The Crow and the Pitcher: Science + Literature Lesson
“Growth comes from activity, not from intellectual understanding.” - Maria Montessori
When you enter a Montessori classroom, you will likely first notice how pretty the shelves are with the "works" displayed in simple trays or baskets. If you stay and watch, you will notice that many of these activities are remarkably high level.
You think to yourself, "These preschoolers are doing algebra? You've got to be kidding me!" Yup, Montessori was reaching high. But when you take a look at what the kids are doing and how it is presented, you realize that they are not writing equations and discussing the hows and whys or the applications.
"The Child Will Absorb What He Needs to Know"
The theory behind Montessori's method is that the child will absorb what he needs to know at the right developmental time by using his own hands. And yes, Montessori felt that very small children were capable of learning/absorbing much more than traditional educators were giving them credit for. It's a wonderful material, but you don't have to purchase a trinomial cube in order to expose your child to the mystifying complexity of math and science. Everyday experiments will work.
Enter The Crow and the Pitcher. This science experiment plus literature activity has always been one of my favorites to do in the classroom, and chances are you already have what you need for it hanging around your house, but you don't need to begin with an explanation of water displacement. Simply showing, doing, and having fun with it is enough at this age. Like my kids, yours will probably want to do it over and over.
Teaching Tip: Do this experiment yourself first if possible - how high you want to fill the vase is largely dependent on the size and shape of your vase and your stones.
An Aesop's Fable...
A CROW, perishing with thirst, saw a pitcher, and, hoping to find water, flew to it with great delight. When he reached it, he discovered to his grief that it contained so little water that he could not possibly get at it. He tried everything he could think of to reach the water, but all his efforts were in vain. At last he collected as many stones as he could carry and dropped them one by one with his beak into the pitcher, until he brought the water within his reach, and thus saved his life.
Moral: Necessity is the mother of invention.
- small necked jar or vase (mine is from maple syrup)
- stones (glass is pretty, but pea gravel will work just as well)
- sponge & drying cloth (cleanup)
- pitcher and funnel (optional)
- tray (preferably with high sides)
When I introduce this story, I usually begin by making a bird with my fingers. The children are drawn in. I don't speak. I make bird-like movements. I fly my fingers around and peck at things. I may or may not caw.
When I have totally 100% got their undivided attention, I begin the story in a calm, quiet voice. As the crow flies, so do my fingers. When the crow is thirsty and cannot reach the water, he hangs his head.
He perks up with an idea! He hops over to the pile of stones and picks one up in his pincer grip. He carefully deposits the stone in the water. At this point, the children take over spontaneously and my acting part is over. I recede quietly into the background.
The Big Finish
When the water reaches the top, the children are always surprised. Their crows happily slurp up the water, and they keep dropping more stones in, and the water keeps spilling out. See why you need the sponge and drying cloth on hand? And the tray with tall sides? They will likely want to do it again and again. When they do, you have the pitcher and funnel on hand so they can do it themselves.