I have always loved teaching a Leonardo da Vinci unit study because it covers just about every single academic subject easily: The Renaissance, various science topics like inventions, simple machines, & the human body, and art & artist study are all easy topics to cover while learning about da Vinci. Add some fun research-based learning activities and good books and you have yourself a really fabulous unit study!
Get a printable copy of this unit study below.
Leonardo da Vinci Unit Study
Taking two or three weeks to study the life and impact of da Vinci just might inspire your kiddos to dream big and do hard things. His incredible inventions, discoveries, critical thinking, and art made quite the impact during his lifetime and even reach far and wide into many modern day technologies and such.
This simple unit study will give your students a nice overview of his life and work, while allowing your children to dig deeper into various aspects they find most interesting.
Extend or expand your study with Famous Artists of the Renaissance!
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Leonardo da Vinci Books
A good unit study includes lots of varied books and I’ve got a great list of da Vinci titles to get you started. Your library may have additional books to discover, too. Some of these are historical fiction, some are nonfiction, and some provide additional activity ideas. Some even go off the particular topic of da Vinci to cover more in depth learning about science or history topics that fit well.
Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer by Robert Byrd
Leonardo and the Flying Boy by Laurence Anholt
Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself by Maxine Anderson
Leonardo da Vinci for Kids: His Life and Ideas, 21 Activities by Janis Herbert
Leonardo da Vinci: Dreams, Schemes, and Flying Machines by Heinz Kuhne
Monday with a Mad Genius by Mary Pope Osborne
Famous Artists: Leonardo da Vinci by Antony Mason
Leonardo da Vinci by Diane Stanley
Lives of the Great Artists by Charlie Ayres
Magic Tree House Research Guide- Leonardo da Vinci by Mary Pope Osborne
Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga
Eyewitness Books: Renaissance by Alison Cole
The Renaissance and the New World by Giovanni Caselli
Utterly Amazing Human Body by Robert Winston
Leonardo da Vinci Vocabulary
Our vocabulary lessons are usually very casual:
- I say a vocabulary word and Eli attempts to spell it following all the spelling rules we learned through the Logic of English Essentials curriculum.
- I ask him what he thinks the word means. If he doesn’t know, I use it in a sentence or remind him of a Latin or Greek root we learned during morning time. If he still doesn’t know, he has to look it up in a dictionary (or on the internet) and then use it in his own sentence.
Leonardo da Vinci Activities
In order to promote higher order thinking skills and infuse lots of meaningful language arts into our unit studies, I often include project-based or research-based learning activities. These are excellent opportunities to encourage a little independent learning through research, writing, creating, and public speaking.
I usually come up with a large list of activity ideas, but only expect my son to choose a handful to complete. From the list below, for example, I asked Eli to choose seven varied activities. When I say “varied”, I mean that the projects must cover a wide range of skills and topics.
With a little guidance when necessary, I always allow him to pick and choose his own tasks from our unit study activity lists. Choices help build independence and ownership that make for better projects in the end.
You may assign more or fewer activities for your children depending on things like age, ability, and how long you plan to spend on the study. We spent about 3 weeks on this topic in total.
If you’re new to the idea of project-based learning, click here to learn more. It’s a fabulous method of learning.
On to the Leonardo da Vinci activity list!
– Da Vinci is most widely known as the painter of the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, but he was so much more. As you progress through this unit study, keep a running list of all of da Vinci’s accomplishments. (History, Science, Art, Language Arts, Social Studies)
– Leonardo da Vinci famously kept a notebook of his many ideas and inventions. Begin keeping your own notebook of ideas. (Life Skills, Language Arts, Critical Thinking)
– Da Vinci was a lover of nature and often sought out the answers to the many questions he had such as, “Why is the sky blue?” Research for yourself to find out why the sky IS blue? (Language Arts, Science)
– Record a list of questions you’d like answered. Choose two to research to find what you’re looking for. (Language Arts, Science, History, Critical Thinking)
– Leonardo was very secretive about his discoveries, so he composed all his notes in “mirror writing”, which means he wrote letters and words backwards. Find out when Leonardo was born, where he was born, and when he died. Record your findings using mirror writing. (Language Arts, History)
– Da Vinci was fascinated with the human body. Find a diagram of the human skeleton to print or trace. Learn the names of all of the major bones and label your diagram. (Language Arts, Science, Health, Art)
– Leonardo calculated that the full length of a body is eight times that of the head. This is called a proportion. According to his calculations, if someone’s head is eight inches long, how tall would they be? Measure yourself and others in your family to see if da Vinci’s proportion calculation holds true. (Math)
– Da Vinci was very interested to learn about the flight of birds. Find a YouTube video or documentary to watch about the flight of birds. Create a sketch and write a paragraph to describe what you learn. (Language Arts, Science, Art)
– Of all birds, da Vinci enjoyed watching vultures the best because of their ability to glide. Watch a video of a vulture gliding. Take a nature walk to observe the flight of various birds. Have a discussion with someone in your family about the similarities and differences between the flight of vultures and other birds. (Language Arts, Science)
– Da Vinci was a brilliant inventor. Use craft supplies and recyclables to create your own invention. Be ready to demonstrate and explain it to your family. (If you can get your hands on the book Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself, it’s a great resource if you aren’t sure where to begin with your own invention.) (Critical Thinking, STEAM)
– Leonardo da Vinci did a lot of experiments using simple machines. Research to learn the six simple machines. Draw a few common tools you use around the house and label which simple machines are included in that tool. For instance, scissors are made of wedges and levers. (Language Arts, Science, Art)
– Visit this simple machine experiment page and choose one or two experiments to complete. (Science, Critical Thinking)
– Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is likely the most famous painting in the world. Find a photo or print of the Mona Lisa and study it. Do you recognize it? What do you think? What do you notice? How does it make you feel? Have a discussion with someone in your family or write a paragraph to share your thoughts. (Art, Language Arts)
– The Mona Lisa is in a museum in Paris, France called the Louvre. Locate Paris on a map. Research to find four other tourist sites you might choose to visit if you ever have a chance to go to Paris. If you’d like to learn a bit more about each site, including the Louvre, find YouTube video tours to watch. (Language Arts, Art, Geography)
– Another famous da Vinci painting is a fresco called The Last Supper. Study a photo or print of it and list at least 10 things you notice. Learn how to create a fresco. If you have easy access to the materials, try creating your own fresco. (History, Art, Language Arts)
– Leonardo was born during the Renaissance. Study this time period. Create a chart to compare and contrast it with modern times. (History, Language Arts)
– Make a list of four other famous artists from the Renaissance period. Print off an image of each of their most famous works of art and create a chart. Use the chart to help you discuss the similarities and differences between their artworks with your family. (Art, History, Language Arts)
– Leonardo da Vinci used to enjoy drawing both the outside and inside of objects. Find something to take apart. (Make sure it’s okay with your parents first!) Some ideas are: a squirt gun, a flashlight, a ball point pen, or an old appliance. Draw it from the outside first, being as accurate as possible. Next, take it apart and draw the inside of it, including all of the individual pieces. Label it if you can, just like Leonardo would have. (Art, Language Arts, Critical Thinking, Science)
– Find someone to sit as your model and paint a portrait like the Mona Lisa. (Art)
– On August 21, 1911, the Mona Lisa was stolen. Find out what happened and how it was recovered. Write a newspaper article about the incident. (Language Arts, History, Art)
– Gather as much information as you can about the life of Leonardo da Vinci. Dress in costume as if you are da Vinci and tell the story of his life to your family. You may certainly use visuals to aid in the storytelling. (Language Arts, History, Art, Drama)
Printable Leonardo da Vinci Unit Study
For your convenience, I’ve created a quick-reference to all the books, vocabulary, and activity ideas from this post! Grab the 6-page printable Leonardo da Vinci unit study by entering your email address below.
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