We’ve had a great time learning about The Renaissance! We used a lot of different books, and watched several video clips – hopefully some of what we found useful will be helpful for you too. Don’t forget to check out our initial Renaissance Unit Study Plan, and our End of Unit Recap.
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First up – some of the books I used to get ready for our unit! I know that my girls will get the religion and politics aspects of the Renaissance later, when they’re in high school. For our unit study I wanted to focus on the discoveries made during the time period. I knew I needed to read about Da Vinci, Copernicus, Kelper, Galileo, and others. I also wanted to bring in some important female figures and alchemy seemed to be a good way to do that. I really enjoyed both Heaven on Earth, by L. S. Fauber, and On Tycho’s Island, by John Robert Christianson. I also used a series of books titled The Renaissance Thinkers, The Renaissance Inventors, The Renaissance Artists, and The Renaissance Explorers. All four are great books written for perhaps a middle school aged student and include project ideas. I mostly used the first two books for our unit, but had all four available for the girls to read.
Next up – Amazing Leonardo da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself. This is a book in the same series as the Maya book that inspired our last unit study – and it’s just as good as the Maya book! We read quite a few sections of this book, and did three or four of the activities. This book could inspire a unit study all by itself! In the middle, The Renaissance: Patrons, Artists, and Scholars from Amplify/Core Knowledge, is the reader used by my 5th grader for her ELA work during this unit. The reader covers the printing press, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and some information on the Medici family, the system of patronage, customs at the time. We used many of the activity pages in the unit, but focused on the reading comprehension and writing activities, not the grammar or morphology work. My oldest also read Alchemy and Meggy Swann, by Karen Cushman during our unit, and did some reading comprehension activities with the book. This is he story of a girl who is sent to London to live with her estranged father. Her legs are disabled and she has to learn to navigate a new home with a parent who doesn’t really notice her. I quite enjoyed the book, but I think my daughter just tolerated it.
Next, picture books were a huge win in this unit study! I read a biographical picture book to introduce each historical figure, we generally did a craft or other activity around the person and their inventions/discoveries, then we followed up with some videos or a more in depth book. Our first three picture books were: Johann Gutenberg and the Amazing Printing Press, by Bruce Koscielniak, Leonardo and the Flying Boy, by Laurence Anholt, and Nicolaus Copernicus: The Earth is a Planet, by Dennis B. Fradin.
Our next set of picture books included I, Galileo by Bonnie Christiansen, Newton’s Rainbow, by Kevin Hawkes, and The Gravity Tree, by Anna Crowley Redding. We sorely needed a picture book about Johannes Kepler, but try as I might, I couldn’t find one.
As part of her CKLA work, my oldest worked through writing a biography about a Renaissance artist. We, of course, has plenty of biography books around for inspiration. Of these, I read the Who Was Galileo? Aloud to the girls. We also watched the Who Was? shows on Netflix featuring these people.
I didn’t read the other Who Was? books aloud because I chose to read these longer, more narrative and more in depth biographies by Kathleen Krull. We enjoyed both the Leonardo da Vinci and Issac Newton biographies. For her novel study, my little read and did some activities relating to Monday with a Mad Genius by Mary Pope Osborne from the Magic Tree House series.
Finally, a few more books we liked and found useful: They Changed the World by Rik Hoskin is a graphic novel biography of Copernicus, Bruno, and Galileo. Not my thing, but my kids both love graphic novels, so they liked this one. Johannes Gutenberg: The Printer who Gave Words to the World by Stephen Feinstein provided more detail than our picture book. I thought it was very readable. Renaissance Town by Jacqueline Morley was fun to look through and see what the town of Florence may have been like.
We watched documentaries and video clips a couple of times a week – here’s what we saw!