Bringing Europe Alive for Kids: The Mona Lisa

Do kids really understand what they are seeing in Europe? Will they appreciate the museums? How can I make Europe alive for kids? If a child knows the story behind a painting or sculpture then it comes to life! This is the key to bringing Europe alive for kids: teach them the stories behind the pieces they are seeing!
We arrived in the crowded room where the Mona Lisa was hanging. I was initially disappointed at the size of the painting. It was small and hard to see. But, my initial disappointment was overcome by my smiling and enthusiastic 8 year old who said, “Look mom, it is MY Mona Lisa.” The Mona Lisa had become personal, real, and exciting to her. Rachel knew the details behind the curious smile and the man who had created her. She did not say, “Look mom, it is THE Mona Lisa.” In the months before our trip, she had become connected to the painting and the story behind it. It didn’t matter to her if it was crowded or hot. She pushed her way through to get her picture taken with HER Mona Lisa.

Books We Love About Leonardo da Vinci

In the months before our visit to the Louvre we learned the story of the Mona Lisa with the help of two books. These books really help to bring Europe alive for kids. We read the Mona Lisa Caper by Rick Jacobson. The Mona Lisa Caper is a delightful read for children. Here we read the Mona Lisa’s story of how she was stolen right off the wall in the Louvre, and the adventures during her hiatus. All of the story is told through her eyes. The book also explains the authors viewpoint behind the paintings fame. Children love famous things, because they want to be a part of something that everyone else desires. Mona Lisa Caper really tells the paintings story in a way that 5-12 year olds can really appreciate it.

Europe Alive for Kids
The other book that was helpful was Leonardo Beautiful Dreamer by Robert Byrd. This tells the story of Leonards’s childhood.  We learn of his genius, his notebooks, and thirst for knowledge. Children love to learn about amazing people who do extraordinary things. Children want to know about great artists and when you tell them that Leonardo was one of the greatest artist’s to ever live then they really listen carefully. His childhood was not glamorous and this makes him more real to us.  The illustrations in this book are beautiful. This book is a bit more complex and for a slightly older age group 8-14.
(Two other great reads that we really enjoyed are Who was Leonardo da Vinci? By Robert Edwards and Leonardo Da Vinci by Diane Stanley.)

Other Ways to Prepare Your Child

As we prepared, we also learned about the features of the painting and why people thought that Leonardo had carried it around until his death. It is one of only ten paintings he completed. In our studies, we talked about the contrapposto position and how his figures were never stiff or straight. Leonardo da Vinci’s masterful use of light and deep shadows was fascinating to learn about, as well as, how this created realism in his works. We tried our own hand at drawing a Mona Lisa.
Letting children draw the art really helps them focus on the aspects of the painting. They think about the colors, the other surroundings in the painting, and the size of the subject, We spent time discussing the different theories about who people thought she really was. We talked about the light, background, and what we would name this painting.
Europe Alive for Kids
It was a happy moment for me to see the joy that Rachel felt in seeing the Mona Lisa. I knew that she had knowledge and with that information she had began to appreciate this Renaissance man and his great work the Mona Lisa. Maybe her experience would have been different if her first exposure to the Mona Lisa was at the Louvre. Places, art, and people are more interesting when we know their stories. Bringing Europe alive for kids is simple: tell them the stories behind what they are seeing!

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