Homeschool Share: an online homeschool curriculum cooperative hosting over 500 unit studies, lapbooks, printables, and other resources.

Michelangelo's Surprise FREE Unit & Lapbook

Michelangelo’s Surprise

  Author:  Tony Parillo

After a very heavy snowfall in Florence, Italy, Sandro, the youngest page in the palazzo of Piero de’ Medici, tries to find out why the ruler has summoned the sculptor, Michelangelo.

Unit & Lapbook created by Wende


Parent Warning:

While this book shows artwork in a discreet manor, much of Michelangelo’s works show nudity. It is recommended that parent previews all works of art before sharing with your child. Some, such as the Statue of David, can be easily censored with a sticker or marker, while others you may want to avoid altogether.


Optional Go-Along Books:

A Child’s History of Art, Sculpture by V.M. Hillyer and E.G. Huey (note: shows some nude sculptures)

A Child’s History of Art, Architecture by V.M. Hillyer and E.G. Huey

Discovering Great Artists by MaryAnn Kohl

Rats, Bulls, and Flying Machines: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation by Deborah Mazzotta Prum




Bible –

Narration Accordions


Social Studies –

Renaissance Arch Folds

Italy and Florence Components

Medici Accordion and Flap Book

Lion Shape Book


Science -

Snow Components


Language Arts -

Vocabulary 10 Flap

Adding “ing” Tab Book

Apostrophe Simple Fold and Compound Word Pocketbook

Speaking Italian Mini Book


Math –

Timeline Accordion

Symmetry Book

Snow Estimation Trifold

Shape Cards and Pocket


Art -

Michelangelo Notebook Page and Pocket

Art Photo Pocket Book

Medici Art Cards and Pocket




Before reading the story, discuss the title with your child. What is the story going to be about? After reading the first page, and the description of snow-covered Florence, ask your child if he can think of what the surprise may be. We are given some hints as to what the surprise may be – snow, an artist being summoned, a special event, etc. When an author gives us hints or clues of something to come, he is foreshadowing. As you read through the story for the first time, ask your child periodically what he thinks the surprise will be. Did he figure it out? Did he guess that the famous artist Michelangelo would be building snowmen?




Many of the Renaissance artists based their works on stories from the Bible. As you discuss the various works of Michelangelo, you may want to read the applicable stories from the Bible or a Bible Storybook and have child record what is learned in Narration Accordions. Some examples are:


Pieta – read Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and/or John 19

David – read 1 Samuel 17

Creation of Adam on Sistine Chapel ceiling – read Genesis 1 and Genesis 2:7

Story of Noah on Sistine Chapel ceiling – read Genesis 6:8-8:22




Social Studies


Renaissance –

This story takes place in 1494, two years after Columbus sailed to America, during the Renaissance. The Renaissance was a period of revival beginning in Italy towards the end of the fourteenth century and spreading through Europe. It bridged medieval to modern times. The word “Renaissance” means “rebirth” in Latin. This period in history is marked by a renewed interest in learning, exploration, and fine arts. The people of Europe were ready for a “rebirth” for a few key reasons.

1.    The Plague had wiped out 25% of the population, rich and poor, young and old. People could be more selective about the work they took on, elevating the value of the serfs. Watching so many people die, people also began to rethink their spiritual lives and turned away from the State Church.

2.    The invention of gunpowder helped to bring an end to feudalism. The castles were no longer effective for protection so new styles of palaces were built. Individual City-States were better equipped to defend themselves against a tyrannical central government.

3.    Towns began to develop and people bought and sold many goods and services. As people became wealthier, the middle classes relied less and less on the rich and desired to educate themselves. With the invention of the printing press in the mid 1400’s, the education of oneself became much easier.

Complete Renaissance Arch Folds.


Florence, Italy –

This story takes place in Florence, Italy. Have your child locate Italy on a world map, located on the continent of Europe. Have him locate the capital city, Rome. Have him also locate the city of Florence, in the northern part of the country. What bodies of water are to the east, west, and south of Italy? Italy is a boot-shaped peninsula surrounded on three sides by water, so boats were able to go to almost any part of the country. This made it easier for the people of Italy to trade their products with others, which brought lots of new cultures to the land. (Mention the monkeys found throughout the story, which most likely came from Africa or Asia). The people of Italy speak Italian. Italy is the world’s leading wine maker, and also manufactures and exports cars, textiles, and tobacco. Complete Italy Bi-fold and Flag Simple Fold.


Years ago, during the Renaissance, countries were divided into city-states. A city-state was a sovereign state consisting of an independent city and its surrounding territory, comparable to the states in the United States. One such city-state was Florence. The Renaissance thrived in Florence thanks in large part to the wealthy Medici family. Write about Florence inside Florence Shutterfold.


Look at the picture of the domed building on the first page of text. This is an actual building still standing today in Florence, Italy. There is an interesting story about the building of this cathedral, called the Duomo. The architect working on the project died before the dome was completed. Nobody knew how to build such a dome, and he didn’t leave any instructions. So Florence had a contest to see who could submit the best plans for finishing the dome. A man named Brunelleschi won, because his plan said the dome could be built without a wooden center structure, saving the city-state a lot of money. The dome was built of brick, with ribs of stone running down from the top, dividing the dome into eight sections.  It had a little tower on the top, called a cupola. Eventually, a statue of Brunelleschi was built right outside the dome. Complete Duomo Shape Book.


On the last page of text is a detailed picture of the Medici palace. From the outside, the building looked more like a fort than a palace. This was because there was a lot of fighting going on, and with the invention of gunpowder, the old style castles just wouldn’t do. The lower story was built of heavy rough stones to make the building strong and solid. Lower windows had iron bars. Inside, it looked more like a palace. In the center was an open courtyard with balconies all around it. Then there was a huge banqueting hall, a library, and other finely furnished rooms. The Medici family lived in this palace until 1494. 


To see detailed pictures of the Medici Empire, click HERE


Medici Family –

This story takes place at the Medici Palace, home of Piero (also spelled Pietro) de’ Medici. The Medici family was prominent power in Florence during the 15th century. For older children, you may want to discuss the Medici family. For younger children, you could just read about Piero II.


Giovanni de’ Medici – (1360-1429)

He made a huge fortune and gained a position of power in Florence. By 1400, he was one of the richest men in all of Italy. The great dome of the cathedral, found on the first page of text, was commissioned during his leadership, as were numerous works of sculpture. He had two sons, Cosimo and Lorenzo, to whom he said, "Do nothing that is contrary to the interests of the people."


Cosimo de Medici – (1389-1464)

Cosimo was a great businessman. He helped keep his family in power and even made them wealthier by keeping their bank running. He valued education, and appreciated the ancient Roman and Greek civilizations. Because of this, Cosimo was a patron of the arts. Some of the greatest achievements in art were made because he used his wealth and money to support artists. He never ruled Florence, but he used his money to get his friends into power. He was succeeded by his son Piero I.


Piero I – (1416-1469) -

There isn’t a lot known about this Piero. He was called Piero the Gouty because he suffered from gout. He lived all his life in the shadow of his father, Cosimo. He did however play a major role in the affairs of Florence and in furthering the international fortunes of the Medici Bank, but in the end only outlived his father by 5 years. His son Lorenzo, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, assisted him in the government and took over upon his death.


Lorenzo the Magnificent (1448-1492) –

Lorenzo was not smart at business like his grandfather, Cosimo. Lorenzo loved to play sports and have fun. Lorenzo did not want much responsibility when he was young because he would rather be enjoying himself with friends. However, as he grew up, he found out that you had to have responsibility in order to stay wealthy. After someone tried to kill him, Lorenzo took charge. He was a good leader who kept Florence peaceful and prevented war. He loved art, and art thrived under his rule. He was also a patron who funded some of the best artists, including Michelangelo. Lorenzo was popular and well liked. Lorenzo left three sons, Piero II, Giuliano, and Giovanni.


Piero II (1472 -1503) –

Piero II, called “Piero the Unfortunate”, took after his father in his love of the arts, and was also well liked by the people. He too commissioned Michelangelo and is the Medici spoken of in our story. He was a fun loving young ruler, only 23 years old when Michelangelo’s Surprise took place. When Piero surrendered Florentine land to the French, however, he was considered a coward by the magistrates and the people, causing the Medici family to no longer participate in the government of Florence. Piero was responsible for the expulsion of the Medici from 1494-1512. He died in exile in 1503 - drowned while fighting in a battle between the French (losers) and Spanish (winners) for Naples - we do not know which side he had taken.


Giovanni Medici or Pope Leo X (1475-1521)–

Giovanni Medici, the brother of Piero II, became Pope Leo X. He was born Giovanni Medici, the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. With much of his family’s influence in Florence (and money) Giovanni was elected pope in 1513. He also enjoyed art, but enjoyed luxury even more. He liked to have very elaborate festivals and celebrations. One of the projects Leo X took on was finishing St. Peter’s Basilica. It was a very expensive project, and to pay the costs Leo X raised taxes and borrowed huge sums of money. He also sold offices in the church and indulgences. People would pay the church and be forgiven for their sins. This angered many people. Leo X was a big spender who appreciated art and literature.


Complete Medici Accordion and Flap Book.


Renaissance Jobs –

The Medici family was wealthy and had many attendants to take care of their needs. Many were mentioned throughout the story. Discuss them and record in Lion Shape Book.

Ruler – a person who governs or rules a particular territory. Piero was the ruler of Florence.

Valet – a personal servant

Page –  a young male servant or attendant. Sandro was a page.

Chief Steward – the main person entrusted with the management of property and finances. Sandro’s father was Medici’s chief steward

Chambermaids – female servants who clean and tend to bedrooms

Master Carver – the head meat cutter upper

Table Layers – people in charge of setting the tables for the feasts

Servers – people who would carry and distribute the food

Sweepers – people who made sure chimneys were clean

Head Butler – Male servant in charge of the dining room

Porter – keeper of a door or gate

Ladies-in-waiting – women appointed to attend upon a queen or princess

Groom – a male servant in charge of palace neatness and appearance






Snow –

Has your child ever seen or played in snow? Chances are, he has. But in Florence, where the average temperature in January is 42 degrees, it was not common to see snow. Snow is formed when ice crystals in a cloud bump together and stick to each other. If the air temperature below the clouds is cold enough, snow will fall. Snowflakes can be made up of as many as 100 ice crystals. They all have six sides, but no two snowflakes are alike. Complete Snow T-Book.

Just like no two snowflakes are alike, no two snowmen are alike!  Look at Michelangelo’s snowman. Ask your child if it is what he pictures in his mind when he thinks about a snowman. Most likely, he thinks about a snowman such as Frosty, with a corncob pipe and a button nose. Have him compare his vision of a snowman to Michelangelo’s realistic giant of a snowman. Write comparison inside Snowman Shapebook.


Monkeys –

While the pet monkey does not seem to be an integral part of the story, the author did choose to include him on almost every page. Also, if you take notice, the monkey is kind of a story inside a story. Look at the monkey in the beginning of the story, wrapped around the leg of Piero. Follow the monkey through each page to see what this mischievous little creature does! Can your child figure out what he does? Does the proper owner get the necklace back in the end? Monkeys are notoriously mischievous and curious animals. Your child may enjoy a study of these primates. HERE is a free lapbook and unit.




Language Arts


Vocabulary –

Your child may come across many new words in this story, most relating to Pietro’s home. See if your child can look at the context around the words and/or the illustrations to figure out the definitions. Record definitions in Vocabulary 10 Flap. Here are the definitions if you need them:

Piazza – an open area or public square

Palazzo – a palace

Chamber - a bedroom

Loggia – a roofed gallery or portico that is open and supported by columns on one or more sides

Courtyard – an enclosed yard adjoining a building or surrounded by buildings or walls

Balustrade – a handrail supported by a set of small pillars projecting from a wall of a building; balcony

Great Hall – the main hall of the castle where all dwellers would gather for feasting or entertainment

Chapel – a place for worship smaller than a church

Scaffold – raised platform for work

Stable – a building set apart from the main structure to house and feed horses and cattle


Adding “ing” –

This story is filled with many words ending with ing. There are a few spelling rules that need to be followed when adding ing to the end of a word. Complete Adding “ing” Tab Book.


1. If a word ends with a silent e, the e should be dropped before adding ing. Some examples from the story include:

Excite              - e        + ing = exciting

Change           - e        + ing = changing

Have               - e        + ing = having

Scrape                        - e        + ing = scraping

Dance             - e        + ing = dancing


2. When a word has one syllable and one vowel and ends with one consonant, the final consonant should be doubled before adding ing. Examples from the story include:

Clap     +p        + ing = clapping

Grin     +n        + ing = grinning


3. All other words stay the same before adding ing. Examples from the story include:

Lean                + ing = leaning

Look                + ing = looking

Burn                + ing = burning

Visit                 + ing = visiting

Snort               + ing = snorting

Laugh              + ing = laughing

Shout               + ing = shouting

Bark                + ing = barking

Lead                + ing = leading

Work               + ing = working


Apostrophe –

An apostrophe is a punctuation mark that is used to show possession, by adding an apostrophe and then s to the end of a noun. Have your child look at the title of the story and locate the apostrophe. It tells you who owns something, the surprise being Michelangelo’s. Find other examples throughout the story:

Piero’s chamber – whose chamber? It belongs to Piero.

Piero’s chief steward – whose chief steward? The apostrophe followed by s shows Piero possesses the steward

Everyone’s way – whose way? In the way of everyone

Piero’s surprise – whose surprise?

Signore’s surprise – whose surprise?

Michelangelo’s snowman – whose snowman? 


Complete Apostrophe Simple Fold. 


Compound Words –

A compound word is made up of two words. They can stand alone, but when put together they create a new meaning. This story is loaded with compound words. Have your child point them out as you read. They include marketplace, snowflakes, household, courtyard, chambermaids, firewood, cobblestones, snowman, and torchlight. Complete Compound Word Pocketbook.


Learning Italian -

It may be fun for your child to learn some new Italian words while sharing this book. If you look at the vocabulary words, you will find that the English language adopted many Italian words, especially those related to art and architecture. Here are some other words your child can learn and use throughout the week. Complete Speaking Italian Mini Book.


Ciao (chow) – hello and goodbye

Grazie - thank you

La scimmia – monkey

Nevicando – snowing

La famiglia – family

La madre – mother

Il padre – father






Word Problems –


Michelangelo was born in 1475. How many years ago was that?

Michelangelo built the snowman in 1494. How old was he when he built the snowman?

Michelangelo lived from 1475 to 1564. How old was he when he died?


Timeline –

When a lot of people, places, and/or dates are presented to a child, it is easy to get them all confused. A timeline can help a child organize these facts in his mind. Complete Timeline Accordion, using some of these key dates related to Michelangelo’s Surprise:

1300’s – Renaissance Begins

1472 –Piero II born

1475 – Michelangelo born

1492 – Piero begins ruling

1492 – Columbus sailed to America

1494 – Michelangelo builds snowman

1494-1512 – Medici family expelled from Florence

1498 – Michelangelo carved the marble sculpture "Pieta" in Rome

1501 – Michelangelo sculpted “David”

1503 – Piero II died

1505-1509 – Michelangelo completed ceilings of Sistine Chapel

1564 – Michelangelo died


Symmetry -

One of the things that make snowflakes so beautiful is their symmetry. Symmetry is when one side of an item is a mirror image of the other. It creates a sense of balance and harmony. Have your child look at pictures of snowflakes. If you have the opportunity, view real snowflakes under a microscope. They are all symmetrical. Record definition and draw a symmetrical snowflake in Symmetry Book


Shapes –

With your youngest student, examine and identify the various shapes found throughout the story. A good place to start is the page showing the chapel. Have your child point out the circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, and diamonds. You may want to introduce some new shape names once your child has a firm understanding of the basic shapes. Label Shape Cards and store in Pocket.


Parallelogram – a four sided plane whose opposite sides are parallel and equal. A square, rectangle, and rhombus are all parallelograms. Have your child point out the parallelograms.


Rhombus – a parallelogram without right angles. It looks like a slanted square. The second row of floor tiles from the right show rhombus shapes inside of squares.


Octagon – an octagon is an eight-sided shape. The Duomo is an octagonal shaped building.


Hexagon – a hexagon is a six-sided shape. Snowflakes are hexagonal.


Estimation -

Snow is crystallized water vapor. Some snow is heavy, while other is fluffy. This is because the actual amount of water in the snow will differ. If you are sharing this story while there is snow on the ground, your child may enjoy doing this Snow Estimation Activity. Get a tall glass and fill it with snow. Have your child measure the depth of snow and record on bar graph. Now, have your child guess how much water he thinks is in the snow, and record the guess. Next, let all the snow melt in a warm place. Record the amount of water. Was his guess close?






Michelangelo Buonarroti –

Michelangelo was born in Caprese, Italy on March 6, 1475. When he was born, his father saw “lucky stars in the sky” and named him Michelangelo, which meant “angel” in Italian.  As a young boy, Michelangelo was sent to school but was only interested in sketching and painting. His father and his uncles tried to change his mind, as the art profession was only for peasants. At the age of 13 his father agreed to let him study with Domenico Ghirlandaio, a popular painter from Florence. At 16 he went to study with Bertoldo de Giovanni. After a year or so he stopped painting and began working as a sculptor. It was during this time that he lived with the Medici family, an influential Italian family. Piero de’ Medici really did summon Michelangelo to build the snow sculptures in 1494. When they lost power he went to Rome. In Rome, he created his first famous piece of art, the Pieta, a statue of Jesus and Mary. When he was 26 years old he created the statue of David. At 30 years old, Pope Julius II asked him to design his tomb. It took him 40 years to finish, and it was so large that St. Peter’s Basilica had to be built around it! Michelangelo was also asked, in 1505, to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in St. Peter’s Basilica. He painted nine scenes from the Old Testament using a scaffold and lying on his back. He lay for hours at a time with paint dripping into his eyes. It took 4 years to finish the 10,000 square foot ceiling, which is now viewed by 7,000 people per day! When the Medici returned to power, he spent nearly twenty years working for them designing their tombs and the Medici Chapel. Then, the next 10 years were spent in Rome working for Pope Paul III. During this time he painted "The Last Judgment" and started the construction of the dome in St. Peter's Church. Michelangelo died at age 89, on February 18, 1564. Complete Michelangelo Notebook Page and store in pocket.


View Michelangelo’s works HERE.  (Note: many  include nudity)

Michelangelo Biography and Worksheets HERE.


Sculpture –

Michelangelo was a sculptor. Sculpture is the art of fashioning objects out of various materials. They can look realistic or they can be abstract art. It will be lots of fun for your child to try making sculptures this week with a few different materials. Keep in mind that sculptures should be attractive when looked at from all angles. Also be sure to have child give each masterpiece a title, just as famous artists did. You could even set up a gallery, displaying all the sculptures, and award prizes. Be sure to take pictures for lapbook or notebook! Store them in Art Photo Pocket Book. Here are some ideas to get you started. Some project ideas adapted from A Handbook of Arts and Crafts by Wankelman, Wigg, and Wigg.


Snow/Ice – If you’re sharing this book during the wintertime and happen to have snow on the ground, by all means make a snow sculpture! If not, you could crush ice and make a sculpture of that. You may want to show your child some pictures of ice sculptures on the net; they can be quite amazing!


Clay Sculpture – Sculpt a figure out of clay. You can either mold the clay by squeezing and pushing, or you can carve away all the parts you don’t want until you have the desired figure.  Follow package drying instructions.


Box Sculpture – Use an assortment of oatmeal and cereal boxes, egg cartons, jewelry boxes, and other containers to create your own box sculpture. Decorate with colored paper, string, buttons, or paint.


Container Sculpture – Use plastic milk or detergent jugs, or other containers, to create a sculpture. This media works well for the sculpture of robots, cars, animals, etc.


Foil Sculpture – Crumple up aluminum foil and twist and form to fashion a sculpture.


Salt and Flour Sculptures – Mix together 1-cup salt, 1-cup flour, and enough water to make it the consistency of dough. Add color if desired. Mold dough into desired figure and let air-dry. After it is dry, you can paint it if desired.


Natural Sculpture – Go for a walk outside and collect interesting pieces of wood, pinecones, seedpods, leaves, etc. Arrange the items into a unique, interesting shape, and glue together.


Straw or Toothpick Sculpture – Using drinking straws or toothpicks, glue or tie them together to make a sculpture. Note: The inventors of K’nex originally came up with the idea for the plastic building toy by sculpting with drinking straws!


Stone Sculpture – Find an interestingly shaped stone. Imagine what the stone is shaped like, maybe a turtle, truck, face, etc. Paint the stone as you imagined it. If you want to use the stone as a paperweight, glue a piece of felt to the bottom.


Sponge Sculpture – Cut up sponges into desired shapes. Sponge piece can be glued together with rubber cement.


Wire Sculpture – You will need a sturdy wire that will hold its shape, and a cutting tool. You may want to first draw out what you would like your sculpture to look like. Bend, twist, and coil wire until you get it to desired shape.


Wood Sculpture – If you know a carpenter, see if you can obtain a bunch of small wood scraps. Arrange the scraps into different forms and glue together.


Fresco -

There was an artist painting a Fresco on the wall. Fresco is the technique of applying water-based pigment to wet plaster. A painting made in this technique is also called a Fresco. Great artist Michelangelo painted a very famous fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.  He spent 4 years on his back creating his painting. Your child may like to duplicate this technique by making his own wall or ceiling Fresco. First plan it out on a smaller scale on paper. You will need some large paper, such as poster board or a roll of newsprint for the finished product. After planning out your design, tape the large paper up to a wall or underneath a table. Dampen the paper with a sponge and then paint your masterpiece! You may choose to use Egg Tempera, found in the next lesson. Take a picture of your Fresco to include in your lapbook, if desired.


View Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Fresco HERE and HERE.


For additional activities, refer to Discovering Great Artists by MaryAnn Kohl, pages 24-25.


Egg Tempera –

The most common method of painting in the Renaissance was Egg Tempera. This is most likely the kind of paint used by the man painting the fresco. Egg Tempera is one of the longest lasting forms of painting known to man. Many of the old oil paints from the Renaissance are peeling and cracking, but egg tempera is standing the test of time! Egg Tempera paint is made by taking a finely ground pigment and mixing it with egg yolk and water. You may notice that if you leave egg yolk on a plate to dry, it is very hard to wash off. This is why the paint can last so long. As it dries, the yellow color of the yolk begins to fade, leaving only the color of the pigment left behind. Some egg tempera paintings are over 800 years old and are still very colorful! Make your own Egg Tempra and use it to paint a lovely picture like Michelangelo would have done in the 1500’s.


You will need:

A large egg

Ground pigment (you can use different colors of ground up chalk)


Spoons and Forks

Plastic cups, one for each color of pigment and one for water




1. Place a small amount of the crushed up chalk pigment in each of the cups.

2. Crack an egg into a bowl and drain off all of the white. You only need the yolk.

3. Break open the yolk with your fork. Add 3 teaspoons of water to the yolk and mix them together with the fork.

4. Pour a small amount of the egg and water mixture into each of the cups of pigment and stir with a paintbrush. If the consistency is too thick, add a little more of the egg mixture until it is just barely thicker than a watercolor paint.

5. Paint your picture! Chunks of pigment in the paint give your piece a nice texture. Try mixing colors, or gently splattering your piece to give it an old look and feel.


Art Appreciation –

Throughout the illustrations of the Medici palazzo are found many pieces of art. Introducing the various works will give your child a broad spectrum of Renaissance art. Your child may like to go on a scavenger hunt, trying to match up the real art to the renditions in our story. Use Art Cards and Pocket if desired.


The Rout of San Romano by Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) - this painting represents a battle scene from then recent Florentine history. The knights in armor carry their long and heavy lances off to battle. The horses and men look almost wooden as the artists discovers the use of perspective. This painting can be found where the Medici family is first gathering in the story.


The Journey of the Magi and Angels Worshipping by Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497) – the painting of the private chapel walls of the Medici palace was commissioned to Benozzo Gozzoli. He covered the walls of the chapel with a cavalcade of the three Magi, displaying both the people and the horses in beautiful costumes, as well as kneeling, standing, and flying angels worshipping. If the artist painting the fresco on the wall of the chapel in our story were Gozzoli, he would have been 74 years old at the time.


The Marzocco by Donatello  - the heraldic Lion, sculpted in 1418–20 by Donatello, is a symbol of Florence. It was also used as the coat of arms for the Medici family (see cover of Medici Flap Book).