Two swans are nesting in the pond behind my house, and it’s created a wonderful chance for myself and co-host Chloë to see that E.B. White was very accurate in his description of swan behavior in The Trumpet of the Swan. As we are in England they are Mute Swans, not Trumpeters, but their behavior is very similar. Chloë has learned some lessons from the character of Sam Beaver about how to respectfully observe wildlife, and today she shares her findings.
Our swans have behaved in a remarkably similar way to the fictional ones in The Trumpet of the Swan. They return to the same spot each year. They make their nest on a little peninsula that juts out from the side of the pond where the shore is quite steep. It would be hard for anything to approach them from the land, and their position on the shore gives them a full view of anything in the water. The cob is amazingly protective, even suspicious, when it comes to his wife and her nest. And yet, they seem to trust quiet, respectful observers who keep a safe distance and don’t do anything to upset them.
Activity: Observe a Nest
What birds nest in your area during the spring? Do some research about one or more species so that you can find a nest. Where are the nests usually found? What do the nests look like? What materials are they made of? What color are the eggs and how many are there usually? How long does it take for the eggs to hatch?
Before you go out on your nest hunt, read the first three chapters of The Trumpet of the Swan. Write down or discuss how Sam Beaver behaves around wildlife. How is he a good example of someone who enjoys observing wild animals in a way that is responsible? What are some adjectives that describe his behavior? What rewards does he get because he chooses to behave in this way?
Go out and search for a birds’ nest. Keep a safe distance so that you do not disturb the animals, using binoculars if necessary. If possible, go back to check on the nest regularly until the baby birds hatch. Record your observations and questions in a journal as Sam Beaver did.
As an American, I had always assumed that the character of the robin in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was exaggerated to make it more intelligent and human-like than in real life. But now that I have my own “bit of Earth” in an English garden, I can see just how wrong I was! The Secret Garden is actually incredibly accurate in its description of the behaviors and biology of the British robin, and as you and your kids read this story you can get the most pleasant science lesson you’ve ever had.
Activity: Learn About British Robins
Children can write down what they learn about British robins as they read The Secret Garden. The character of the robin in the book displays behaviors normal to the species, and more information can be found online. Here are some reliable websites to help get you started:
“The Crow and the Pitcher” by Aesop doesn’t just have a wholesome moral that teaches children to solve problems with resilence and creative thinking. This fable also teaches about the concept of displacement in physics!
There’s also a fun video I’ve made to go with this episode at my YouTube channel, starring myself, my daughter, and a very cute puppet.
Activity: Volume Displacement as taught in “The Crow and The Pitcher”
– Black construction paper
– Safety scissors
– White crayons
– A clear plastic pitcher
– A large measuring cup with graduated measurement lines
– electrical tape in any color
Have students use construction paper, crayons, and scissors to draw and cut out images of crows. A white crayon will stand out on the black paper to draw feathers, eyes, and beak details. If this project is being done for a Science Fair, you could buy a puppet instead as that makes for better storytelling.
Partly fill the pitcher with water. Use a strip of electrical tape to mark the water level on the side of the jug. Tell the story of The Crow and The Pitcher. Students can bring their crows to the pitcher as the bird attempts to drink. Have students add pebbles at the right moment in the story. Observe how the water rises as the pebbles displace volume. Have students bring their crows back to the pitcher when the water level is high enough that the bird can “drink.”
Pour off water into the measuring cup until the water level has gone back to the original position. Note the amount of water. This amount tells you the volume of the pebbles added to the pitcher. For younger students, keep the explanation simple: “that’s how much space the pebbles would take up if you could smoosh them all together.” Older students can learn that 1 milliliter equals 1 centimeter cubed, so the solid volume of the rocks in cm3 is the same number as the milliliters of displaced water.
Students may also be interested in researching how scientists have proven that crows are able to understand volume displacement, meaning that it’s possible for this fable to be based on real life observation and not just the author’s imagination.