The Empty Pot, by Demi, is a great story of a Chinese emperor who seeks his replacement by giving all the young children in his empire a challenge to grow beautiful flowers from the seeds they are given. Ping has a proverbial green thumb and seems the likely one to win the challenge. As he nurtures his seed however, nothing happens. The day of the presentation arrives, and ping bravely presents the emperor his empty pot, while all around him the children have brought a variety of beautiful plants. The emperor announces that Ping will be his replacement, explaining that the seeds he had distributed had been cooked and would not grow. Ping was the only one who showed honesty, and was therefore worthy to become emperor.
This book is a fantastic opportunity to discuss the pro-social skill of honesty. Talk about how disappointed, and even embarrassed, Ping felt when his friends had beautiful flowers but he did not. Once the emperor reveals that the seeds he gave could not grow, talk about how the other children ended up with flowers in their pots. Talk about how Ping was brave to tell the truth and why that courage was more important than growing a flower. You could take this discussion as far as you’d like.
After discussing honesty, try your own seed science experiment. Take a batch of easy to sprout seeds (pumpkin, bean, sunflower). Use half of the seeds as your control, and simply sprout them in a Ziploc with wet napkins. The other set will be your test set, or your “Emperor Set” if you wish. Cook these by boiling them, roasting them- however you wish. (Just be sure to cook them thoroughly. I once boiled some very briefly, and they still sprouted. Who knew they’d be so resilient?) Then put them in another Ziploc with wet napkins and observe the two sets of seeds.
Engage your children in the experiment and teach the scientific process as you directly encourage them to be inquisitive, hypothesize, observe, record, and share information. Ask the children what kinds of questions they want to answer as you observe the two sets over the course of a week or two. (Will they both grow? Will one grow faster?) Write the questions on a list, and refer to it as you make daily observations. Write your answers as you discover them. Add surprise observations as well. (“The beans in bag #2 look mushy.”) After observing the two sets over a period of time, summarize the differences and what the children have learned. (“Seeds can’t grow if they’re boiled and soft first.” “You have to have healthy seeds or they won’t grow.” “Not every seed can grow a plant.” etc.)
You can share your experiment by creating a poster or book with pictures and your written observations. Refer back to The Empty Pot and talk about how your experiment was similar. Do the children think the emperor had to do a similar experiment to know what to expect when he gave the seeds to the children?
You could do this experiment again, testing other hypotheses about seeds. Will they grow if they’re chopped in half? Will they grow if they’re soaked in water vs soaked in vinegar before going into the Ziploc? Brainstorm questions with your children and create your own experiment with a (control and a variable) to find your answers!
For more Seeds & Plants activities, click here.