Level 2: Up in the Air Unit

Get ready to take learning up, up, and away this week! We’ll explore the history of man-made flying machines, including a look at da Vinci’s original designs, while also tackling a variety of subjects from math to literacy and everything in between. Ready to take flight? Click here to download your weekly tracker!

Note: Occasionally we include project modifications (which can be useful for including younger siblings). We’ll mark those with the minus (-) symbol.

What you need:

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

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!

Phonics Guide:

New to our phonics guide? Start here. The Phonics Guide this week will highlight the AW phonogram. Lesson 3, Activity 1 will give you an opportunity to introduce this new phonogram with words like claw, raw, law, and draw.

Lesson 1:

Human beings have dreamed of flight for centuries. The Wright Brothers were two brothers who have been credited with building and flying the first airplane (though there are some conflicting opinions about this history, which we will learn about in our first activity!). Let’s learn more about this inventive pair in Taking Flight: How the Wright Brothers Conquered the Skies.

Activity 1: As we hinted at earlier, the answer to who invented the airplane is different depending on who you ask! While most Americans credit Orville and Wilbur Wright for the first controlled, sustainable flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft on December 17, 1903, many Europeans and Brazilians tip their hats to Alberto Santos-Dumont. On October 23, 1906, Santos-Dumont flew the 14-bis in what was the first powered heavier-than-air flight in Europe to be certified by the Aro Club de France and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Some claim the Wrights had no witnesses to their early accomplishments because it was not a public event so they had trouble establishing legitimacy, particularly in Europe where some adopted an anti-Wright stance. By contrast, Santos-Dumont’s flight was the first public flight in the world, so he was hailed as the the inventor of the airplane across Europe. Additionally, there has been some dispute about whether or not Santos-Dumont’s flight was more legitimate because he took off unassisted, publicly flew a predetermined length in front of experts, and then safely landed. (source)

Regardless of whether or not he did it exactly first, Santos-Dumont’s story is certainly one deserving of attention. Let’s learn more about it in the book The Fabulous Flying Machines of Alberto Santos-Dumont. You can also watch Santos-Dumont’s real first flight here!

Activity 2: Did you know there are layers to the sky just like we find in the earth? Let’s learn about the five layers of the earth’s atmosphere with this felt puzzle. (inspiration)

Start by printing this template and cutting out the whole shape in the middle. Trace it onto a piece of black felt, and then trim off the outermost layer of the template.

Trace the new shape onto a piece of dark purple felt. Trim off the outermost layer of the paper template.

Repeat these steps onto light purple, dark blue, and light blue pieces of felt to make all the layers of the atmosphere, assembling them like this:

Next, use this website to label and learn about each layer.

If you were with us for our Rocks Unit, you could even layer your earth’s layers puzzle onto this one like this:

Activity 3: Print these airplane nomenclature cards and use them to learn the names of the parts of an airplane and for copywork.

Activity 4: But how does an airplane actually fly through all that atmosphere? Let’s start to break it down with this video. As we learn in the video, there are four forces at play when a plane is in the air:

  • Thrust: The force that moves a plane forward through the air. For a plain, thrust is created by a propeller or a jet engine.
  • Drag: The air resistance that tends to slow the forward movement of an airplane.
  • Weight (or gravity): The force that pulls all objects towards the earth.
  • Lift: The upward force that is created by the movement of air above and below a wing. Air flows faster above the wing and slower below the wing, creating a difference in pressure that tends to keep an airplane flying.

Now, let’s bring air pressure to life! Here are three experiment options to try to demonstrate the power of air pressure to your child—you can choose one or two to do, or do them all!

First, let’s prove that air is real and has power. Start by taking an empty water bottle and showing it to your child. Ask them what’s in it? (They might say nothing or air.) Next, put a balloon over the top and set the bottle in a cup or bowl of very hot water. The heated molecules will expand as they heat. You’ve just proven the existence of air molecules and a bit of their power!

Next, let’s prove the power of air pressure. Take an empty metal soda can and put a few drops of water in it. Heat the can carefully on the stove until hot. While it’s heating, get a large bowl of ice water ready. When the can is hot, use tongs to pick it up and put it immediately in the ice water. The can should crumple almost immediately. What’s happening? As the water was brought to a boil, the can quickly filled with steam which pushed out all the air. When the steam is cooled off by the cold water, it condenses into a few drops of water, leaving a vacuum in its place. The air crushes the can as it tries to get inside.

Just like water expands when heated and contracts when frozen, air does the same thing! Let’s prove this with an empty water bottle and a hard boiled egg. Set the egg on top of the open water bottle to show that it doesn’t fit through the opening. Next, carefully light a piece of paper on fire and drop it in the bottle, then quickly put the egg on top. The egg will be sucked into the bottle! What’s happening? When the fire goes out, the air cools off and shrinks, or contracts. As it contracts, it leaves a partial vacuum inside the bottle. The outside air then pushes the egg into the bottle as it tries to get back inside to fill that vacuum.

Lesson 2:

Of course, there were famous aviators of all different backgrounds! One especially inspiring aviator was Bessie Coleman, a Black woman who moved to France to learn to fly because she wasn’t allowed to in America. She eventually became an incredibly talented stunt pilot, earning herself the nickname Brave Bess. Let’s learn more about her in the book Fly High! The Story of Bessie Coleman.

Activity 1: Let’s make some flyers of our own today! Use the tutorial in this post to create both a single straw flyer and a 4-straw flyer. Next, let’s work in a little math to figure out which flyer flies the farthest on average. Start by throwing each flyer three times from the same starting point, using a measuring tape to measure the distance. You can use this printable chart to log your results.

Once you have your three distances, add them together for total distance. Next, divide each total by 3 to find the average distance. (You will likely have to do these calculations for your child, but show them how it is done.) Let them use the final numbers to determine which flyer, on average, flew the farthest.

Activity 2: Print and have your child cut out this airplane figure for a little fine motor practice.

Activity 3: Now, let’s work our gross motor skills outdoors with some airplane “cloud jumping.” Start by drawing clouds on the sidewalk or driveway with white chalk. In each cloud, write a sight word or a diagraph or letter blend that your child has been working on. Tell your child to pretend to be an airplane landing on each cloud that you call out and play until they’ve jumped on every word, diagraph, or blend.
(-) If you’re playing with a younger sibling, you could also use this activity to practice letter recognition or sounds.

Lesson 3:

Where is almost every airplane heading? To the airport! 😜 Today, we’ll learn more about what happens at airports and who works there, along with a hefty dose of some imaginary play. Let’s start by reading the book How Airports Work. Next, watch this video of children taking their first flight (this video can also be helpful if your family has a plane trip planned soon!).

Activity 1: Let’s start by using airports to inspire our literacy activity for the day. First, make 5-10 paper airplanes. (Not sure how to do it? This video can help.) Next, set out three paper plates. Then, write three words that all share a similar spelling (also called word families) on three sticky notes. Here are some examples you could use:

  • -ight words, like might, right, tight, light, sight, etc.
  • -ing words, like sing, thing, ring, cling, ding, etc.
  • -aw words, like saw, law, draw, caw, straw, etc.
  • -ake words, like bake, lake, take, cake, rake, etc.
  • -all words, like fall, ball, call, tall, hall, etc.

Put one note on each of the plates, and tell your child that the plates are airports. Have them glide a plane to each airport and then read the word on that note. Once they have read all three words, swap them out for a new word family.

Activity 2: If you ever want to travel internationally, you will need a passport! If your child already has a real one, you can show it to them so they know what it is. Next, let’s make our own for our imaginary travels. Print this pretend passport and cut out the pages. Use tape or a stapler to create a book and help your child to fill out their information and add a photo. Next, cut out the stamps of countries we have visited in our lessons—and will visit later this year! (We’ve also included England, Ireland, and Canada stamps for subscribers who were with us last year.) Have your child use a glue stick to add the stamps for the countries they’ve already learned about, and save the others to add later.

Activity 3: Make this airplane toilet paper roll craft.

Activity 4: Now that your child is ready to travel, let’s bring it all together with a little pretend play! Tell your child that they are going to plan their own pretend trip. Start by doing a little research on a globe or world map to decide where they want to go. Then, help them look up the name of your local airport and the arrival airport they would use on their journey. (You could even show them how you would typically book an airline ticket online.) Next, print these pretend play printables. Help them fill out their travel plans on the first page, make a pretend packing list on the second, and finally fill out their pretend ticket (you could also laminate this for future pretend play, if desired). Next, play airport! Let your child practice “checking in” for a flight, and then switch roles so they can check you (or another child) in.

Lesson 4:

Of course, it’s not just airplanes that fly up in the air! Let’s read about an incredible adventure of a family that escaped East Germany during the Cold War in a hot air balloon in Flight for Freedom: The Wetzel Family’s Daring Escape from East Germany.

Activity 1: Let’s learn more about how a hot air balloon works in this video. We learned a bit about how heat rises in our Neighborhood Unit. Let’s review this principle with some hot air balloon inspiration in this simple activity. (Note: This experiment requires a little fire, so adult supervision is a must!)

Activity 2: Now, let’s make our own papier-mâché hot air balloon with this classic craft.

Activity 3: Finally, let’s work on some pattern recognition with these air transportation cards! Print 2-3 sheets of these cards and laminate, if desired. Next, cut them out and create different patterns for your child to see if they can guess what comes next.

Lesson 5:

Do you know what flying machines and art have in common? A man named Leonardo da Vinci! Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian painter, draughtsman, engineer, scientist, theorist, sculptor and architect—and one of his favorite fascinations was the idea of human flight. Let’s learn more about his ideas in the book Leonardo and the Flying Boy. Next, watch this video to learn more about da Vinci.

Activity 1: Let’s make a model of Leonardo da Vinci’s parachute! Click here for our tutorial.

Activity 2: Leonardo da Vinci’s fascination with flight led him to design a number of flying machines, some realistic and other fantastical! Let’s take a cue from him for our next activity. Encourage your child to design their own flying machine! It can be as over-the-top and impossible as they like, so don’t feel the need to hinder their imagination with reality. After they draw it, they can even try to create their own model with materials from around your house, if desired.

Activity 3: Let’s finish our week with a sweet, cloud-inspired treat! Make these simple meringue cookies with your child—they’ll likely be amazed at the transformation of the egg whites! Curious about the science at play? Here’s what’s happening:

“Although egg whites are 90 percent water, the relevant molecules are protein. Proteins are made up of amino acids, some that are attracted to water, others that are repelled by water. One you start beating the whites and introducing air, the water-loving bits cling to the water, the water-repelling bits cling to the air. The more you beat, the more bubbles with a protein coating are created and the more the whole shebang fluffs up. However, bubbles and proteins divided against themselves will not stand, and the foam will collapse without a little stabilizer. One way of doing this is to introduce an acid such as vinegar, lemon juice or cream of tartar, which encourages the proteins in the egg white to bond together. Another ingredient that adds structural integrity, in addition to providing flavor, is sugar, which works like a glue that holds the foam together.

But why don’t we want to use the yolk? This part of the egg contains fat, which interferes with how the proteins line up and coat all those bubbles that are supposed to bulk up your meringue. If the bubbles aren’t properly protected, your meringue will never have much body. This is also why chefs are discouraged from using plastic bowls for this purpose as they have a tendency to retain oils.” (source)

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.

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