The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Fun ways to teach language

What a classic and for good reason!  The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a simple yet engaging story of a caterpillar going through its life cycle and eating lots of food along the way.  There’s so much you can teach your child using this book so we’ve narrowed it down to our top 5 targets for different ages.

Describing words
There are lots of describing words you can talk about in this story.  Children begin to understand describing words from a very early age.  Some of the early ones that you can expect your child to understand and use as toddlers include big, cold and wet.  You’ll generally start hearing some of these around 2 years of age.  The later developing ones are those that generally come up less often such as shallow, thick and dull.  When you’re reading this book try describing the fruit – round, crunchy, juicy, smooth, sweet.  It doesn’t matter if your child doesn’t know a word.  Still use it.  They’ll learn it by hearing it lots of times.  Then try using these words again during your day.  Great opportunities are during mealtimes or if you take them grocery shopping with you.  Children need to hear the same words many times in many situations before they learn it.

Time concepts
The time concepts you can to teach your child using this book include days of the week and yesterday/today/tomorrow.  Time concepts can be tricky and it usually takes children until they’re 5 to 6 years of age before they understand and use them correctly.  A good way to help your child with time concepts is to relate them back their life.  So, when the caterpillar eats the apple on Monday take a moment to talk about what your child usually does on Mondays. The same goes for yesterday, today and tomorrow.  Talk about what your child did yesterday then talk about what they’re doing tomorrow.  It can help to write the days of the week on a page and draw their activities so they can see it rather than trying to keep it in their mind.

There are two types of plurals: regular and irregular.  The regular ones are those that you add ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the end of a word like cats or buses. Children will generally start using these around 2 ½ to 3 years of age.  The irregular ones, where the whole word changes (or stays exactly the same!) such as mice and sheep, start to be used around 4 to 5 years of age but continue developing for years.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar is great for teaching regular plurals.  Try counting out the fruit and remember to use the fruit name as well as the number “one strawberry, two strawberries, three strawberries, four strawberries”.

Why questions
The often dreaded why questions are actually an important part of language development!  You can expect to enter the why stage when your child is around 3 to 4 years of age.  If your child loves asking ‘why’ over and over again even after you’ve answered, try throwing it back to them with a ‘why do you think?’.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a great opportunity for you to turn the table and do the asking “Why is he eating? Why does he have a sore tummy? Why did you eat the leaf?”  If your child isn’t at the stage or answering these yet, you can still ask the question then just answer it yourself or get someone else involved in the book and they can answer.  Remember, they need to hear it to learn it.

Syllable awareness
This is being able to hear and tap out the syllables in words and is a pre-literacy skill that you can expect from your child around 5 years of age.  It’s one of the skills that form the foundation of later literacy development so it’s an important one.  You could use anything around the house to practice this.  A wooden spoon, a drum, chopsticks, toys or hands are perfect for tapping out the syllables.  This book is full of words with different numbers of syllables.  Ca-ter-pi-llar has four, app-le has two, sa-la-mi has three. Say the word aloud and tap out the syllables as you do.  You can then try doing this the next time you go for a drive.  Spot things out the window and work out how many syllables the word has together.


And remember our 3 keys when reading with children…

Make it a conversation

Use an animated voice

Have fun!