Using The Very Hungry Caterpillar at Home: How to Make Great Readers

Updated: May 7

Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is a well known classic children’s book. It has bright colors, fun holes to play with on the pages, and is an adorable story that kids want to read again and again. We all know it’s a great book, and we all love it. The questions is, how do we turn a classic children’s book into an at-home lesson? What can we do to improve language, literacy, math, and science skills using this book?

Easy! Follow these simple suggestions below or come up with your own!

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Using The Hungry Caterpillar for Language Development


The thing about books is that reading them in general will help build language in young children. However, there are additional activities you can do with books to continue to increase those language and communication skills. The first thing is to talk about the book. For example, asking kids questions about the story they just read or listened to. Here are some questions you can ask your child while reading “The Hungry Caterpillar” to increase language.


Questions to ask after reading the book, ages 1 to 4:

  1. Where is the little egg? Can you say egg?

  2. Where is the caterpillar? Can you say cat-er-pill-ar? (You may need to break down this word into syllables slowly a few times before having them put it all together)

  3. What color is the caterpillar’s face? What color is his body? (Point as you ask)

  4. Where is the leaf? Can you say leaf? What color is the leaf?

  5. Ask your child to find different foods as you red and identify the colors of each.

  6. Then, compare which is bigger and smaller. Ask your child is the pie bigger or smaller than the lollipop? Repeat as long as your child is interested.

  7. Have you ever had a stomach ache? Did you eat too much food like the caterpillar?

  8. What is your favorite thing to eat?

  9. Where is the cocoon? What is a cocoon? Why does the caterpillar go into the cocoon?

  10. What colors are the butterfly’s wings?

  11. What was your favorite part of the story? Which part made you feel happy? Which part made you feel sad? Why do you like this book?

  12. What should we name the hungry caterpillar?

Using The Hungry Caterpillar to Teach Science for Preschool


One of the things that I love the most about this book is that the process of metamorphosis is being explained to your child in a fun, engaging way. Take advantage of that and tell your child that “when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly it’s called metamorphosis”. Do this every time you read the book so they retain the information. Eventually when they are older, they will remember what metamorphosis is. Again, it is important when reading any book to always follow up by asking questions.

  1. What is metamorphosis?

  2. Can you say met-a-morph-o-sis?

  3. What is it called when a caterpillar changes into a butterfly?

Visit a Butterfly Garden


Once your child can answer all of these questions with ease, start taking their learning a step further. One option is to go to a local butterfly garden, to look at the chrysalis and cocoons. Talk about them with your kids, and recall the book, as you learn about the real caterpillars. You can also ask them to observe what each looks like.

  1. Can you see the butterfly forming inside?

  2. Ask questions to staff about what they eat and how metamorphosis works.

Online Butterfly Kits


Don’t worry, if you can’t go to a butterfly garden there are plenty of other things you can do to encourage further scientific discovery for your kids. You can order a butterfly kit on Amazon and watch as your caterpillar turns into a butterfly. During this time, you can talk about how to take care of your little caterpillar.


The Very Hungary Caterpillar APP


Did you know there’s an app for it? There is a Hungry Caterpillar app where you can play, feed, and care for the caterpillar from the book! As you care for the caterpillar it will eventually go into its cocoon and turn into a butterfly.


Bug Books at the Library


Other options for extended scientific learning about butterflies includes a trip to the library! Grab additional books on caterpillars or bugs in general and as always, add in a conversation. Read these new books to your kids and talk about the habitats these caterpillars live in, how long the butterflies live, where they travel, how fast they flap their wings, and more.


Don’t Forget YouTube


Lastly, you can watch little videos on YouTube to learn about caterpillars, butterflies, and metamorphosis. If you do this stop the video periodically to talk about what you’re learning. You or your child should re-explain what was just said. Once the video is done talk about the coolest facts you learned about! Then add art time! Draw pictures about what you learned. It is always helpful for parents to model this with their kids.


Using The Hungry Caterpillar to Develop Literacy


Part of literacy is reading comprehension. this is the ability to tell and retell a story. This summarization skill will also help kids learning to read and write. Depending on your child’s age, you can do different activities to build their literacy skills. Arts and crafts such as drawing a picture of their favorite part of the story or creating their own caterpillar for the story will always be a great activity.


Draw and Write Your Own Version of the Story


Kids who can already write, can write their own caterpillar stories or explanations of their pictures on the back of their artwork. Kids who can’t write yet can simply tell you all about their pictures or stories verbally.


Learning Letters Practice


For kids who are learning their letters make “C” the letter of the week, for caterpillar, discuss its sound, and practice writing it. Color large versions of the letter “c”, cut out a little caterpillar who has to walk along the “c”, tracing it, to reach is food. You can also find more words that start with “c” for the week.


Another week you can do similar things with the letters “H” for hungry, and “M” for metamorphosis. Trace key words from the book. Practice sounding out the words and letters. Finally, at the end of using this book for a week, ask you kids to read the book to you. If they are already readers, perfect! If your child cannot actually read yet, don’t worry! They can simply look at the pictures and recall, or guess, what is happening in each page. It’s a fun activity.


Using The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Teach Basic Math Skills


There are lots of counting opportunities in “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”. Every time the caterpillar eats is an opportunity to count. Let your child figure out how much of what food the caterpillar ate before you read it. Let them use their fingers to be the caterpillar, eating the food as they count. Turn the pages into a math problem. What happens when we add the number of apples and pears together? How many pieces of fruit is that? Combine different items, and build up to adding all of the food he ate throughout the week in the end. Another option is do the same activity but with subtraction. Look for a pattern in how much he ate. Each day he eats how many more pieces of food? The answer is one until the junk food day.


Learn Patterns Inspired by the Book


Next, you can start making your own patterns and have your child finish them using foods from the book. Start with one red apple, one green pear, one red apple, one green pear, have them draw the next two fruits that come next. Repeat pattern creations every day. Start out easy, using just coloring objects to match the color pattern. Then work up to drawing the objects and their correct colors. The same activity can be done with cards, or magnets.


Once your child can put simple patterns together easily, start adding one more object or color. Move on from object and colors to numbers. Pattern recognition is taught starting in preschool, and will continue to work on patterns until the end of grade school.


Visual Addition and Subtraction Problems


The last math activity is to cut out a caterpillar and different foods from colored construction paper. Then set up visual math problems for your child to practice. For example, have the caterpillar “eat” some fruits to work on subtraction. By moving the caterpillar, taking away fruits or different foods and recounting the new amount of food leftover, they will be able to practice math in a more fun and interactive way.


For addition, you child can put foods into two or three piles, have them add it all together, and write down the number of foods they’ve added together to practice number writing. You can optionally create a felt board to play with and move around. This felt board can be used for literacy as well, retelling the story by bringing it to life!


How long should I spend working with my kids each day?


Ages 2 to 4


Based on age and interest you will work with your 2 to 4 year old’s between 15 and 30 minutes at one time on each subject. Kids should get a 30 minute break in between each learning session to play. You don’t want to overwhelm them. Remember, if your kids don’t like an activity find a new one they will enjoy more. Allow them to help you figure out what the like and find ways to make reading, writing, math, and science fun. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth our time! Read the story them as many times as they want you to read it to them. Start off with a couple of days of just reading, pointing, and talking about the book. Then add in the themed math, science, artwork, and writing after the first couple of days.


You may only be able to complete one type of activity each day. Again this depends on your child. It is always best NOT to force them to do any of these activities. It should be fun and enjoyable. If you push them, they will end up disliking the book. If they are forced into story time it is possible they will learn to hate books in later years. Really, school will ruin learning for most kids, so allow them to have fun with it while at home.


Ages 5 to 7


Your 5 to 7 year old’s can handle sitting and doing more at each time. You can play around with a topic for an hour, give them a break, let them run around outside, then come back and do something new. Try not to do more than 3 hours per day. Kids need to get time playing and working on social skills. They need to learn how to work with others, follow directions, and music and art.


Ages 8 to 10


While this book may seem too simple for older kids it covers many topics that are perfect for this age group. 8 to 10 year old’s should be getting better at writing out fully fledged stories. So allow them to rewrite the story in their own version, changing the foods or numbers their caterpillar eats. They should also be explaining their observations and hypothesizing what will happen next, not simply retelling a story. Allow them to keep a journal about their own caterpillars or have the write in a reading journal about the book, thinking critically about each page. These kids are also more independent readers, so this is the perfect age to take to the library allowing them to read more books about the caterpillar topics.


But remember they normally have a full eight hour school day with a recess and lunch break. They get time for art and music and physical education. If you’re homeschooling, mirror that schedule. Keep the schedule consistent. Kids need to know what to expect at ALL AGES.


If you are homeschooling this age group, remember that these kids need more academic time. Look at the effort they are putting forth, help them kindly to push themselves and work to increase the difficulty of everything they’re working on. They need to think critically about whatever you’re giving them to do. They need problem solving skills. These skills are key to successfully moving on to high learning.


Key to Success


The key to success is one simple word; fun. You want your children to learn as much as you can teach them? Start young, talk a lot, ask them questions, play with them, make things fun! Crawl around the house like a hungry caterpillar. Play silly games like you’re eating too much food and get a tummy ache, wrap up in a big blanket (cocoon) and come out as a big butterfly. You’ll have to find a way to make wings with items you have at home OR with your imaginations!


You’re going to make memories, have fun, and create a LOVE OF LEARNING. That’s your main job! It’s not about how much you can get them to talk, write, read, do math or understand science. There are schools that will do that. Show them WHY they want to learn new things, and to try new things. There’s a whole world of fun and imagination that opens up when we read and play. Get them interested in learning about new things and they will be much more successful in school and actually enjoy it! That’s what’s most important for you do as the parent or guardian. Love those kids, have fun with them, and show them what a wonderful world we have the opportunity to explore in!