"There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" is a classic children's story and song with an absurd plot: A old woman has swallowed a fly -- "perhaps she'll die"-- so she swallows a spider to catch it, but then she swallows a bird to catch the spider, and so on, until finally she swallows a horse --"she's dead, of course". Activities for this story can incorporate music, art and even math.
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Sing the song with children, using toys as props for the animals the old lady swallows: the fly, spider, the bird, the cat, the dog, the goat, the cow and the horse. Choose toy animals that are large enough so everyone can see them; hold up a new animal for each verse and pass it around as the verse is sung. You may already have most of these animals in toy chests.
Draw the basic shape of a woman on a large sheet of paper. Have the children draw in her features and clothing and colour the pictures. Cut out a hole for the old lady's mouth. Give the children cut-out pictures of a fly, a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a goat, a cow and a horse and have them push the pictures through her mouth as they sing the song.
You can find many free printable activities online for this story, including printable books. In one such activity, cover a metal or metal-and-cardboard cans (such as a large coffee can or infant formula can) with paper. Cut contact paper to fit the lid, then peel the back off the contact paper and press on a picture of the old lady's face. Glue pictures of the animals to metal frozen juice can lids. Cut a hole in the old lady's mouth to put the lids through.
The story is, in a way, a math exercise. Each item is larger than the previous one and has a logical reason for following it and the story counts backward as well as forward. It's extreme to think anyone could swallow a cat or a dog, let along the larger animals. As you read this story to children, ask them if they think this could really happen. After the story, give the children pictures of other animals and have them put them in a sequence from smallest to largest.
Have the children come up with a new ending or a new version. In the original story, the old lady dies after swallowing a horse ("die" is changed to "cry" in some versions). After the story, ask the children to come up with alternate endings. They may come up with a totally new twist.To write a new version, have the children come up with other items the old lady swallows and find out where the activity leads.
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