Art and Science of Leonardo da Vinci

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Travis did a series of projects this weekend to learn all about inventor and artists Leonardo da Vinci, a lesson to go alongside an Italian culinary journey from Raddish Kids. Here’s what he uncovered!

First up he needed some basic background info on who da Vinci was. Travis watched a silly YouTube clip, as well as a read-aloud of Leonardo and the Flying Boy. Now he knew that Leonardo made early inventions of flying machines, mixed up his own paints, and more!

Time to act like da Vinci! First up was drawing from multiple perspectives, just like the artist. I encouraged Travis to first draw a toy that he loves… and then to draw it upside down! The most amazing thing happened during this exercise: this remarkable stillness descended on both kids as they concentrated so hard on their work.

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And Travis was so proud of the resulting side by side drawings!

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Next we wanted to see if we, too, could make our own paint! Obviously we couldn’t use chicken’s eggs like da Vinci, but we tested out a flax “egg” paint. I whisked 1 tablespoon flaxseed into 3 tablespoons warm water. Then we ground up chalk powder! Place a piece of chalk in a zip-top plastic bag and seal; whack with a mallet until finely ground.

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We mixed each chalk pigment with about 1 tablespoon of the flax mixture. It wasn’t as smooth as tempera, but it did make a rather neat paint. Little sister Veronika in particular loved using this all over a piece of poster board.

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Next up was a closer look at arguably da Vinci’s most famous work, The Mona Lisa. Travis watched a video about this enigmatic painting before we followed a step-by-step tutorial. This was fun for mama, too!

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We then turned back to da Vinci’s scientific side, learning more about some of his flying machines. Travis watched a video on the engineering of flight before we tested out our own: fold a rectangular piece of poster board in half, then fold each side in toward the half crease so it now folds up into a triangle. Tape shut.

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Add wings and a tail of any design, and see how your machine flies! Travis chose triangular wings, which might not have been the most aerodynamic, but he liked that this was bigger than a standard paper airplane!

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Travis was also intrigued with da Vinci’s left-handedness and backwards writing, particularly as a lefty himself. We turned this into a game of making secret codes for each other, and he loved checking them out in the mirror!

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To cap it all off, we filled out the provided Venn diagram, labeling one side Science, and the other side Art. Now Travis knew lots about da Vinci, including what fell in the overlap in the middle.

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There is so much more that older children can do with this lesson (learning more about the idea of the “Renaissance Man”, researching other Renaissance figures like Isabella d’Este, creating an art gallery slide show presentation, just to name a few!). But this was a great “first bite” of da Vinci for my 1st grader.


Exploding Soap

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Veronika was a bit bored as I was cleaning the kitchen this morning, and I wanted an activity that could occupy her quickly. Luckily, a bar of soap and a microwave are all you need for some quick STEM exploration!

I placed a bar of soap on a paper plate and then popped it in the microwave. Veronika helped me set the timer for 2 minutes.

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Stand back and watch it explode! Monitor closely, because you don’t want a messy microwave, but the soap will begin to bubble up and expand and do all kinds of exciting things. I’ve heard this activity described online using both Ivory Coast and Dial, but I don’t think it matters which brand you use.

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We removed the bubbly soap from the microwave and then began some careful exploration. Within moments, it will be cool enough to explore safely, but still soft enough that it no longer resembles a hard bar of soap. I placed the soap in a craft tray with a shallow layer of water and Veronika loved stirring around the soap flakes.

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Or mashing at the remaining cake of soap with craft sticks.

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She even washed her hands! So you can definitely say this turned out to be good clean fun.

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Move & Learn Shapes with a Ball + Tape

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I’ve combined shape learning with gross motor skills before, but this was a great twist on the activity. Veronika has added a few new shapes to her repertoire, and she’s also been interested in learning all the various ways that she can move a ball lately (kicking, bouncing, rolling). This activity combined both beautifully!

On the floor, I first made giant shapes with masking tape, adding one of each she knows so far (minus the circle, which is tricky to make out of tape!). We ended up with: square, rectangle, triangle, star, pentagon, and hexagon.

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I handed her a bouncy ball and let the game begin! From here, simply give your toddler instructions for both how to move the ball and which shape to move it to.

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“Bounce the ball to the triangle!” I told her. Or, “Kick the ball to the star.”

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Sometimes I let her pick a shape, and simply let her get the ball there anyway she wanted. But she had to tell me the shape each time!

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This was great for shape review, and I loved that it got her thinking more about kicking and tossing the ball, since her fall-back has usually been bouncing.

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