Leonardo da Vinci For Kids

Leonardo da Vinci self portrait, 1512Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) was one of the greatest painters of all times, but is also known as the ultimate Renaissance man because he was perhaps the most widely talented person ever to have lived. Da Vinci is a favorite with the children studying art history because of this Renaissance quality – not only was he a consummate painter and sculptor, he was a great inventor, military engineer, scientist, botanist, and mathematician.

There are volumes written about the genius of da Vinci, and it can be hard to know where to start, but if you’re interested in a unit study on this magnificent artist, I would begin with the Museum of Science website. This website neatly breaks up the study into sections, including Scientist, Inventor, and Artist. First, let’s explore his early life — and notice that I have included kids’ activities in each section, to bring some hands-on fun to the study of Leonardo da Vinci!

ONE: Childhood in Vinci

Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci was born on April 15, 1452, in the small village of Vinci, in a region of Italy called Tuscany. He was the illegitimate son (unmarried parents) of a peasant woman named Caterina (some scholars believe her to be a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean slave) and an ambitious notary named Ser Piero da Vinci.

Probably because of his illegitimate status, Leonardo had little early education, other than the local priest teaching him how to read and write and use an abacus. He lived for a time with his grandparents (on his father’s side) Shuffled around to various family members as a child, Leonardo was left to himself quite often, and perhaps this solitude is what we’re still grateful for five centuries later, as he spent his days outdoors studying birds, plants, and nature.

Activity: Nature Study

Try a nature study! Find a quiet place outdoors where there is plenty of the natural world to observe. This may be in your front yard or near a local park. Keeping a Nature Journal is an excellent way to make this a habit, and the Handbook of Nature Study blog has just the right tools to get you started, including free downloads of several types of journal pages. Ideas for drawing in your nature journal — this link is fantastic, and includes pages on wildflowers, birds, trees, animals, and more. Leonardo da Vinci kept one of the very first nature journals history knows of, so why not give it a try?

Another type of Nature Journal is what I call a “Spring Book,” which I wrote about here. Also known as a Zip-Lock Bag Book, this type of nature journal collects actual specimens and labels each one in a small zip-lock bag which you then compile into a little booklet.

You may also want to check out the book Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You by Clare Walker Leslie. It is part journal, with space for you to actually write and draw, part ideas and sketching lessons. Amazing resource.

TWO: Apprentice to Verocchio

Baptism of Christ, Verrocchio and Leonardo, 1475When Leonardo was 14 or 15 years old, noting his son’s uncommon artistic talents, his father sent him to Florence, where the young boy became apprenticed to the renowned master Andrea del Verrocchio, who lived from 1435-1488, and was the leading artist of Florence and very influential in the early Renaissance period of art.

It was with Verrocchio that young Leonardo was trained in all the countless skills of a traditional workshop — not only drawing, painting, crushing and mixing pigments, sculpting and modelling, but drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics and carpentry.

According to the artist biographer Vasari, Leonardo and Verrocchio worked together on the painting Baptism of Christ (1472-1475). Vasari wrote that Leonardo painted the young angel holding Jesus’ robe so skillfully and with such superior quality to his master that Verrocchio put down his brush and never painted again.

New ideas in painting, and indeed culture, were rising up in Florence around this time, as the Renaissance was blossoming. Oil painting had just been introduced to Italy from northern Europe, and Leonardo spent a lot of time mixing different materials, and soon surpassed everyone in his use of the new medium. Leonardo also brought new perspective and depth to painting, as he used his skills in math and geometry to calculate the placement of lines in his drawings and paintings. And perhaps foremost to the new Rensaissance art was Leonardo’s passion to draw things as realistically as possible. He sketched incessantly and was an ardent observer of nature, animals, plants, people, as noted above.

Activity: Make Your Own Paint

In the days of da Vinci, everyone made their own paint. Artists would use paints made by hand from ground pigments of minerals and other elements, and sometimes with tempera paint made with egg whites. A fun activity to try is to make your own paint. This link has easy directions for making all kinds of homemade paints, including egg yolk paint, dishsoap paint, milk paint, yogurt paint, and more! If you are a serious painter or professional who wants to make paint, this site is for you.

THREE: Independent Master

When Leonardo da Vinci was 30 years old, he left Florence for Milan, where he spent the next 17 years. At the persuasion of Lorenzo de’ Medici (hoping to secure peace between Florence and Milan), Da Vinci presented himself to the Duke of Milan, Ludovico il Moro. In 1481 or 1482, Leonardo wrote a letter to Ludovico, offering himself as a military engineer, and came before the Duke with a lira da braccio, lute, which he made himself and beautifully played before the court. Leonardo’s letter told of all the weapons and fortifications he could design to keep the city safe. His letter began like this:

“Most illustrious Lord, having now sufficiently seen and considered the proofs of all those who count themselves masters and inventors of instruments of war, and finding that their invention and use of the said instruments does not differ in any respect from those in common practice, I am emboldened without prejudice to anyone else to put myself in communication with your Excellency, in order to acquaint you with my secrets, thereafter offering myself at your pleasure effectually to demonstrate at any convenient time all those matters which are in part briefly recorded below.

1. I have plans for bridges, very light and strong and suitable for carrying very easily, with which to pursue and at times defeat the enemy; and others solid and indestructible by fire or assault, easy and convenient to carry and place in position. And plans for burning and destroying those of the enemy.

2. When a place is besieged I know how to cut off water from the trenches, and how to construct an infinite number of bridges, battering rams, scaling ladders, and other instruments which have to do with the same enterprise.

3. Also if a place cannot be reduced by the method of bombardment, either through the height of its glacis or the strength of its position, I have plans for destroying every fortress or other stronghold unless it has been founded upon rock.

4. I also have plans for making cannon, very convenient and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones in the manner almost of hail, causing great terror to the enemy from their smoke, and great loss and confusion.

5. And if it should happen that the engagement was at sea, I have plans for constructing many engines most suitable either for attack or defense, and ships which can resist the fire of all the heaviest cannon, and powder and smoke.”

The letter continues on with many more ideas! Because Italy at the time was involved in many wars, both between various city-states and an invasion from France, plans about better warfare would have been quite welcome. Firearms and explosives were already in use, and Leonardo’s military engineering ideas were actually well ahead of his time.

Design for a flying machine, da Vinci, 1488Leonardo was fascinated by technology and the workings of machines. He invented fire throwers and missiles, and made an early design for a machine gun. Hundreds of inventions were sketched out in his notebooks – tanks, helicopters, bicycles, submarines, hang gliders, pulleys, cranes, bridges, and more.

Leonardo’s love of music led him to study the science of sound, and he was one of the first to liken it to the motion of waves. He was also one of the first to note that il sole non si muove, the sun does not move – a remarkable observation in a day when people thought the sun revolved around the earth.
The Vitruvian Man, da Vinci, 1485Anatomy was another passion of Leonardo. He went to hospitals to watch operations, he visited morgues to dissect bodies of the dead. He measured muscles, diagrammed organs, discovered the way blood flows through the body, and made important conclusions about lungs and oxygen. His knowledge surpassed the doctors of his time. Leonardo applied this deep understanding of the human body to his art, and excelled in drawing proportional anatomy.

In 1484 the plague struck Milan, and the thousands of dead people were left to rot in the streets. Leonardo, being the ultimate problem solver that he was, turned his attention to disease prevention. He designed a layout of the city that had wide streets and canals in place of the narrow ones, wide enough for proper sewage disposal, and a system for washing the streets automatically with locks and paddle wheels. It was a two-tiered town design, with the top streets for homes and churches, and the bottom streets to be used for deliveries and wagons.

Lady With Ermine, Leonardo da Vinci, 1483-90Throughout all of these other pursuits, Leonardo da Vinci continued to paint. His patron, Ludovico, was invaluable during his time in Milan. Ludovico had Leonardo paint his friend Cecilia Gallerani, and Leonardo called the painting Lady with Ermine. It was so lifelike that a poet commented that “Nature herself was jealous.”

Leonardo also received a commission to paint an altarpiece, for which he created Virgin of the Rocks, a stunning work which reflects his interest in nature. One of Leonardo’s most famous paintings, The Last Supper, was also painted in Milan. It took him over three years to complete this painting. Leonardo’s work habits are best reflected in The Last Supper. He often didn’t even finish his work, so the world is fortunate to have this masterpiece. Here’s a description of his work on The Last Supper:

Leonardo’s work habits frustrated many of his patrons. Many times he was observed staring at his paintings for hours without ever lifting his brush to paint. When the prior of the Santa Maria delle Grazie hounded Leonardo to hurry up and finish his painting of the Last Supper, Leonardo in turn threatened to use the prior as his model for when he painted Judas.

The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1498

When Leonardo finally finished, the painting was immediately acclaimed as a masterpiece, with superb design and characterisation. However, because Leonardo had used tempera paint over a ground of mostly gesso, instead of the more reliable fresco, it rapidly deteriorated. The Last Supper has undergone extensive restoration over the centuries, but is still one of the most reproduced works of art ever.

Activity: Make Your Own Fresco

Although The Last Supper was not created in a true Fresco style, many Renaissance artists used this method, and it’s fairly easy and fun for kids (and adults) to replicate! Here are detailed directions for making your own fresco, and the main ingredients are plaster of Paris and water colors. You are sure to enjoy this unique art experience.

FOUR: Later Life

With Italy at war with the French, Leonardo returned to Florence in 1500. In 1502, Leonardo entered the services of Cesare Borgia, the Duke of Valentinois. Borgia helped the French conquer Milan, and had ambitions to conquer all of central Italy. Borgia hired Leonardo da Vinci to be his military engineer, and Leonardo traveled all over Italy with him, examining castles and fortresses, and suggesting improvements for fortifications.
Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, 1503Around this time, Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa, beginning in 1503, the most famous painting in the history of art. Leonardo took the painting with him everywhere. Many historians say the Mona Lisa wasn’t finished when he left Florence, and that he completed it during his final stay in France. After Leonardo died, the painting was given to the king of France, and today, it hangs in the Louvre in Paris.

It is now believed that the identity of the woman in the portrait is Lisa di Gherardini, the third wife of a Florentine silk trader named Francesco del Giocondo. Lisa di Gherardini was 26 years old at the time of the sitting and had recently lost a child. Perhaps this is the reason for the gloomy look and the strange smile?

Leonardo was back in Milan by 1508, and then moved to France at the behest of King François in 1516. He settled in the Loire valley in the beautiful manor house Clos Lucé, near the royal chateaux in Amboise, France, and became First Painter and Architect and Engineer of the King. Leonardo and King François visited together often, discussing philosophy, art, science. Though now paralyzed in one arm, Leonardo could still draw and supervise the work of his pupil. Leonardo wrote in his notebooks, “I shall continue,” and he never gave up his studies or his work. Leonardo died on May 2, 1519, and French legend tells us that he died in the arms of King François.

Activity: Make Your Own Mona Lisa

Children will enjoy creating their own portraits, Mona Lisa style! Here are directions for kids to explore the special features of the Mona Lisa, and create their own portrait that has a mysterious aspect.

Other Resources:

WebMuseum, Paris
Leonardo’s Workshop
National Gallery of Art
Enchanted Learning da Vinci Coloring Pages
Museum of Science: Exploring da Vinci
The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

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109 Responses to Leonardo da Vinci For Kids

  1. heather says:

    My kids loved that book as well as the one about the boy in the workshop and the one about his horse (forgetting names here. :)) Great post.

  2. Renae says:

    Very nice, as always! Thanks for taking the time to put together such a comprehensive study.

    There are also some free ebooks on Wowio.com about Da Vinci. This one is about his inventions with instructions for kids: http://www.wowio.com/users/product.asp?BookId=497

  3. e-Mom says:

    Thanks for this well-written and informative post, Jennifer. The reproductions turned out very well on your blog. Less well-known by Leonardo is “Lady with Ermine.” She is exquisite, isn’t she? Indeed: “Nature herself was jealous.”

    Such beauty and such loveliness! And all this from an illegitimate child. Remarkable artistic talent and a robust intellect united; I wonder which of Leonardo’s parents contributed to what aspects of his personality? His gifts are unique, and no doubt their rare combination are the result of his unusual parentage: a peasant woman and an ambitious notary. :~D

  4. mrs darling says:

    Goodness girl, what a lot of work! This is wonderful! A person doesnt even have to do the footwork themselves. What a timesaver. Thanks for the post.

  5. Jen says:

    Heather and Renae, thanks for the mention of the other resources, I’ll add those to the end of the post!

    e-Mom, I was surprised, too, at how well the images turned out, especially Lady with Ermine! Yes, one does wonder about his parentage. Some sources say his mother was a slave from the Middle East, so that’s an interesting story…

    Mrs. Darling, thank you — Ms. Herbert did the work, really! I just summarized and gave you some of the best activities in the book. But for a smaller unit study, you can just use what I have here…but the book is really worth buying, or borrowing from the library.

  6. mandi says:

    Wow! This is really great Jennifer! Thanks so much for sharing. I have this book on my wishlist at the Paperback Swap. I really like this series of books from what I have seen so far. We have the one on Shakespeare and I am also hoping to get the ones on WWI, WWII and the Civil War.
    This would make a great summer study! ( :

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  8. Jen says:

    Mandi, I guess I didn’t realize it was a series! I’ll to check this out…

  9. MooBeeMa says:

    WOW! You just saved me a whole bunch of time. What a wonderful site you have! We are so blessed to live in Central Oregon aren’t we?? Glad to have found you.

  10. Rachel Miller says:

    I really liked this site for 2 reasons: #1 It has lots of information. (I need it to use for homework.) #2 It is really easy to get to(when you type Leonardo da Vinci information for kids in the SEARCH BAR. It comes up so easily. Thanks so much!!!

  11. aida says:

    this was a really great help thank you so much

  12. Meghan says:

    I had a report due on Leonardo da Vinci. When I found this site, I was so happy because it gave me all the info i needed! If you ever need any help on Leonardo da Vinci, this is your place to be!!!!!!!

  13. haylee says:

    I loved it.

  14. haylee says:

    I made a A+

  15. Hannah says:

    I’m so happy I found this website.
    It’s so good at copying and pasting for my project!

  16. timea lewis says:

    this website has helped me do a project and it was a big relief to find out that i didnt have to go all the way across town just to read books from the library!it saves gas money and it helped me with most of my stress on this project

  17. lori verstegen says:

    I write curriculum for teaching writing. I would like to print large portions of this article in my curriculum as a source of information about Leonardo. Students would use it as one of their sources for a research paper about Men of the Renaissance. Of course, your website would be credited and the students would be required to include it their bibliographies. How can obtain permission to use this article?

  18. athena says:

    It is a great piece of information. I learned alot about Leonardo da Vinci.


  19. Emily Kirkup says:

    very good page and lots of information as i am a fan my self i new lots already but there is lots on this page i did not know but i think theres to much writeing and not enough pictures and coulors welldone on the page and i continue to learn more about leonardo thank you emily

  20. niamh doherty says:

    I used this site for help on a homework project on the time of the renaissance and on Da Vinci. I never really understood what he did. Now i understand it completeley


  21. jamsmog747 says:

    awesome, i so admire leanardo da vinci for several reasons which i will not display here. If aanything I wish I could make his flying machine work! Fresco!:)

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  23. Nelson says:

    This information was off the hook i got a A for this project.


  24. emily says:

    this info. helped me to do a project on the rennaisance and i got an A+.
    i am so happy and glad. thank you to who ever did write this info . . yay . . . :)

  25. katie says:

    very good work

  26. selena says:

    this website is awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!

  27. lily says:

    this was very helpful because I was doing a da Vinci report for my extra credit and it gave me a TON of info!! thanks alot!!!! :)

  28. Amber Mason says:


  29. Roberts Lady says:


  30. Roberts Lady says:

    @Emily- OMG ME TOOOO! :D

  31. joe says:

    the last supper has a 3 coat of arms along the top.>:[

  32. kaitlin says:

    Was Mona Lisa a real person?

  33. Karen says:

    Thanks for GREAT ideas for my class.

  34. madeline says:

    thanks and wow

  35. baboa says:

    Leonardo da vinci is an awsome painter. He truly is the ultimate renaissance man. I really dont understand the mona lisas smile although it seems that she knows something that no one else does.

  36. sara says:

    i love leonardos artwork.i wish i could meet him and paint with the real leonardo !!happy painting

  37. chicken says:

    thanks 4 the info! i absolutely love this website!:D

  38. awesome biograghy!It really helped me with my bio.

  39. Daf says:

    this is a lifesaver it really helped me with my homework.

  40. me says:


  41. TOSCHA says:


  42. Tezcatlipoca says:

    waawww we had 2 learn about him 4 drama n this made me understand so much more than other popular websites. thnxx u did a gr8 job putting this up!! =D

  43. difhgy says:


  44. kylie says:

    they say Mona Lisa was really lenardo painted as a women

  45. Alice says:

    I think leonardo is cool and his paintings are legendary. He is epic at failing Inventions and i think he should come back to life and paint more pictures and we beet him at the car !!! HaaaHaa <3 (: xx

  46. melissa says:

    loved it and very easy to understand&helped a lot for my homework &to do it fast.. thanks

  47. Autumn says:

    wow! I think Leonardo Da Vinci is an awesome artist.

  48. Freja says:

    :) im doing a project in school about leonardo da vinci and this was really really helpful to me. Thank you soooo much.

  49. Blossom says:

    My class is now doing a project including leonardo. This is helping me get the facts.

  50. s.b says:

    i am so confuse about that smile ( bye the way this is rlly interesting and helpful) yeah anyway i am so annoyed is the painting a femail picture of leonardo is it a real woman was it just a picture he drew from his mind . its a mystery but i dont want it to be.

  51. Hey, I googled Leonardo Da Vinci for kids, as I am helping with a homeschool art class, and guess who popped up first? You!

  52. Jen says:

    Halfmoon Girl, well how cool is that?? It’s nice to see a friendly face when you don’t expect it! :-)

  53. zoe says:

    thanks for the info :)
    its helping me with my school project

  54. Brian says:

    wowwwwwwwwwwwww that is some really really good info on legendary Da Vinci!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  55. Shelly says:

    I completely failed when I tried to do a project on St. Thomas Aquinas. I GOT A C!!!!! yoooowzaaa my parents said I had to do one on Da vinci and this is one of the best sources ever THANKS!!

  56. bunnyrabbit says:

    that is a long page

  57. olivia says:


  58. teresa says:

    This is great! thanks for all the info!

  59. Zarkor says:

    Thanks. This really helped me with my project!

  60. amelia says:

    wow this really helped me with my history project thanksyou :) :) :)

  61. patrick sloan says:

    Wow that was terrible…………………………………….. terribly good!!

  62. madi says:

    i love leonardos paintings hes amazing xx

  63. Salaar says:

    thank you diary of 1 , i thank you guys for helping me with my rubbish hw

  64. Sam says:

    diary of 1, Very good! I was able to learn more here than in wikipedia

  65. farting head says:

    dam google. go diary of1

  66. Christie Lategan says:

    I am 16 now, and really want to go study art one day. I really love this piece and the book. Leonardo and his works is so fascinating… I love it. I really want to go check out the paintings at the Louvre Museum in Paris and The National Gallery in London.
    Good Job.

  67. Leonardo Da Vinci says:

    Ah… I see you have made a website of me :)

    Thank you very much.

    your good mate,


  68. Callie Klein says:

    Cool :) i want more

  69. working studen says:

    I had to do a school project, and needed information, and information that was understandable and relevant, and information that i could rely on. after searching through several websites when i found this one and read it, it was instantly what i was looking for. it was really helpful, thx bros!!!

  70. Joy says:

    This was posted on my 6th birthday, but now I`m 9.
    I read most of this and made a report for school, I was suppose to, i was suppose to right more but I`m not sure I can because the paper is full and my mom said to use only one paper.

  71. danushi says:

    this is a very good website for chidren to learn many good facts.I like this

  72. :) says:

    When you go to wikipidea, it gives you jumbles of information that you dont even need to know. But when you come here it gives you point-blank information that everyone wants to know!!!!!!!!!

  73. darylle kim says:

    at my age (9) art is my imagination,Leonardo is very succesfully art maker!!!

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  75. jay says:

    this was a lot of help

  76. bob says:

    great website ;)

  77. Barbra Skiff says:

    Did you know that leonardo had dislexia when he was a child?

  78. kate says:

    thtas my projct sorted ;)

  79. amy says:

    maaan leanardo da vinci has 100s of jobs!

  80. Ben says:

    @Barbra Skiff
    Yes, it is believed he had dyslexia but one never grows out of it. If he was a child with dyslexia then he was an adult with dyslexia.

    About the site, very useful. I’ve not stumbled across another site so well endowed with resources this accessible to children and young adults.

  81. Darius says:

    it help alot with himework

  82. Darius says:


  83. Brendan says:

    I need to research him for a book report and this really helps

  84. Jen says:

    Hi Kids! This is Jen, author of Diaryof1.com thanking you all for stopping by this da Vinci post! And now I have a question for you:

    What other featured post would be most useful to you as a student? Another artist? Author? Scientist? Inventor? Statesman or politician or president?

  85. A kid says:

    Id like to see more about his inventions but other than that great!

  86. Rochelle says:

    really helped with my art project, thank you very much x

  87. Bob says:

    This really helped with my school project. thanks a ton!!

  88. Idontlikeyourface says:

    Hay,REALY helped with my history pro!

  89. Max Saenz says:

    thankyou had to make a project on him 500-700 words long

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  91. Laura says:

    Thank you heaps, this website really helped with my history task!

  92. harsimran says:

    This website is amazing. It has very detailed informaition and you can find almost every thing.The best website i found about da vinci ever.

  93. siya says:

    wow the mona lisa picture is fantastic but she has no eye brows

  94. Bloodyroses8768 says:

    Awesome notes I needed them for school and they really helped… A BUNCH!!!!! Thank you for taking time to write these facts! BTW Im 10

  95. Ani says:

    great wabsite helped me a buncH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  96. kerri says:

    the Mona Lisa is hard to paint and draw I had to do it in school . This is some good website it helped a lot I bearly knew anything about it.

  97. annalise says:

    i love this website so much!!! it helped me with my social studies project so much. leonardo was a good choose!!!

  98. annalise says:

    BTW I’M 11

  99. annalise says:

    I’M NUMBER 100! YAY! LOL

  100. LilW.T. says:

    This website is amazing! It helped me with my project a lot.

  101. tayeebah says:

    Helped me a lot for my Poster for paragon night……..Thanks!

  102. Dark Dragon l)(l says:

    Thanks! Help me a lot with my art prodject!

  103. Caitlin says:

    omg u r a life saver this totally helped me with my report about da vinci. also it was really easy to understand too.

  104. banana says:

    great site!!! it helped me a lot.

  105. Taylor keogh age 10 says:

    i think this website is good for kidz that like HISTORY and ART.But i would maybe put up some buzz words.if i was to do a score out of 10 i would put8 out of 10.:]

  106. georgia says:

    this really helped with my school work

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