Eric Carle’s book The Very Hungry Caterpillar and our summer gardens can be a learning opportunity that our young learners will never forget. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a beautifully illustrated book in which Mr. Carle has the reader follow the life cycle of a very hungry caterpillar, who is born on Sunday. As the caterpillar eats its way from Monday through Saturday, and transforms into a glorious butterfly on the next Sunday children can practice counting skills, sequence the days of the week, wonderful food choices and learn about the life cycle of a butterfly.
While you and your child are reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar try to find a summer garden where together you can explore the world of plants, caterpillars, and butterflies.
If you are lucky enough to find a caterpillar put him safely in a terrarium. Offer him various food choices and journal the food he eats daily. Watch him grow. Or visit http://www.thebutterflysite.com/rearing.shtml you can make it easy on yourself and buy a butterfly kit to raise Painted Lady Butterflies.
Of course there are some wonderful books you can research:
- From Caterpillar to Butterfly Big Book by Deborah Heiligman and BariWeissman
- Ten Little Caterpillars by Bill Martin Jr. and Lois Ehlert
- Caterpillars and Butterflies by Stephanie Turnbull, Rosanne Guille and Uwe Mayer
- Caterpillars, Bugs & Butterflies by Mel Boring
Spend time actually studying the parts of a caterpillar and butterfly.
Try to find a smooth caterpillar like a tobacco hornworm. Gently coax it onto a leaf or stem where your child can observe it with a hand lens. See if they can find the following organs and structures.
View the caterpillar’s head. At the bottom of the head are the mandibles, the pruning scissor-like jaws that it uses to cut food. Slightly above and to the side of the jaws are simple eye spots. The caterpillar probably doesn’t see much with those tiny spots, maybe only whether it is light or dark out. After the caterpillar transforms into a pupa and then a butterfly, your child will see different structures.
Instead of tiny spots on its head, the butterfly has large compound eyes. The mouth has become a long tube for sucking nectar from flowers. There were antennal buds on the head of the caterpillar, but the butterfly has full blown antennae.
The legs are long and delicate and the prolegs are gone. Attached to the thorax are the wings. If you read a book about how to identify butterflies, it will probably describe markings on the upper forewings, or the lower hind wings. The raised structures in the wings, called wing veins, are also important for identification.
The research and discussion you and your child have about the life cycle of a caterpillar can change your summer garden into an educational experience your child will never forget.