Up in the Air Unit

This week is all about letting your child’s mind take flight! ✈️ We will learn about things that fly, specifically airplanes and hot air balloons. The activities incorporate a bit of science and history, and you’ll even “travel” to Europe for some aeronautical inspiration. Enjoy the ride as we go up, up, up and away! Want to track your progress? Download this printable worksheet to track your activities, books read, and skills learned.

Note: Occasionally we include project upgrades (for kids ready for more) and modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the plus (+) or minus (-) symbols.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional reading (especially if your child *loves* paper airplanes):

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

People have always understood that flight was possible from observing birds, but it took thousands of years for humans to actually achieve it. To start your lessons, ask your child these questions (found on this website):

  • What are some examples of things that fly? Birds, planes, hot air balloons etc.
  • Can you group them into different types of flight? How about grouping them into natural and man made things? (This could be charted out on a black board or white board by you. Even if a child isn’t able to read, it’s good for them to see you write.)

Activity 1: Introduce the airplane with the book Airplanes: Soaring! Diving! Turning! By Patricia Hubbell

***Click here for more tips on how to turn a book into a lesson.

Activity 2: How do planes fly? Let’s play with paper airplanes to find out! This download has a simple folding guide and breaks down how paper airplanes lift off.  
Optional: Does your kid just love airplanes? Whoosh! Easy Paper Airplanes for Kids: Color, Fold and Fly! has dozens of plane instructions they’ll love trying out.

(+) If your child is really loving the four forces of flight and needs an upgrade, this blogger has an experiment for each one that will keep them busy *all* week long.

Activity 3: Parachute guy. Build your own parachute for some STEM fun!

Lesson 2:

Let’s continue learning about airplanes! Emma Lilian Todd (1865–1937) was a self-taught inventor who grew up with a love for mechanical devices. She was the first woman in the world to design airplanes, which she began doing in 1906. Today we’ll read Wood, Wire, Wings: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane by Kirsten W. Larson to learn her story. 

Activity 1: Airplane Math Game
(+) Upgrade this game for kids who are ready for some mental math by sending two airplanes out and asking your child to add them together.

Activity 2: Build a Straw and Paper Plane

Lesson 3:

Hot air balloons are up next! Enjoy reading Hot Air: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Hot-Air Balloon Ride by Marjorie Priceman to learn a bit of history about them. 

Note: Since this is set in France, you can stamp your child’s “passport” if you are doing Passport to the World.

Activity 1: Make your own hot air balloon
Activity 2: Hot Air Balloon Craft

Lesson 4:

Bernoulli who? Bernoulli’s principle states that as air moves around an object, it creates different pressures on that object. Faster air means less pressure. Slower air means more pressure. This sounds complicated, but it doesn’t have to be with the help of the experiments in the activities today. (Yes, you are teaching physics! And, yes, that does make you pretty amazing.)

Activity 1: Try these two super simple experiments to better understand Bernoulli’s principle.
Activity 2: Try this one, too.

Lesson 5:

 Today we will meet French artist Roger de La Fresnaye. His painting is called Conquest of the Air. You can read about it here, but here as some of the highlights:

  • This style of art is called Cubism.
  • The picture depicts the artist and his brother, Henri, sitting at an outdoor table.
  • The yellow hot air balloon in the distant background likely refers to the oldest balloon race in the world, the Gordon Bennett Cup.

Begin by asking your child what they see in this picture. If they miss the hot air balloon, bring their eye up to the sky and ask them to find something that flies. Talk about La Fresnaye’s use of color by highlighting the brightness of the painting.

The shapes in this painting are what makes it so special. Play I Spy to find the circles, triangles, squares, and rectangles. Find the table, the houses, the clouds, and the sun.

Next, introduce the French flag. Tell them that every year, there would be a great hot air balloon race called the Gordon Bennett Cup. (It took place annually from 1906 to 1938.) A French crew won the race in 1912, which could be why the artist chose to show the French flag.

Activity 1: Get inspired by de La Fresnaye and create your own Cubism inspired Hot Air Balloon craft.

Activity 2: Listen to a segment of the famous opera Die Walkure called “The Ride of the Valkyries” by Wilhelm Richard Wagner. Here’s a little bio of the composer if you want a few more details to share.

After listening to the music, ask your child questions like: What do you think of this music? How does your body want to move to it? Does it sound happy or sad? Why do you think that? 

Discuss rhythm by clapping to the music. If you need a little guidance on the difference between rhythm and beat, check out this blog post. (In case they ask, this is what a Valkyrie is. You can decide what you want to share with them about this mythical creature with lots of girl power.)

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