The Da Vinci Road

Observation and the Art of Learning

“There are three types of people:
those who see,
those who see when they are shown,
and those who do not see.”
–Leonardo da Vinci

This book (and all creation, I suppose)
is dedicated to those
“who see when they are shown.”

The Da Vinci Road is a compilation of stories from the life and learning of the Rising Family. It attempts to answer questions like,

  • How do you homeschool?
  • What curriculum do you use?
  • How do you teach confidence, inspire independence, and raise creative human beings?
  • How can you inspire your children to be GOOD people?

We are still learning ourselves - but what we have learned thus far and found to be useful to us and our children is touched on throughout this book. In the back there is a section of best homeschooling ideas from many of Beka’s readers.

Eyes Wide Open


There was a day when I heard that God loves me and I believed it to be true. I was so young I can’t remember it clearly. There was another &hellip

Observation Begins

Half asleep, early morning, nursing my baby, I faded in and out of dreamland. My fingers found a goose-down feather that had escaped our comforter. The baby’s belly was soon &hellip

Beginning with Words

Years ago, when our firstborn son was two years old, he had the obnoxious habit of repeating himself over and over. At first I continued to answer him patiently, the &hellip

Eyes Wide Open

Observe and Describe

Using Your Senses

Close your eyes, I told the kids. Tell me what you hear and smell. Sarah: I hear the puppy’s teeth against the bone she is chewing. America: I hear the &hellip

H2 Oh!

Mom, Mom you gotta see this!!! You gotta! Come with me, hurry, hurry, up! Come right now!!! My four-year-old son’s insistence hit my ear at around fifty decibels and I &hellip

Story Development

It was a lovely late autumn day, and I abandoned all my indoor projects to go sit on the swing under the piñon pine tree on the hill. The kids &hellip



This song has fun stuff in it, Seric commented, hitting the yellow button on the toy table again. A friend had given us a toy table with various buttons and &hellip

Language and Culture

Flashback: Papua New Guinea, South Pacific, August 1997 What if he steals her soul? Maybe we should warn her. We’re not supposed to talk about those things around her. You &hellip

Immersion into Any Medium

Look at Jack! my brother exclaimed. We all looked at the three-year-old foster boy that had just arrived. He had been sitting on a stool at the table, next to &hellip

Understanding the Ethereal with the Material

Colorful Manipulatives

I need to work with Seric (4) on his letters for a while, so I want you, Sarah (7) and America, to sit at the table and do math with &hellip

Reading, Writing, and Cooking

JudyLucy, would you and Sarah make tortillas while I bake a cake? Sure, Mom. Is the recipe in this book? JudyLucy took down a scrapbook of recipes we were putting &hellip

Take Measures to Know

At barely nine years of age our oldest son announced that he wanted to build things. Both of his grandfathers and all of his uncles are proficient in woodworking skills. &hellip

Wins of Change

Recently I remembered my own dad coming home from the Raleigh Springs Mall where he sold arts and crafts. His pockets would be full of change. Jumping up and down &hellip

Observing the Process

Isn’t There Any More?

A loud, enthusiastically depressed sigh interrupted my work at the table where Sarah and I were discussing good stories versus bad stories while we cut up carrots for lunch. I &hellip

Touch Is Much

Do you know how many ribs you have? My great-grandfather Papa Reed asked me as I stood by his recliner in the den. No. I said, suspiciously. Papa Reed was &hellip

Squeeze Box

An autistic lady named Temple Grandin had a device built for herself that she referred to as her Squeeze-Box. She tells the story of visiting her aunt’s ranch in Arizona &hellip

Hug Bug

All right, Seric and America, each of you climb up here on a stool. Here is your paper and the crayons and pencils. Okay. Now Seric (4) and America (3) &hellip

The Joy of Learning

There’s a little girl in my neighborhood who is six years old. Her mother, whom I will call Jane, has carefully guarded the girl’s childhood from the stress of early &hellip

Cycle of Learning

Observe Your Student

My Brother, My Son

When three-year-old David was especially pleased with me due to some exciting homeschool project, favorite meal, or a fun time, he would pat me fondly on the leg and say, &hellip

Worked Out of a Job

I sat down on the couch and my seven-year-old, Sarah, plopped down next to me. She was writing a story about a girl and her mother and wanted me to &hellip

When Your Child Isn’t You

My grandmother used to say, the shoemaker’s children go barefoot to express some unfathomable truth. As a child I thought the saying meant, Daddy might make shoes, but that doesn’t &hellip

Be a Student

Teach by Learning

I remember my mother standing over a boiling cauldron of black walnut juice, hands and bare feet stained dark brown. She was making dye. Not because she needed it, but &hellip

Observe Your Teacher

Getting It

There are times when I utterly fail as a teacher. I can’t find the words I need to explain the step-by-step means to solving a division problem. I look up &hellip

Choosing the Right Teacher

I was eleven years old and desperate to learn how to sew. I’d watched my mother at her sewing machine making a few dresses for me and had pestered her &hellip


I See You

At twenty-five years of age I decided I would probably stay single for the rest of my life simply because I had not met any eligible males that interested me &hellip

In Contrast

We have a Jersey cow. When she comes home to be milked in the evening, we fill her trough with hay and oats and let her calf out of his &hellip

Seeing Others

Our children may not know what’s in style, what movies are coming out, or be at the top of their class, but they all know each other’s favorite color, song, &hellip

Rising to the Occasion

A few years ago we were visiting my family who still live near the Amish. I went to a neighbor’s house to buy cow’s milk. It was in the upper-twenties &hellip


A friend once asked me how to raise children that aren’t crippled with shyness or insecurity. It was a good question but one I couldn’t answer at the time. No &hellip


A few minutes ago David opened the front door and thrust his head in to ask, Somebody quick! Please hand me my sketchbook and pencils! Hurry! There’s a woodpecker out &hellip

What It’s About

It’s funny, David said recently. When I was littler I never thought about myself in like like the way I think about other people. Now that I’m older sometimes I &hellip

The Road Less Traveled

. . . Doesn't Have Road Signs

No Observationalists Allowed

As I contemplate writing this next story I realize that if any part of my book is going to draw a stone-throwing crowd, this is it. My husband says, you &hellip

Seeing in the Dark

History Is Hidden

There is an unexpected story in the Bible about a king named Josiah who came to the throne when he was only eight years old. His father and his father’s &hellip

Getting to the Truth

Hey, this book says that the Diplodocus lived 150 million years ago. Seric wants to know if that’s true? I told him it isn’t. Daddio was clearing the table for &hellip

Vetting Your Witness

What is a witness, anyway? Sarah asked. It’s a person that saw something, David answered quickly. Yeah, but more than that too, said Daddio. A witness can be old records, &hellip

Putting It Together

So, said Daddio, find two witnesses to establish a truth. Then look at the witnesses you’ve found and ask, Is he is paid to say that? Is he trying to &hellip

Examining Yourself

As a note of interest on this subject of findingand beinga true witness: When I was done writing this book and wondering how I could afford to have it printed, &hellip


Opening Blind Eyes

David recently fell out of a tree and broke his leg. I would undo that event if I could, but since that day, David has repeatedly told us, It’s funny, &hellip

Taking My Chances

I haven’t seen cypress knees (above-ground roots) in nearly 30 years, but I’ll never forget the way they ripple away from the mother tree like ribbons of brown velvet in &hellip




Pick up an object outdoors and time yourself for 60 seconds while you observe that object. Try to maintain focus on the object. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your &hellip


Keep a sketch book and set of pencils on hand. Every day sketch something from observation. These are some subjects we have studied and sketched by observation: The way the &hellip

Hidden in Plain Sight

We learned this game from some good friends and it has become a favorite with the kids. Everyone leaves the room except for the hider, who takes a small object &hellip

I See Something (Simple Riddle Making)

We play this in so many different settings it almost seems like more than one game. We take turns spotting something in our surroundings, be it indoors or outdoors, and &hellip

Wild Crafting

During the summer we often go wildcrafting in the mountains. Almost always a number of things are ready to harvest at any one time. Everyone is equipped with a bag &hellip

Describing a Scene

We go hiking a lot in the mountains and often a little one will point and say Look! at something that excites him. What do you see? It’s big and &hellip


Music Mimic

Our piano teacher did this with our kids when they first started, but they continue to play this game at home sometimes. One child will play a little note sequence &hellip

Guessing a Tune

One child sings a short series of notes that go in a song and the rest of us have to guess which song it is. We take turns singing parts &hellip

What Do You Hear?

We close our eyes and then describe what we hear. Sometimes we play the hearing version of I see something but it’s I hear something &hellip


Sometimes Daddio or I will make a short rhyme: What you see is what you get So don’t complain a single bit – And then the kids will try to &hellip

Taste and Smell

Spice Trade

A game I first played at a baby shower is a fun sense-of-smell exercise. I put a pinch of several different spices on separate saucers and pass them around the &hellip

Sense of Place

Sensing You Sensing Me

We learned this exercise from a kung fu instructor. Choose a partner to learn with. Stand facing each other, but not necessarily directly across from each other. Put up your &hellip

Walking on Air

This is also a kung fu exercise. Bend at the knees, letting your hips drop toward the ground. Your arms should hang or be in a relaxed position. Relax your &hellip

Walking Perfectly

I first heard of this exercise from a Navy Seal and have since used it as a game with my kids in the backyard. First practice walking some distance in &hellip


Close Your Eyes, Continue to Observe

Blindfold the students and place objects in their hands to describe. Learn to recognize various types of tree leaves, bark, types of rock, etc. &hellip

What Am I Drawing?

Using your fingers, draw a simple picture or write a message on the back of your student and ask him to figure out what you are drawing. Take turns. Now &hellip

Material Analysis

Our kids love to test and observe different materials and compare them. The girls have taken to spinning wool with a drop-spindle and then, using the spun wool thread, they &hellip


Spirit of Elijah

I know, there are only supposed to be five senses, and neither balance nor emotion are on the list. But The kids have taken to describing the way emotions make &hellip

Observation Games to Aid the Artst by Leonardo da Vinci

Judging Distance

When you want to play games and relax, you should play games that will increase your skills of observation and give your eyes practice at rightly judging the distance and &hellip

Find a Scene

When you look at a wall spotted with stains, or constructed with a mixture of stones, try to find a scene. [Similar to cloud-watching]. You may find a resemblance to &hellip

Voice of Experience

Teacher to Teacher

Tub Art – from Faith Y.

Take an empty ice cube tray and fill with Bathtub Finger Paint mixture, adding food colorings to each cube container. My boys love this. They learn colors, numbers, ABCs, and &hellip

Bubbles – from Melissa W.

Science: A good science project is to blow bubbles outside in the wintertime and see what happens! Homemade Bubbles 9 parts water 2 parts corn syrup (or sugar or glycerin) &hellip

Field Zoology – from Kimberly M.

Science: I am a new stay-at-home mom and an ex-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientist, so I make field exercises a big part of our homeschooling! Here’s an &hellip

Memorization via Theatre – from Amy B.

Bible: We decided to act out Bible stories and got out the home movie camera. We accrued a big box of robes, wigs, etc. for costumes. Each child would get &hellip

Zip Horse – from Joy K.

Math: My kids like to play Zip Horse. While riding in the car, everyone keeps an eye out for horses! Every horse (not donkeys) is worth 2 points. Solid white &hellip

X-Ray & Monarch Miracle – from Lisa L.

Health Anatomy: We are studying the different bodily systems (circulatory, digestive, etc.). I traced each child age 2 and up on a huge piece of paper (I taped several big &hellip

Backyard Lab – from Mrs. Grimes

Science: Keep an ongoing record of birds you sight, especially during migratory seasons. Get a soil pH tester. Find out which plants thrive in your yard. Give each child his &hellip

Food for Thought – from Lynelle W.

Math: In math I always try to use manipulatives, as much as possible, to illustrate a concept. My boys always enjoy it when I use food as the manipulatives, such &hellip

Business 101 – from Lara P.

Money Work: My oldest daughter is thirteen. She began an egg-selling business when she was eleven. She kept business records on the computer. She also has to break her money &hellip

Spy vs. Spy – from the Tate family

Reading, Writing, Spelling: Talk to your spouse in secret code. It will drive your older kids crazy and improve their vocabulary. Example: Dad: “Do you want to go get some &hellip

Calisthenic Math – from Melissa T.

Math: I have an idea that really helped my active 6-year-old son with math concepts. He wanted to do addition and subtraction like his older sister, but traditional manipulatives were &hellip

Versatile Beans – from Laura W.

Make an indoor sandbox using beans! I bought an assortment of dried beans and an under-the-bed container. I gathered and saved all sorts of scoops, containers, and funnels (soda bottles &hellip

Suzuki & Kindermusik – from Holly M.

I am a Suzuki violin teacher of three years just about to move my program to a local school where I’m really hoping it will take off. I would like &hellip

Books on Tape – from Maranatha O.

I have been making audio cassettes for the children on one of those old black recorders you can get at Goodwill. Papa and I make poetry tapes, alphabet songs, country &hellip

Judging Distance

When you want to play games and relax, you should play games that will increase your skills of observation and give your eyes practice at rightly judging the distance and &hellip

Find a Scene

When you look at a wall spotted with stains, or constructed with a mixture of stones, try to find a scene. [Similar to cloud-watching]. You may find a resemblance to &hellip

Leonardo da Vinci

Progression of Art Study

If the student will observe nature in his drawings then he will be successful as an artist. There are many that love to draw but apparently have no talent; you &hellip

Drawing Light and Shadow

For those interested in drawing, always begin slowly and pay attention to lighting. Notice in your subject the brightest lit areas and the darkest shadows and the variations between. Notice &hellip


If you want to remember an interesting face in order to draw it later, first make yourself familiar with a variety of heads, eyes, noses, mouths, chins, cheeks, necks and &hellip

Drawing from Nature

On drawing from Nature; stand at a distance of 3 times the height of the object you wish to draw. A broad light high up and not too strong will &hellip


I remember when I first read The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci and realize I must have pulled that copy from Daddio's personal collection after I married him in 2000. At the time he owned a used bookstore, and for years before had collected a decidedly eccentric collection of books. Books about “pure belief” like the biography of George Mueller and Forgive Me, Natasha; alternative science texts by Wilhelm Reich, Nicola Tesla, Yevgeny Podkletnov and many others; philosophy texts from arcane works on sacred geometry or calendaring systems to Plato and modern alternative psychology; music texts about bel-canto singing and intuitive methods of musical instruction; the list was unconventional and diverse.

Daddio would pass over large sections of any book to find that one paragraph where the author would state the observations from which he had drawn his conclusions, and examine that premise. The idea of teaching his children through observation was something he had begun to formulate in his own mind, and practice in his own learning long before I ever met the man who became “Daddio” to our seven children.

The Da Vinci Road is truly an expression of he and I, together; without him I may never have written it. But, of course, it did not start here. He is quick to point out, “the observation method of learning is something we have only rediscovered, it is as ancient as it is perfect.”

Leonardo da Vinci was considered “a freak” by many people in his day. Locked away “living the night hours in the company of those corpses, quartered and flayed…” he would carefully remove the skin of a body and then open the musculature to draw the placement of each organ and how it appeared to be connected to the other organs.

He often began a notebook entry with “dimmi, dimmi,” (tell me, tell me) as he got the ink to flow through the tip of his pen and the images of things he had studied to flow through his brain. Thus he filled some 120 notebooks with drawings and notes on his observations, saying “I have been hindered neither by avarice nor negligence, but simply by lack of time.”

Da Vinci was not formally educated as were his peers, and when he was hounded by this seeming lack, he responded,

“They will say that I, having no literary skill, cannot properly express that which I desire to treat of, but they do not know that my subjects are to be dealt with by experience rather than by words. And [experience] has been the mistress of those who wrote well. And so, as mistress, I will cite her in all cases. Though I may not, like them, be able to quote other authors, I shall rely on that which is much greater and more worthy: on experience, the mistress of their Masters.”

Although it was Da Vinci who inspired the title of this book, it was not Da Vinci who first recommended observation as the path to learning. There was a Jewish man named Paul from the Mediterranean costal city of Tarsus who was highly respected for his extensive education and devotion to the Hebrew sacred writings. But when he wrote a letter to his people in Rome, Paul said something very unexpected:

“Everything that can be known about God is obvious because he has shown himself to everyone. Even the invisible things about God can be clearly seen in creation. In fact, you can even understand his eternal power and divinity by simply observing the things that have been made by him. So then everyone, by this alone, is without excuse.” (paraphrased from Romans 1:19-20)

Jesus also continually used nature to begin a lesson: “Consider the lilies,” and “behold the fig tree,” and “a man planted a vineyard.”

According to the stories, Jesus, having healed a man born blind and stating that his sins were forgiven, was accosted by the religious leaders of the day. They insisted that either the man had never been blind, or he was lying and could not really see, or Jesus or the parents were lying. The healed man himself denied these accusations, and was immediately “excommunicated” from his religion.

The religious leaders must have feared their congregations would want to know if they could heal the blind and forgive sins. Suddenly their paychecks and authority were at stake. So it was necessary to discredit the healer and the healed.

Jesus responded to them, saying,

“If you would admit that you are blind, I'd heal you too. But you are so convinced you can see there is no hope for you. You really are blind.” (paraphrased from John 9)

But go back even farther than Paul and Jesus, go back, back to the beginning of the human race. On a planet covered with water and darkness God moved and spoke, “Let there be…” Later, having perfected a new creation he “…saw every thing that he had made, and behold (read: “look—yeah, you, look—at creation”) it was good.”

In a book written by a prophet named Isaiah, God is recorded saying,

“To whom will you compare me, and to whom shall I be equal?” says the Holy One.

“Look up and see who has created these stars, who brings out the host of heaven by great number, who calls them by their names, by the greatness of his might? He is strong in power and not one that fails. […]”

[About the descendants of Jacob, He continues:] “Hear you deaf, and look you blind, that you might see. Who is blind? My own servant. Who is deaf? My own messenger. Who is as blind as he that is perfect, the servant of the Existing One? Seeing many things, you fail to observe. Having ears that could hear, you hear not. […] You are a people robbed and spoiled; all of you snared in traps, or locked in prisons, all of you hunted down and with no one to deliver you, and no one even to cry out for help. But who among you will hear this? Is there any among you that will listen now and hear in the time to come?” (paraphrase from Isaiah 40:25 - 42:23)

I believe that one cannot know the creator God any other way than by observing him. Religion will fail you every time. Second hand information will fail you. But your own eyes and ears, your own vulnerability to the elements, these things do not lie. They are the path to knowledge no one can take from you.

In hope that you will take that road, the creator has put himself on display literally everywhere you look. In the red rock canyons I see him unchanging though varied in expression. In the tall pine forest I breath deep and know that he is beautiful and satisfying. In the frightening dive of the hawk upon it's prey I see him warn me that he is swift and sharp.

Then when I go to the city I am tempted by the comforts and distractions that money can buy. Blinders and earplugs.

Whoever you are, I hope that you will leave behind the theologies that stand around like so many wax dummies, and instead go looking for God in the forest, on the mountain, and in the rain. He is hiding there, hoping that you will come look for him. He is more real and wonderful than I can describe.