours.

Reading the Black Book of Colour.

This led onto a variety of activities for the children to respond to: which colours are represented by sticks or feathers in a feely bag, which by the scent of chamomile, and which by the sound of the ocean drum? Do we all associate the same colours with the same sensory inputs?

We began to understand that our own perception of colour may not be the same as everybody else’s. This was brought home powerfully as Sara gave each child a cuddly bird with which to explore the gallery and she explained that birds display ‘secret’ colours – invisible to our human eyes but an important way for the birds to communicate with each other.

Exploring colours and senses

It was a fascinating experience to watch the growing curiosity of the families during these activities. We’d love to have had more time for discussions amongst the children as this would have been a powerful way of developing methods of critical enquiry in our young visitors.

‘Question everything,’ urged Euripides. And we hope the enquiry-based approach to these events might have started some of our young participants on a lifelong journey of questioning!

“Really well run and perfectly pitched for the age group.”

“Well designed workshop. Excellent for kids. – Parents

To learn more about events at the Fitzwilliam Museum for young children, please contact Nicola Wallis ( To hear the latest events from the Zoology Museum, please contact Sara Steele ( You can keep up to date with developments at the Museum of Zoology through our social media channels and brand new website, coming in January 2018.