Who Sank the Boat?

In this lesson, children will be introduced to weight and buoyancy experiences and apply these experiences at the water table.

Content Area:

Earth, Water and Air

Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Develop beginning skills in the use of science and engineering practices such as observing, asking questions, solving problems and drawing conclusions
  • Explore the physical properties of objects

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Plan and carry out simple investigations
  • Generate explanations and communicate ideas and/or conclusions about their investigations
  • Identify, describe and compare the physical properties of objects
toddler with sunflower

Who Sank the Boat?

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • The book, Who Sank the Boat by Pamela Allen
  • A water table or bin large enough to fill with water and have several children gather around.
  • Half-pint milk cartons for every child (washed thoroughly and dried)
  • A balance scale
  • Chart paper and markers
  • Weighted objects such as pennies, rocks or heavy manipulatives that are small enough to fit into the milk carton boats

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Before beginning the activity, prepare the milk cartons. Staple the spout of each carton closed. Cut each carton in half vertically to make 2 boats. Add a sail by taping a paper triangle to a craft stick and placing the stick in a ball of modeling clay in the center of the boat.
  2. Explain to the children that today they are going to read the book, Who Sank the Boat, and try to figure out which animal sank the boat.
  3. Make a list of things that are lighter than, the same as and heavier than. Divide the chart paper into the three categories and list the children’s answers under the appropriate categories.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Read the book, Who Sank the Boat. While reading the story, encourage the children to make predictions about the different animals and whether or not they will sink the boat.
  2. After reading the book, demonstrate how the scale/balance is used. Use the weighted objects to determine which object is the heaviest, which object is the lightest and which objects weigh the same.
  3. Give each child a boat. If you have time, you might allow the children to decorate their boats to help distinguish the boats from one another.
  4. At the water table, have the children place their boats in the water. If applicable, you might want to have the children arrange the boats in order from largest to smallest. Using the weighted objects, have the children try to sink their boats. Have them experiment with the objects. How many different objects does it take to sink the boats? How many of the same objects does it take to sink the boat? How many of the lightest objects does it take to sink the boat? How may of the heaviest objects does it take to sink the boat? Are the boats different? If it takes 10 pennies to sink a boat, does it also take 10 pennies to sink another child’s boat?
  5. Have the children record their results.
  6. After completing the results, engage the children in a discussion about why certain objects made the boat sink or not and make conclusions about what was learned.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Predict—To guess what might happen next
  • Experiment—To test out a prediction to find out if a prediction is correct or not
  • Weight— How heavy an object is
  • Conclude—To make statements of what was learned after an observation or experiment

Early Science Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Understand the correlation between various weighted objects and the sinking of the boat
Child care providers may:
  • Have the children use only one type of weighted object.
  • Ask: “How many pennies does it take to sink your boat?”
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Understand the correlation between various weighted objects and the sinking of the boat
Child care providers may:
  • Blindfold a child (if a child is willing) and have the child take two different objects in his/her hands and compare the weight of the objects.
  • Ask: “Which object in heavier? Which object is lighter?” Have the children check their answers on the scale.

Suggested Books

  • Who Sank the Boat by Pamela Allen
  • Floating and Sinking by Ellen Sturm Niz

Music and Movement

  • Sing the “Will It Float?” song:
    (Sung to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”)

Oh, will it float or will it sink?
Which will it be; what do you think?
Will it stay on top of the water?
Or, like an anchor, will it sink?”

Outdoor Connections

Fill up a wading pool and have the children gather objects to “test” whether the objects will sink or float. You can use indoor or outdoor objects, but make sure that there are no duplicates. Each child should have an object. Taking turns, the children will put their objects in the pool to see if their objects sink or float. After the children have tested their objects, make two piles: one for objects that float and another for objects that sink.

Web Resources

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