The much-loved children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, is celebrated each year on the 20th March around the world. It is held on this day to celebrate the beginning of Spring in the northern hemisphere. This is a great opportunity to celebrate this book by doing a dance activity with your early years class.
The possibilities are endless for learning activities using this visually beautiful book for young readers. The Very Hungry Caterpillar addresses many education areas without seeming forced or unnatural.
Think about all the different aspects of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that could be used for a dance activity; colours, numbers, days of the week, metamorphosis, names of fruit, healthy eating, identifying the difference between junk food and healthy food, not to mention visual arts learning through the colourful collages.
Use puppets as a warm up for the dance activity.
Using the puppets when reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar can be a good way to start children thinking about how the character may move on the different days. It also encourages fine motor dexterity as they manipulate the puppet in different ways to make meaning.
When using puppets try to encourage improvised dialogue as this can be a good orientating activity for the dance activity to follow. You could buy the finger puppet edition of the book or use it as an opportunity for a Visual art activity.
Alternatively, there are printable images from the book that you could put on paddle pop sticks. Make finger puppets with the children by painting the caterpillar onto their fingers with nontoxic paint or use the finger of a glove or make felt ones that can be decorated with felt pens, wool, felt and scraps of material.
These become art works in themselves and can be used as a Drama activity or in conjunction with the dance activity below.
Using puppets can help children to focus on the character and what the caterpillar may be thinking, how it would move and why.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Dance Activity
These activities are specifically for students in the early years and explore several dance elements that are applicable to most curriculum from K-2. They give the children ways to explore small and large shapes, fast and slow tempo and bound and free dynamics.
Each activity may be done as a part of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar or can be done all at once to create a dance. There are some music suggestions at the end but you could use any music that suggests the mood of the activity.
The activities at the beginning (#1 and #2), are designed to warm up the body in preparation for the higher energy movements at the end.
Moon to rising sun (shape, size, small to large)
The children make moon shapes with their bodies and slowly stretch out to make a sun shape with a wide stance and high outstretched arms. Encourage the children to use a deep breath for this movement and explore which different parts of their body they are using
Guiding questions: What parts of your body do you feel as you make this wide shape? Can you make a wide shape using different parts of your body?
Awakening caterpillar (controlled rolling)
Lying on the floor in a curled up small shape gently roll from side to side. Make sure the movement is slow and feels like the floor massaging the back.
Guiding questions: How do you feel rolled up in your little ball? How are you using your body to control how fast you roll?
Fruit number movements (duplicating movement)
Individually explore a movement for each piece of fruit. The children need to remember what their movement was. This may mean that they rehearse their own movement several times. They then do their movement the number of times that is mentioned in the book. For example, you would do the plum movement 3 times.
For younger children you could make up these movements together and decide which one you are going to use for each piece of fruit.
Guiding question: Did you remember your movement?
Junk food improvisation (balancing still shapes)
For each of the food types in the final day of eating, the students improvise a still shape that looks like the food. They must hold the shape still until the next food is named.
Guiding questions: Which shape was the hardest to hold completely still? Point to the muscles that you had to use to hold that shape still?
Full caterpillar breathing (breathing, small to large shapes)
Breathing deeply in and out, grow your body gradually to the widest shape you can like a big fat caterpillar. Make sure you use a facial expression that shows how full and sick you feel.
Guiding question: Did you feel your body growing? Was it growing in all directions?
Cocooning (skill development turning)
Turning slowly in a circle or rolling the arms in front of the body as the you slowly lower to a low level cocoon shape. Some children will find turning in a circle difficult to balance and should be encouraged to roll their arms for safety. Older children can do both movements at the same time.
When the children are at a low level you may want to place a light, transparent piece of fabric over them. Encourage them to feel as if they are resting their bodies ready for high action.
Breaking out push (dynamics, bound to free)
Brainstorm movement words that are used to describe pushing out of the cocoon. You could include wriggle, squirm, push, reach, or burst. They then try to do those actions as you say the words they have used.
Guiding question: Did you feel as if you were breaking out? What movements did you have to use? Were they fast, slow, strong or weak?
Butterfly tempo improvisation (tempo, fast to still to slow)
Here children improvise as you describe the freedom of flying. To make this activity safe and to teach body control move from fast movements to pausing and then moving slowly. Some movement word to use as you describe them moving could be leaping, landing, turning, pausing or resting.
Guiding question: How did this movement make you feel?
Ideas for music for The Very Hungry Caterpillar dance activity
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Song: you can stop this after chorus and explore the movement then do it with the next part of the music.
Let’s Sing with Eric Carle’s Book: this could be appropriate for a younger age group but is not as catchy.
Adding costumes or using props also helps children to move into the caterpillar’s imagined world. This may be as simple as using a piece of light fabric that doubles as wings for the butterfly and to wrap themselves up in as their own cocoon.
The repetitive language is ideal for little ones to ‘read along’. Be sure and use an edition that has larger print and that the holes are big enough for the children to put their fingers in.
There are so many learning activities you can do using the inspired writing and art of Eric Carle. There are as many layers of educational content as there are layers of tissue paper in the collage that illustrates the book. So, decorate your classroom with some caterpillar inspired bunting and celebrate Very Hungry Caterpillar Day.