Vincent van Gogh is one of the most famous artists in history, and his work has significant cultural relevance.
This guide will help you create a simple unit study for your homeschool that can include as much or as little information as you like. Let your kids help create it, and don’t forget to make some van Gogh-themed snacks for a celebration at the end!
Table of Contents
Who was Vincent van Gogh?
Vincent van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist painter and one of the most famous artists in history. He is known for his iconic paintings, such as The Starry Night, and his originality. Van Gogh’s life has been used as a form of inspiration by many other artists. His mental illness, frustrating relationships, and journey to creating art have been well-documented during his short life span.
One such iconic event included cutting off his ear during a fit of rage during an argument with Monet. Another consists of spending time in an insane asylum before creating some of his most acclaimed art pieces.
Researching and Planning Your Van Gogh Unit Study
Before planning a unit study, it’s essential to read, watch documentaries, and learn as much as you can about Vincent van Gogh on your own. Having this deep well of knowledge allows you to create a more meaningful unit of study and be a more effective teacher when discussing ideas and concepts with your child.
Once you have your research down, think about what your child already knows about Vincent van Gogh and ask them what they would like to learn about him.
From here, you can create a big picture idea or end goal for your Unit Study. For example, I would like my children to understand who Vincent van Gogh was, how he used motion and color in his paintings, and identify a few of his most famous works of art.
Next, you will want to choose a curriculum and resources you can use to help your children understand the big picture.
As soon as you’ve identified what you will use, you can make a list of activities to do and supplies you will need.
Finally, you can wrap up the unit study plan with a fun celebration and/or field trip to a museum or art exhibit.
To make your life just a little bit easier, I designed this Simple Unit Study planner that you can use to get you started.
Recommended Resources for Vincent van Gogh
For Your Personal Research
- This inventory of the 5 Best Movies about Vincent van Gogh is a great place to start. If you only watch two, I recommend At Eternity’s Gate and Loving Vincent.
- If you’d like to watch a documentary, I found The Painting Life of Vincent van Gogh to be interesting.
- Books I recommend: Van Gogh: The Life and The Letters of Vincent van Gogh.
Curriculum & Lesson Plans
Masterpiece Society – Mixing with the Masters: Van Gogh Art Lessons
Techie Homeschool Mom – Vincent van Gogh Online Unit Study
The van Gogh Gallery – Lesson Plans
The National Art Gallery – Vincent van Gogh Teaching Program (activities towards the end)
DeYoung Museum – Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, and Beyond Curriculum Guide
This book is an excellent option if you are interested in studying art history from cave paintings to the present-day with your kids. Within the book, a few pages are dedicated to van Gogh, and your children can learn a bit about his life and how he created his art.
Vincent and his brother Theo chase a fox through many of van Gogh’s most famous paintings. This is a sweet book about perseverance and teamwork.
A humorous introduction to van Gogh for 3rd and 4th graders.
A wonderfully written biography about Vincent van Gogh geared towards middle readers.
This picture book shares a few of Van Gogh’s paintings paired with his own words (taken from letters to his brother) about each piece.
Katie and the Sunflowers – Amazon
Katie knocks over Vincent’s vase of sunflowers, and then chaos ensues. How will she get everything back to normal before the museum security guard returns to his post?
Katie makes all of the stars fall out of van Gogh’s painting. How will she fix it before the gallery guards come back?
Essentially, this is a picture book about bullying, but it’s so much more than that in this fictional account of what van Gogh endured while living in France. A young boy confesses how even though he teased van Gogh he still found his artwork to be thought-provoking and mesmerizing and realizes later in life that everyone’s viewpoint is valid.
This is a fun, fast-paced novel geared towards middle readers. It’s a museum mystery that takes place in The National Art Gallery in D.C. There are QR codes woven throughout the book to bring the mystery AND the art alive.
Van Gogh (DK Eyewitness Books) – Amazon
If you are interested in learning more facts about Vincent van Gogh, this is an excellent choice for you! It includes information about his life and a detailed look at the timeline of events leading to his famous paintings. This book also has interesting stories and anecdotes from those who knew van Gogh best and beautiful pictures throughout, making it an engaging read for all ages.
Many websites have information about van Gogh. Here are some of my favorites.
Van Gogh Museum – This museum has an interactive timeline of van Gogh’s life, an overview of his artwork, and other fun features for kids interested in learning more.
The Van Gogh Gallery – This website is dedicated to all things van Gogh – biography, timeline, quotes, images of artwork, critiques, and more.
Van Gogh Worldwide – This is a database of van Gogh’s artwork found in the Netherlands. It includes both historical and technical information about each piece.
Vincent van Gogh – An extensive site devoted to everything about van Gogh.
1. In the Footsteps of Vincent van Gogh – Wondrium
2. Who Was Vincent van Gogh? – Artrageous with Nate
3. Vincent van Gogh for Children – Free School
4. Vincent van Gogh: My Story – Van Gogh Museum
5. Who Was Vincent van Gogh? – Van Gogh Museum
6. The Life Story of Vincent van Gogh – Now You Know About
7. Van Gogh – Art with Mati & Dada
8. Who Was Vincent van Gogh? – All Things Dutch
9. Van Gogh’s Irises: A Closer Look – The Getty
Below is a list of a few of the supplies we used for our Van Gogh Unit Study. I would recommend looking around on your own to see more options or have the kids help you discover new resources themselves!
Leuchtturm117 Master Slim A4 – We like to use these for notebooking/interactive notebooks.
Li’l DAVINCI Art Frames – We have one for each child to display their artwork in our living room. I love how easy it is to open and add new artwork, plus the quality is excellent.
For our van Gogh unit study, I first researched some of his works to find those my kids would benefit from learning about. After that, it was easy to go through the different lessons and art projects to find ones that would be appropriate for their age. If you have older children, it is also helpful to have them do online searches for more information about van Gogh, especially if you plan on having your kids make a presentation for any research-based assignments.
Some fun activities you can incorporate into your unit study:
- Have a Van Gogh Tea Party – Gather your picture books, some fancy thrifted teacups, and the cookies you made, and enjoy an afternoon tea.
- Draw a self-portrait or still life
- Paint your version of The Starry Night
- Take your art supplies outside and paint a landscape.
- Put together the Starry Night jigsaw puzzle.
- Here’s a Starry Night puzzle for the younger crowd.
- Create 3D sunflowers in a vase.
- Make a diorama of van Gogh’s bedroom
- Use Crayola Model Magic to create a van Gogh-inspired ornament.
- Learn to color like Vincent van Gogh using oil or chalk pastels.
- Create your own immersive experience by converting a room into a piece of art, like a life-sized diorama!
Field Trip Ideas
Despite his short life, Vincent van Gogh was a prolific artist creating over 900 paintings and countless other pieces of artwork. You can find many places in the world to view van Gogh’s art; below is a list of just a few museums where you can do so, including some in Europe if you’re lucky enough to go overseas.
In the U.S.
The Getty Center in Los Angeles has Irises (1889) on view in the Museum South Pavilion.
The Hammer Museum at UCLA has three paintings, including Hospital at Saint-Remy (1889).
The Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena has van Gogh’s artwork on view, including Portrait of a Peasant (1888).
The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has iconic The Starry Night (1889) on Floor 5.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has Self-portrait with a Straw hat (1887) amongst other van Gogh artwork in their European Paintings gallery.
Art Institute Chicago has The Bedroom (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh on display, among others, in Gallery 241.
The National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. has Self-portrait (1889) and a few other paintings on display in Gallery 83.
Detroit Institute of Art in Michigan has Portrait of Postman Roulin (1888) and more on view.
If you are not near these major metropolitan cities, consider purchasing tickets to an Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit or Van Gogh: An Immersive Experience near you.
We went to the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in Los Angeles, and my family loved it. My little one, who’s only 3, still talks about the show and tells everyone that van Gogh is her favorite artist. A bit pricey, but the memory of the experience will last a lifetime.
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, meanwhile, has the most extensive collection of van Gogh artwork. This includes over 200 paintings and 400 drawings, and 700 letters. The museum also holds many works by his fellow impressionists like Gauguin, Monet, and Renoir.
Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has Vincent van Gogh’s Self-portrait (1887) on display.
The Musee d’Orsay in Paris displays 24 of his paintings, including The Starry Night over the Rhone (1888).
Did you know you can visit a recreation of Vincent van Gogh’s bedroom at the asylum he committed himself to? Saint Paul de Mausole is located in Saint-Remy de Provence in France and is open 7-days a week.
Whether you’re exploring the life and work of history’s most iconic artists or just looking to add a little art into your homeschooling day, these resources should help you create a dynamic homeschool unit study on Vincent van Gogh. I hope my guide helped inspire you to explore more about this great artist!
What are some of your favorite van Gogh books and resources? Which museums have you visited for an exhibit on his work? Let me know in the comments below!
Xuan Klevecka is a Southern California-based homeschool mom, wife, and sometimes purveyor of vintage goods. She’s an Enneagram 5w4, a lover of good food, and a former middle school history teacher. You’ll either find her looking at road maps and daydreaming about her family’s next epic adventure or perusing recipes and cooking up a feast for the brood.