Aaron's Preschool: The Story of Ferdinand

Apr 25, 2013

Note: This school year, I have participated with four other moms in a little preschool co-op for our 3- and 4-year-old kids. We have loosely based our curriculum on Five in a Row. For some of my other preschool posts, click here.

When it was my turn to teach Aaron's preschool last month, I decided to focus my lesson around The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. This old classic is one that I'd (sadly) never read before I had kids, but it has since become one of my very favorites. But it's not just a great story--there are more things to learn from it than you might think at first glance.

Ferdinand is a young bull. While all the other bulls like to "run, jump, and butt their heads together," Ferdinand is content to sit under a cork tree and smell the flowers. Time passes, and Ferdinand grows into a big, strong bull, but still his favorite pastime is sitting under the cork tree and smelling the flowers. One day, five men come to select the biggest, strongest, fastest bull for the bull fight in Madrid. By an unfortunate accident and subsequent misunderstanding, the five men choose Ferdinand. Of course, Ferdinand has absolutely no interest in the banderilleros, picadores, or the matador. The crowd in Madrid is disappointed, but Ferdinand is just happy to eventually be returned home where his cork tree and flowers are still waiting for him.

I have to say that one of the things I absolutely love about this story is Ferdinand's mother. As any good mother would, she worries about her son. She thinks he must be lonely sitting under that tree day after day all by himself. She asks him why he won't go play with the other bulls, but Ferdinand insists he likes the solitude. And then come my favorite lines: "His mother saw that he was not lonesome. And because she was an understanding mother (even though she was a cow), she let him just sit there and be happy." I feel like one of the hardest jobs as a mom is finding the right balance between what you want for your child and what he wants for himself. Ferdinand's mother could tell that he was happy, and who was she to decide that butting your head into the head of another bull was a more worthwhile pursuit than enjoying the beauties of nature? So she let him be. Sorry for the tangent, but there's a great lesson right there.

And now, here are some of the activities we did to go along with this book:

First, is it possible to read a book about a bull who loves flowers and not make...flowers? No, I really do not think such a thing would be possible. So after reading the story, we sat down at the kitchen table and made some flowers out of coffee filters. (I found the idea here.)

The kids colored on the filters with markers. We found that lots of squiggles and loops and circles work best, and also try to avoid complementary colors (orange and blue, etc.). Best to stick with purples and blues or reds and oranges, unless of course, you prefer a sickly shade of brown.

Then lightly spray the filter with water. You want the colors to get wet enough that they spread into each other but not so wet that they run off the paper. Don't worry though, we definitely had some overzealous squirters, and the flowers still turned out great.

Then fold the coffee filter in half and continue folding and crinkling it up. The more crinkly, the better. I set ours outside to dry (middle picture above). Once they're dry, unfold them, stack two (or more) together and poke a pipe cleaner through the middle. I folded the end of the pipe cleaner over a few times to create a knot for the center of the flower. Then I looped the other end over to make a leaf shape.

While the flowers were outside drying, we switched to a different subject. In the story, there is a picture of Ferdinand as a full grown bull standing next to a tree stump with his height marked off on it. I wanted the kids to have a chance to measure some things for themselves. I made a little list of items (pencil, foot, book, toothpick, person) and gave them each a tape measure or ruler to measure the item with. (Unfortunately, I didn't get any good pictures of the measuring actually happening.)

Then they wrote down the length of each item. (I need to remember that my writing activities don't go over too well with four-year-olds. They would have been much more content just to use the measuring tools and leave the pencils behind.) (I found the idea for this activity here.)

Of course, you could vary this activity in millions of ways by changing what you measure and the unit of measurement you use. (For the sake of simplicity, we stuck with inches, but stay tuned next month because I have a fun activity--still in my head--for the next virtual book club that will involve measuring!)

Ferdinand loves to smell the flowers, so for our next activity, we headed back into the kitchen for some experimentation with smell. (I found the idea for this activity here.)

I filled seven plastic cups with various scents (lemon, cinnamon, orange, Cheerios, garlic, banana, and dishsoap). Then I rubberbanded some wax paper over the top of each one and poked some holes in it so the scent could escape.

I wrote all of the correct answers on a whiteboard, which I then covered up (not that any of the kids can read that well...). I left space on the left side where I could write their guesses.

Before we began, I showed them an illustration in the Usborne First Encyclopedia of the Human Body, and we talked about the tiny receptacles in your nose that send a message to the brain and lets you recognize hundreds of different scents.

Then each child got a turn to be the first guesser with one of the cups. If he/she was stumped, someone else got to take a guess. And then, of course, everyone got to have a turn smelling each cup. I was surprised with how quickly they identified most smells. The only one they didn't get right was the garlic, but they guessed an onion which I thought was really close. (When I let one of the little girls smell the banana, a sigh of extreme pleasure escaped her as she whispered, "Banana..." It cracked me up.)

This was for sure the favorite activity of the morning. Even after the rest of the kids left, Aaron and Max had to smell all of the cups again and again. And then, they were so excited to take off the wax paper and actually see the items inside.

Since the story takes place in Spain, it would have been remiss not to touch on Spanish culture in some way. We found the country on the globe, and I sent each child home with a picture of Spain's flag to color.

I asked my brother-in-law who served a mission in Spain for some ideas of kid-friendly snacks from the country. He suggested patatas bravas, which are like potato wedges with a dipping sauce. Although most recipes are spicy and with a tomato-based sauce, I just went with lightly salted potatoes and a mayonnaise-based dip. (But for all my efforts to find something "kid-friendly," those kids still turned up their noses at this snack. C'mon, kids! It's french fries and fry sauce, for crying out loud.)

Earlier in the morning, I had them help me shake up the potatoes with oil and salt and mix up the ingredients for the dip. (Unfortunately, to save myself time, I'd cut up the potatoes the night before which left them looking a little bit discolored. That may also have effected the kids' appetites.)

I happened to think they were delicious, and since no one liked them, there was plenty left over for me!

For our last activity, we talked a little bit about the properties of cork (since Ferdinand loves sitting under a cork tree). I asked them if they thought a cork would float or sink, and then we tested it in a bowl of water. I talked about how cork is made up of lots of little air pockets which make it lighter than water. (Idea found here.)

Then I gave them corks and toothpicks, and they made their own little floating devices, which we then floated in the bathtub.

Like I've mentioned before, each book in the Five in a Row curriculum is meant to be studied for a full five days, and there was so much more learning that I could have done with this book if I'd had that much time. Each time I dissect a book like this, I am truly amazed at the wealth of ideas contained in just a simple picture book. It's awesome.

I shared this post with the Kid's Co-op, The Children's Bookshelf, and Link & Learn.


  1. Thanks for this wonderful post. Ferdinand is a favorite in our house, and I know my 3 year old would love these activities!

  2. Awww, how cute! I love "Ferdinand," and I would never think of pulling all those ideas out of it. I'm sure your kids really look forward to preschool. :)

  3. Does anyone NOT love this book? Seriously, how can you not love it- there is so much to love. The flowers turned out really beautiful, we're going to have to try them this summer when I'm trying to fill up our days. Great post, Thanks!

    1. I don't know, but if anyone doesn't like this book, then I probably don't want to know about it! :-)

  4. Ferdinand is one of my all time favorite books. How can you not love everything about a little bull who likes to sit just quietly and smell the flowers? Love your activities!

  5. One of our all time favs too! I love the story and have read it many times to DD. I also agree about your observation about Ferdinand's mom. Its a lesson all in itself :) THanks for sharing the wonderful activities that go along with the book.

    1. Thanks for the comment! Yes, Ferdinand's mother is a great example!

  6. We love this book. Thanks for the list of activities and for linking it up to The Children's Bookshelf!


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