Leonardo da Vinci Activities for Kids

Renaissance Unit Study

Week 5: We created engineering notebook pages like Leonardo da Vinci, assembled models of his machines, made and improved the designs of paper airplanes.

Leonardo da Vinci was an artist, but also a great engineer. His curiosity led him to study human organs, war machines, flight, music, and the way people lived. Throughout his life he designed a high-rise city, paddle boat, machine rollers for making thin sheets of tin, a planetarium, scuba gear, tank, harpsichord-viola, and mechanical drum. Improving the design of existing devices such as the cannon and catapult also captured Leonardo's attention.

Vitruvian Man
Our Leonardo da Vinci studies began with his artist background and human body fascination which can be found here.

Leonardo's Machines
Of the numerous machines Leonardo da Vinci designed and improved, only a small handful were ever built. Just like engineers of today, Leonardo had difficulty securing funding and finishing a design to his personal satisfaction.

He did however, improve the catapult by adding a counterweight and improving the throwing arm.

The cannon was improved by creating a large projectile which broke apart upon firing releasing numerous smaller projectiles. Coupled with the redesigned projectile, the power of steam was harnessed to fire the cannon and inflict maximum damage.

The above models, Bombard Cannon Leonardo da Vinci Assemble Set, and
Catapult - Leonardo Da Vinci Kit # EDU-61009 were purchased kits. In addition to the catapult and cannon, several other models are available.

Leonardo's Notebook - Writing

Throughout his lifetime Leonardo kept engineering notebooks. They contained his ideas and mechanical designs. Since parchment was expensive, every possible inch of space was filled. Unlike a notebook of today bound with a spiral ring, his notebooks were a collection of loose pages held together with scarf-like pieces of fabric.

The horror of war frightened Leonardo and he worried about his lethal weapon designs falling into the wrong hands. His style of mirror writing, coupled with intentional mistakes built into his designs, reduced the risk of his weapons being built by enemies. His notebooks were some of the first examples of exploded view drawings commonly used in engineering practices and instruction for kids building toys today. Exploded views show parts of an assembly aligned with other parts, but not in place. Drawing them exploded makes it easier to see how the parts fit together.

The kids were asked to create a Leonardo Notebook Page with the following instructions.

1. Create engineering sketches for a custom designed machine. Be sure to include materials, and any special instructions.
2. Write down anything you are wondering about.
3. Write down your weekly budget, grocery list and to-do list.
4. Write down anything else you are thinking about.

Try to write backwards like Leonardo if you want. Remember parchment was expensive, so Leonardo used all available space.

*I gave them small pieces of paper to make it even more of a challenge.

Here are the results:

I found them difficult to read, but could after they were read to me.

This one says, "I am hoping to make a machine that makes you never have to eat. Here is a picture. I am saving up money for nothing right on my hair is blond and my favorite color is yellow. Then comes red then orange."

Your Height Diving Board

Leonardo and Flight - Paper Airplane Activities

Leonardo da Vinci was obsessed with flight. Observing birds and wondering how they flew was a favorite pastime. Purchasing caged birds and setting them free gave Leonardo more opportunity for up-close observation. His notebook pages contained designs for airplanes, gliders and parachutes.

We began our flight study by folding Nakamura Lock airplanes and learning how to adjust them.

The four key adjustment elements for us were; symmetry, dihedral angle of the wings, ailerons and elevators. Accurate folds and doing the same thing to both sides of the plane were top priority. A non-symmetric plane may turn, or fly upside down. Dihedral angle is the angle between the wings and the body. A Y-shape is best. When the wings point down instead of up, planes often fly upside down. Ailerons and elevators are not separate features on paper airplanes, but refer to specific points in the rear. Elevators are closest to the body and make the plane fly up and down. Ailerons are farther away and make the plane fly left and right. Bending the paper in the rear of the plane up or down a little bit can result in flights which turn, rise up, or nose dive.

John Collins, the Paper Airplane Guy had some great tips for adjusting planes.

Next we talked about different types of paper airplanes (gliders, stunts, and darts) and factors which effect flight. Wing shape and weight were discussed most. Planes with narrow wings tend to fly fast and straight. They are known as darts. Wider wings result in longer, slower flights of gliders. Stunt planes do flips. Adding weight to the nose of a plane increases stability, but adding weight to the belly, can make a plane sink to the ground.

At this stage we encouraged much experimentation and provided pennies, paper clips, paper airplane design books, straws, pipe cleaners, different types of paper and more.

Checking for symmetry

Next, armed with a fleet of planes, challenges were given at the playground.

Can you get a plane to stick into the fence? They quickly realized that darts were best suited for this challenge.

Can you get a plane to fly through the ropes? Can you get it to land on the platform? Can you hit the cross beam with your plane?

Which plane flies the farthest, longest, highest, does the most loops? Planes are built with different purposes in mind.

Leonardo's Horse - This book details one project which consumed Leonardo during his life. Unfortunately his larger than life horse was not built until the 20th century. Not only does this book provide a great historical background on the project, it also gives engineering and manufacturing details.

Leonardo Da Vinci by Emily Hahn - Leonardo worked for some of the most prominent people in Italy, had difficulty in finishing projects for them, and wasn't always paid. This biography on Leonardo also provides insight into world events and other important people of the Italian Renaissance.

Leonardo and the Flying Boy by Laurence Anholt is a Leonardo da Vinci picture book for young children which tells about some of Leonardo's flying machines.

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1 comment:

  1. that is really awesome, superb planning and learning. Stopping by from #MommyMondayBlogHop


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