Originally posted 12/14/2017; Updated 10/06/2021
One of my favorite things to do is to combine classic children's books with real life activities or events. This helps develop a child's understanding (comprehension) of the words on the page but it also makes connections from literature to real life!
A few days ago we saw it happen again.
What happened? Well, our Milk Weed plant (aka Butterfly Bush) had a few very tiny (and very hungry!) caterpillars on it.
Over the past few days we've been watching, counting, predicting and reading!
If you do not own a Milk Weed plant, I highly recommend it. They are beautiful with their bright golden yellow flowers. They are interesting with their seed pods that burst with fluff! They grow and re-grow like no plant I've ever encountered (when the caterpillars eat all of the leaves, you think "oh no!" but just wait... in a little while the plant will be covered with leaves again!!) They are conversation starters with neighbors or random people that you encounter in stores who will listen to you tell the story of your very own hungry caterpillars! They are great for the whole family!
I love how the caterpillars start out so very small. Below is a picture of how small we usually see them for the first time, but we've seen them even smaller! You can talk about the different sizes of the caterpillars on your bushes! Big, small, tiny, huge!
There are SO many caterpillars on our plants. I counted about two dozen and stopped counting! If your child is working on counting skills, this would be a great activity! If counting to 30 is too hard, count the caterpillars on each branch. I see 3 in the picture below!
Watching caterpillars is a great activity for kids of all ages!
We have two kiddos: Big Sister is now 8 years old and Little W is 4. Their language skills are very different! But we like to do things as a family so I am giving some ideas that you can use with kiddos of different ages! Reading together and doing activities together is one of the best things about having a family!
With babies - toddlers, they can just observe and you can talk about what they are doing. Crawling, standing (they do seem to stand up!), eating, searching! You can count and point! Talk about the leaves and flowers. You can touch the leaves (without caterpillars) and talk about not touching the critters!
With older toddlers, you can of course observe, but they are much more active! Have them search for more caterpillars and count them! Talk about where they are. Under the leave. On the leaf. On the seed pod. Near the flowers. I have found that kids love to take pictures. Let them use your phone to take pictures to review later.
With preschoolers, you can begin to connect the story to the real life activity. Bring out a book about caterpillars or the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Talk about similarities and differences. Find a tiny caterpillar and one that you think is big and ready to go make a chrysalis to become a butterfly. They can take pictures, too. Have them share the pictures with friends, family and neighbors! Encourage them to tell about the pictures.
With early elementary schoolers, you can begin to compare and contrast. Use The Very Hungry Caterpillar book and do a chart of the similarities and differences. Bring in the written component by writing words or sentences. You can also discuss the life cycle of the butterfly!
With older elementary schoolers, they can do a research report to find out different kinds of butterflies in your area, information about the migration of the Monarch Butterfly or the types of habitats that butterflies like. They can work on their teaching skills by creating a book to educate a younger sibling. If they like to take pictures, you can use those pictures in the book!
I do have a confession.... I do not love all caterpillars. There are some that eat my garden plants! My fennel! My parsley! My tomatoes! Noooooo! Those can be taken care of; mostly we move them to the woods across the street. They sure are beautiful....but not good for my garden!
The wonderful thing is Monarch Butterfly caterpillars only eat Milk Weed. I had that plant right next to all of my favorite garden plants and I never saw them close to my plants!
I would love to encourage you to get a milk week to add to your landscaping! They grow well in pots and in the ground! You'll be delighted with the experience of having Your Very own Very Hungry Caterpillars! (and just wait until you see the beautiful chrysalises! It's like a treasure hunt trying to find them!)
Inspired? Please share this with a friend!
Let me know if you have a Milk Weed plant and if your's have caterpillars on them?
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