a very busy week

Try these creative ways to connect with a very familiar caterpillar



Children all over the world have been delighted by Eric Carle’s classic tale of a caterpillar who eats his way through the week and finally transforms into a beautiful butterfly. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been translated into at least 40 languages  and has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. It has been used by educators, caregivers and parents as a teaching tool on diverse levels. 

We hope you enjoy our suggestions for filling an entire week with opportunities to engage with nature. We based our ideas on the caterpillar’s memorable diet!  He loves to explore…...and so should you. 


On Monday


Snack on an apple, just like that very hungry character did. Make a point, however, of cutting it this way. A preschooler will be interested to find that a “flower shape” is hidden inside. Count those little “petals.” This is good practice in getting from one to five if counting successfully is still inconsistent. Five is a number from the Fibonacci series, which appears everywhere in nature  from the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of florets of a flower, or even the scales of a pineapple.The Fibonacci numbers are applicable to the growth of every living thing. A three year old does not need to know this, however; it is more meaningful at this time to simply count and acknowledge that there are five little sections in which the seeds are hidden. Next time you snack on an apple, do the same thing. Cut it open. Let the child discover that there are five little sections in this one also. A young child’s sensitivity to order and predictability makes a coincidence seem veryinteresting. Buy different kinds of apples at the store. Each time you cut one, let the child count; independent discovery has the greatest impact on learning. Once your child reaches the age of five and six, you can introduce the historical figure of Fibonacci and his mathematical discoveries through the book Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci by Joseph D’Agnese. For now, inspire a foundational interest in numeric patterns by counting things you encounter in everyday nature experiences.

Five is a number from the Fibonacci series, which appears everywhere in nature

On Tuesday

Enjoy a simple print making activity with your little one, and put your crafts to good use. A pear provides a good surface for paint, has an eye-catching shape and its concave surface can easily fit in the grasp of a small hand. Of course, there can be ample paper for experimentation and display in the kitchen or bedroom. Please be sure to decorate extra paper to be cut when dry and used as greeting cards for grandparents, pen pals or friends near or far. Everyone loves to receive mail; what a pleasure it will be for others to receive your artwork courtesy of the mailman.

A child may wish to add a personalized message or, for those who are not yet showing an interest in writing, it is perfectly acceptable to have them dictate a message to you which you can transcribe for them. Dictation is a useful exercise in conveying the idea of what writing is all about. Too frequently adults become focused on the technical aspect of writing without allowing the child to witness writing taking place in the home as a natural means of communication. 

Make sure that you are providing a role model for your child with respect to writing. Use a pen or pencil to create an old fashioned shopping list. Leave notes around the house for family members as reminders about laundry, daily schedules or  upcoming events. Use your finger to write a message on a fogged up window. Let your children be aware that writing is a useful skill and that it communicates thought. By absorbing your attitudes towards the process of writing, your children will come to develop an interest in it too. Writing is an outlet for self-expression, which is so important to young children. Send some letters or cards off in the mail and wait eagerly for someone to reply. These situations make the process of writing more meaningful and are an excellent opportunity for practicing social etiquette, basic spelling and outreach towards others.


On Wednesday 


Plums can be difficult to access in spring due to seasonal availability but rather than spending  time searching under florescent supermarket lights for these tasty fruits, why not make an excursion to a local outdoor market? City markets, in particular, provide a wonderful backdrop for a multicultural experience as well as a multisensory one. Instead of pre-recorded cover versions of outdated popular music you and your preschooler can listen to the sounds of many world languages.

Where I live, in Vienna, it is now customary to hear languages from all over Europe as well as Africa and Asia. Preschoolers are wired to absorb sounds they hear with detailed precision, can frequently retain new sounds and new vocabulary much more reliably than adults. Hearing other languages being used can generate questions and lead to healthy conversation, which stimulates self expression and benefits every young child. 


Once you acquire and enjoy the plums, please save the seed from the center; we offer you a suggestion for a simple activity that can meet the needs of a developing three- or four-year old. You will need a small tray, two aesthetic containers, a small sugar tongs and the plum stones (washed, dried out in the oven for a little while and left to cool).

Arrange the materials according to the accompanying photograph. When you introduce this activity to your child, please invite him / her to sit on your left and ask that hands are placed on the lap. Refrain from speaking while you work so as to allow full concentration on what your hands are doing.

Slowly lift the tongs in your dominant hand. You can demonstrate how they can be squeezed closed and allowed to open again in mid-air. After doing this a couple of times, slowly lower the tongs and cause it to grab onto one of the seeds. Remember to keep all movements slow. Lift the tongs and bring your hand across so that it is directly over the empty container.

Gently release the seed into the empty container. Keep silentRepeat the process and then ask your child if he/she would like a turn. When all the seeds have been transferred you can help your child to turn the tray around slowly in order to begin again.


Things to Consider

*Work in the direction of the flow of written language. For English speakers, this will of course be from left to right.  This suggests to the child’s developing brain an expectation of logical sequence in whatever direction you choose. 

*Operating a child-sized tongs helps to strengthen the muscles of the hand that will be used in controlling a pencil or other writing tool. 

*Children of preschool age are attracted to process rather than product, which makes this an ideal time to attract attention and extend focusby doing things merely for the sake of doing them. If your child finds this activity fun for three minutes on the first day, it is possible that any improvement in their fine motor skills will motivate them to keeping at it for longer each time they try it. Harnessing attention and developing concentration is the point of effective activity based learning. 

On Thursday

Strawberry plants make an attractive addition to a window box garden and will yield one of the hungry caterpillar’s favorite food. Caring for plants is a simple way to introduce the concept of responsibility with young children. Toddlers will be interested in sponging down the leaves of larger indoor houseplants; always check that your plants are non-toxic for children or pets if you like to incorporate them into your household decor.


By preschool age a child can grasp the idea that a plant will need water to thrive and will appreciate being allowed to take on a daily task like watering plants. To make the task even more appealing, look to acquire a child sized watering can which you can mark on the inside to indicate an appropriate water level. A little visual sign like this becomes a point of interest for a preschooler; provide a step stool in front of the sink so that he or she can stand up and fill the watering can completely independently. This should first be modeled by you, of course, but it will not take long for a little one to take on this task with pride and also do an acceptable job. 

Some parents or teachers like to provide a small visual marker such as a little flag or sign, which the child can position in the flower pot to indicate that the job is done for the day. In a large family or in a busy classroom this is useful in monitoring just how much water a plant is receiving! It only takes a moment at the end of the day to remove these little markers and store them in an accessible place for use the following day.

Your strawberry plants may have to be started indoors until the weather allows them to be placed outside permanently. Gardeners frequently advise using light colored containers, which help to keep the roots of the plant cool in warm weather. Growing one’s own food often encourages the development of healthy eating habits. Children may try new foods if they can claim part of the responsibility for planting the seeds and engaging in the daily care of plants.


On Friday

Squeeze your own orange juice and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. If you provide oranges that are already halved, a preschooler will derive great enjoyment from squeezing their own beverage. Plus, you will be happy to know that they are getting their daily Vitamin C. This 


vitamin is essential for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of the human body. Vitamin C plays a role in making collagen, an important protein used to make skin, tendons, cartilage and blood vessels. It is also used in the maintenance of bones and teeth. 

Vitamin C even helps in the healing of scratches or wounds! Any of this information might be of interest to a young child who is curious about their growing body. When you make time to talk with a three-year old, be conscious of making your words as simple  as possible and your message age-appropriate. A five-year old will engage in a much deeper conversation and should be respected as having reached a greater degree of maturation. 

There are many ways in which children between the ages of three and six share common behavioral traits, developmental needs and physical needs. However, on an emotional level it is acknowledged that a preschooler frequently demonstrates a more egocentric view of life, according to a necessary developmental stage of growth. By kindergarten age a young child is experiencing tremendous emotional growth and exhibits a more sophisticated social interest as well as  a deeper curiosity about personal hygiene. In addition, an ability to engage with the abstract is beginning to emerge at this point, unlike a three or even four year-old who typically feels more secure when dealing with concrete reality. The concept of vitamins will be more easily understood according as an ability to reason with the abstract emerges but basic self care begins in very small steps. 

Demonstrate to your child the proper way to blow his/her nose, and allow the child to assume responsibility for this task, as well as independent hand washing and dressing. The freedom to take care of oneself at an age appropriate level aids in the development of self esteem and acknowledges the dignity of the person, no matter how young. Self care is always a useful life skill. 

On Saturday


On Saturday, the very hungry caterpillar enjoyed quite a feast. You should feel free to do the same, in the great outdoors, of course! Picnics appeal to children of any age and there are so many options when it comes to finding the ideal location for your family’s needs. Some families like to hike before they eat. Why not explore local waterfalls, a bird sanctuary or a nature preserve? Some families enjoy sports on the weekend and look for a park close to a basketball court, a tennis court or a playground. What options exist in your area? We can all become trapped in a routine and sometimes are reluctant to try new places or hike new terrain. Older children might like to research possibilities for a day trip. Picnics are an ideal motivator for cooking or baking; make sure to pack everyone’s favorite healthy treats and lots of protein for endurance if you plan to make the day activity-centered. Drinks, too, are important! Even some family pets can join in on many outdoor adventures. There are many dog parks here in Europe. How about where you live?

A picnic table can be a nice place to engage in some reading time while some family members look for photo opportunities, take a swim or even have a nap. You can visit the local library before you depart on your journey and gather materials to feed your brain as well as your tummy! Look for short picture books that might reflect the landscape you intend to explore, including picture books on birds, mammals and, of course, butterflies! You can even enjoy an audiobook in the car if you need to drive a considerable distance. Some of our fondest family memories are associated with stories that we listened to enroute to a much anticipated destination. Do you have favorites? Ours include: 

  • Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen and read by Peter Coyote
  • King of the Wind, by Marguerite Henry and read by David McCallum
  • A Week in the Woods, by Andrew Clements and read by Ron Livingston
  • The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett and read by Finola Hughes
  • Hoot, by Carl Hiaasen and read by Chad Lowe

These books are largely suitable for children aged 6 and over, although younger children may be lulled into a well-timed nap by the sound of the human voice and literary prose.

On Sunday


On Sunday that famous caterpillar ate a hole in a green leaf and then took a rest, during which a magical transformation takes place. It seems natural to visit a butterfly garden or butterfly house as a fitting conclusion to a week of exploration! Perhaps you have your own special garden area for the purpose of attracting butterflies? We have read that they show particular interest in purple cone flowers (echinacea), sunflowers, poppies, marigolds, cosmos, salvia, verbena, milkweed and daisies. If you have planted these then keep a watchful eye out for visitors! 

"If we can stand very still, we might get to enjoy
some butterflies coming very close to us” 

If you live close to a public butterfly garden or house we can certainly recommend a visit. There you will see a variety of species, many of which will be comfortable initiating close contact with you if you wear brightly colored clothing and can stand or sit very, very still. It will be good to prepare a preschooler for this experience; young children appreciate explanations when they are provided in an age-appropriate manner. “If we can stand very still, we might get to enjoy some butterflies coming very close to us” communicates a positive message and provides context for behavioral expectations. A message that is communicated in a positive light always receives more attention and usually generates more successful results all round.


You are also likely to encounter insects in varying stages of transformation, which will be a perfect follow-up to your favorite butterfly read-aloud. Refrain from instructing your child; allow time for him / her to observe and be ready to provide answers to questions that might arise. You can use a couple of questions as conversation starters, yourself, such as “What could be happening with that one, there?” Children will have varying degrees of interest in this aspect of the visit. Some might stand in awe for several minutes; it is important to respect each child’s manner of engaging with any environment. Allow a child to remain still in observation for as long as is preferred. Sometimes, the best lessons are acquired in mesmerising silence. Other children may be less interested in a glass case of specimens, which is also a normal response. Follow the child’s lead and enjoy your day, however it evolves.

Nature teaches us, at any age, through direct observation and experience if we are ready to look, listen and learn. Developing a close relationship with nature has been proven to reduce stress, supports physical health and inspires us to investigate, question and engage in self-expression. Let your learning, and that of your child, be creative and always joyful. 

Keep exploring!