Project Based Learning: Leonardo Da Vinci and His Ornithopter


Although the area of flight was a topic T12 would be covering extensively, I thought we’d do a very quick group activity, exploring Leonardo’s fixation with flight and the resulting idea of an ornithopter.  Da Vinci always claimed his earliest memory was of a Kite bird swooping down whilst he was in his cradle.  It was this memory which affected him so much he spent a great deal of time focusing on inventions which would one day allow man to fly.  He said:

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

My plan was to use these two picture books as a fun way to introduce his famous flying machines:

Ribbet collagefly1

I read aloud from this book and the children built the ornithopter which came with the book:

Ribbet collageornithopter

They had some time to explore these two books:

Ribbet collagefly2

These are very similar books.  Both include Leonardo’s own writing, so the words the children read on the pages are direct from his own notes.  One of the books contains a 3D card model of each of Da Vinci’s main inventions whilst the other book contains the card pieces which you need in order to construct the models yourself.

Here is the pop up model of the ornithopter:

Ribbet collageornithopter1

And here is the one the children built themselves:


Ribbet collagefly4ing


After all this learning, the children were ready to be set loose to create their own flying machines from anything around the house:

Ribbet collageorno

Ribbet collageorno1


Ribbet collageorno2


Ribbet collageorno3


Ribbet collageorno4

This was a simple and very quick study, which helped T12 on his way for his own study of flight.




  1. Great books! We recently discovered that Abbas Ibn Firnas might have experiment with flight in the 800’s AD – caught his name in passing in a world history class…and have been meaning to add him into our Da Vinci studies.

  2. The number of books you find on each subject is amazing. This looks like a great study. It seems everyone had fun with their flying machines.

    Have a great week, Claire:)

    1. Yes, we rather like our books! Most of them I buy second hand from Amazon – cheaper for us than paying the late fees at the library which occur with alarming regularity when we borrow books from there!

  3. What a great selection of books! The ornithopters included look fantastic – great intro for the kids, looks like they had a great time. Now to see if these books are available at our library…

  4. I love this, Claire!…Especially since my nine year old read the post with me and asked if we could do it!!

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