“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Our Renaissance unit has been one of the more solid units the McGaugh Academy has designed, and we are looking forward to capping it off with a field trip to the Irwindale Renaissance Faire for their School Day this week. Although we have had a unit or two that never quite got off the ground the way we hoped (i.e. our Monsters and Imagination unit we attempted in Katie’s preschool year—too scary and too theoretical—was much better on paper than in practice), our Renaissance unit reminds me of the fun we had with our Apple-a-Day unit in September 2011.

Originally inspired by the setting of Tomie de Paola’s (we adore his work) updated and reworked telling of Clown of God (an optional FIAR text), I decided to spin off on our own for a little while. Truly an interdisciplinary unit, the Renaissance unit gave us the chance to study literature, visual art, music, math, science, and history.  Some elements came together almost serendipitously: because the clown is a juggler who ends up dropping his objects at a crucial moment in his life, we were able to tie together a lesson on gravity with a BrainPop online video and parachute construction based on Leonardo’s designs, for example. Last week a visit to Disneyland yielded the chance to watch a Renaissance style theater performance of Beauty and the Beast in their new Fantasy Faire. I also happened to have a CD full of Renaissance music from one of the years I coached Academic Decathlon at TVHS. We play it while we work on art projects or Renaissance-based science labs.

We have spoken at length about the Renaissance ideal of “a sound mind in a sound body” (taken from Juvenal’s pre-Renaissance writings) and Katie has journaled on this topic and drawn pictures of how she demonstrates this ideal in real life. If the McGaugh Academy were to have a credo or a vision statement, then we have often said that “a sound mind in a sound body” would be it. We were finally able to show Katie where activities like soccer and music class and choir and Friday art time and exercise and diet fit with respect to her and her father’s vision for her life and Eric’s life. We have talked about what it means to be a Renaissance Man or a Renaissance Lady, and we’re excited that our commitment to homeschooling has suddenly taken on a new meaning for Katie in light of this information: she sees where we’re going with this schooling model!

The Renaissance Faire in Irwindale has been completely accommodating to my special request to join their School Day this week (with activities geared specifically for school-aged children) with just our little academy of one student and her brother and her Amie. I think this field trip will be a perfect culminating event for Katie, and I am excited!

With Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday coming up on Monday, April 15, it has been fitting that we have spent our science time last week paying homage to many of his inventions and journals. I found the most dazzlingly helpful book in the library: Amazing Leonard da Vinci Inventions You Can Build Yourself.  In fact, it has been so crucial to this part of our unit that I found a copy on Amazon and bought our own. We’ve barely covered 1/3 of all the activities, and I know I will want it for the kiddos in the future. Part history, part crafty book, part science lab journal, this book has been our reference every day this week.


Coupling the Leonardo book with a children’s book on Renaissance art technique, Katie and I practiced drawing vanishing points and orthogonals. We’ve also talked a bit about how these techniques were different from art techniques in the Middle Ages, along with chiaroscuro and sfumato. I did not do a super great job explaining sfumato, but I do feel she could tell us about the use of light and dark in Mona Lisa and other works at this point. For years  (ever since our Abrakadoodle teacher Megan chose Make Van Gogh’s Bed for one of our lessons) we have been reading all of Julie Appel’s and Amy Guglielmo’s Touch the Art series, and so many of the works we looked at were familiar to Katie and Eric, which helped Katie to build a framework for some of these new discussions.  I swear by this series of books. Very accessible for preschoolers…


Based on a lesson in the Leonardo book, we made a hygrometer and talked about humidity, controlling variables, and balancing weights.


The hygrometer in a tree. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much humidity so for most of the week we didn’t see much change. But part of the fun is checking it, right?


Making and testing a parachute based on Leonardo’s drawings…


Hard at work


We also made our own tempura paint with materials collected from our yard. (This book is truly a find, let me just say).

There have been a few other experiments I wanted to do: making our own plastic, invisible ink (we’ve done that before, though), a perspectograph, and a camera obscura, but we might save some of those for another time and go down other routes this week with the unit.


We’ve also incorporated food a bit into our studies, with a socca made of chickpea flour, zucchini, caramelized onions, and pine nuts. Socca was a dish that developed in Italy in the late 1300s right before the Renaissance. We’ve also had our share of apples, cheese, and bread/crackers this week for lunches.

This week has been rewarding—and busy, too…although often busy and rewarding go together, yes? I finished a major editing project that was due yesterday, helped a former student by sending a rec letter to an opportunity he is hoping to land, and broke the 125.0 pound barrier at 124.6 (with clothes on). I want to work hard to take another two pounds off by June 1st, to make it an even 40 pounds lost in exactly one year. Just have to keep at it… This week has been challenging, though. I am not sure why some weeks feel more challenging than others. It may be silly, but I use some of my exercise time to bolster my resolve: on weeks that are challenging like this, I sometimes chant to myself on the last mile of my runs, “You will make no excuses. You will make no excuses.” It helps. What a journey this year has been… One day at a time: mens sana in corpore sano, right?

Our chicks seem to be happy and growing, although we have more thermometers and heating devices and pieces of pine chips around than I ever thought possible! I will be relieved when all of our girls have all of their feathers, I will say that. I do feel like the proverbial mother hen!

Speaking of chicks: time to check on them before dinner!