Tag Archives: books

10 Hungry Caterpillar Inspired Activities

To celebrate the 40th birthday of one of the world’s most famous picture books, I have 10 Hungry Caterpillar inspired activities.

  1. clay caterpillarMaths: Build caterpillars from dough or clay. Count the number of segments that make up the caterpillar. Play a matching game – place the correct caterpillar on the leaf with the matching colour or number of segments.

2. Imaginary Play: My eldest followed an enveloping schema for years. She would hoard things in little bags and containers and if you ever left anything around that she could climb into, you would find her inside. On one occasion I left a fabric storage bin in her room. She promptly climbed inside declaring that she was in her cocoon and soon emerged as a beautiful butterfly. Provide material, boxes, play tunnels, blankets, wings and deely boppers.

3. Song and Rhyme: Sing the caterpillar on a leaf song or sit behind your child and pretend to crawl a caterpillar up their back.  Teach them to ask ‘Whose that climbing up the garden wall?’ and you reply in a caterpillar like voice ‘It’s me’ said the caterpillar ‘I’m learning how to crawl’.

4.painting butterflies Paint symmetrical butterfly pictures: I’m sure we all remember these from school days. Paint on one side, fold the paper over to create a symmetrical print on the other.  This can also work well by painting a piece of string, placing it between the folded paper and then pulling it out whilst the paper is still folded.

5. Movement: Read the Hungry Caterpillar and give the children movements to follow during the story. Egg – curl up in a ball, caterpillar – crawl along the floor moving to eat different types of food,  big fat caterpillar – stretch out wide, cocoon – spin slowly then hang their head between their legs, staying very still, butterfly – flap their wings and fly.

6. Discovery – it is a little cold yet but once the weather is warmer, grow your own butterflies. We have done this very successfully using kits from Insectlore. It is fascinating to watch how quickly the tiny caterpillars grow and then instinctively hang upside down. You soon get to recognise when the butterflies are ready to emerge and can feed them indoors for a day or 2 before releasing them into the garden. The species that they use tend to stay within your local area for a few days after being released so you can spot them in the garden.

Find out about the butterflies and caterpillars that can be found in your locality, and print pictures of more exotic species.

7. Food: Make a fruit salad using the fruits eaten by the Hungry Caterpillar or taste some of the more unusual foods he ate.  We are a big juicing family so we are going to make Hungry Caterpillar juice using:

1 apple

2 pears

3 plums

4 strawberries

5 oranges

 8.finger caterpillar Maths: Turn your finger into a crawling caterpillar and measure things in caterpillar steps.measuring caterpillar

9. Outdoors – Grow a butterfly garden. I saw some amazing butterflies in our garden last year that are fairly commonplace in this area. I’m definitely going to learn about how I can attract them this year.

10. Visit a Butterfly Farm. I can highly recommend the butterfly house at Bristol Zoo and Felinwynt Rainforest Centre in West Wales.  In Seattle there is the Butterfly House at the Pacific Science Centre . Feel free to add any recommendations in the comments.

And don’t forget to read the book……

Donate Children’s Books to Get Britain Reading

booksFor some time now I have been wondering what to do with all my children’s books. I collected children’s books before I had children and these were given to my children.  There are many that I can’t part with but every so often I have a purge of the children’s bookshelves as the space gets  more and more restricted.

It always seems a shame to give them away, especially when I hear about the high percentage of children who don’t have books of their own.  With the  Bookstart budget being cut I have often wondered if there was a way I could donate my books to a needy cause.

On a rare occasion that I turned on the television in the morning, a feature grabbed my attention. It was the ITV Get Britain Reading Campaign.  The Statistics are astounding,  1 in 3 children between the age of 7 – 16 does not own a book.  This makes me even more determined to get my books to children that need them.

Finally this is possible as Daybreak have set up venues across the country where good quality children’s books can be donated. Books can be deposited until Sunday 4th March and then they will be distributed by The Salvation Army, Booktrust and Dyslexia Action.

Books about Children Wearing Glasses – The Pirate of Kindergarten

My 3 year old wears glasses. She has been getting on really well with them and feels quite special and unique.  She wears them because she has a turn and is long sighted.  The ophthalmologist thinks that her glasses will correct the turn, but there is a chance that she will have to have an eye patch.

When we were told she would have to wear glasses, I searched for picture books about children wearing glasses.  I bought the Charlie and Lola book ‘I Really Absolutely Must Have Glasses’.  This didn’t really fit the bill because although it is about going for an eye test and really wanting glasses, Lola doesn’t actually need glasses.

I gave up looking for a while until by  a stroke of fate I came across The Pirate of Kindergarten in a list of top 10 books for Special Educational Needs.  This hit the nail right on the head .  The story is about a little girl who is clumsy and sees in double vision unless she closes one eye.  After attending an eye test they tell her that most children don’t see in this way and  give her glasses and a cool eye patch .  She becomes the Pirate of Kindergarten.

My 3 year old is incredibly clumsy and often falls over and crashes into things.  I asked her if she ever saw 2 of things like the girl and she replied ‘sometimes’.  I don’t know whether she sees in this way, but the book gave me a valuable insight into what the world might be like through her eyes.

This is a lovely book for  a child who wears glasses and for a nursery, pre-school or childminder who is looking to increase their inclusive books. The illustrations are beautiful, the subject matter is handled sensitively and is told in a simple and sympathetic manner that young children can understand.

This post is a personal recommendation, no payment or product was received for writing this review.

The Changing Face of Literacy

As an Early Years teacher I have always capitalised on opportunities for literacy in everyday life. Making children aware and involving them in these things is often key to children viewing reading and writing as fun. Traditionally these would have been things like writing shopping lists, reading road and shop signs, mark making in diaries and calendars or following recipes.

However literacy in the real world is changing. Children these days are just as likely to see you read or write on your phone or laptop as they are to see you write a list or note.

This really hit home with me when I watched my 3 year old playing on my iPad a few weeks ago.  She asked if she could download an app called Dad book, designed for dads to record stories for their children.

But mummy it’s not doing anything

she said once it was downloaded.

No, someone has to tell the story and record it.

I replied.

I asked her 7 year old sister to record the story for her, they sat together as my 7 year old narrated the story.  When she was finished my 3 year old listened and then repeated the words as she had seen done with another app Pat the Cat .

What a great opportunity for playing with literacy for both children.  This made me think about all the other literacy activities my children tap into on the iPad.

My 3 year old is learning about the alphabet and phonic sounds using the wonderful Elmo loves ABC’s app.  This has loads of different levels of games all based around learning letter names and sounds and includes lots of  memorable Sesame Street clips.

Another favourite is Me Books a children’s picture book reader for classic Ladybird books.  Both my children enjoy following the stories and adding in their own sound effects. This is simple for the children to do and another great way of getting different aged siblings to share reading.

The Ladybird Touch and Say books are also a great way for my 2 year old to learn to read simple words and even my one year old loves the Baby Touch app.

My 7 year old loves creating her own stories and animations using Toontastic or Puppetpals and these are also simple for pre-schoolers to use with adult guidance.

We have even discovered new songs and rhymes through English Songs and Chants. My 3 year old loves this one and can be heard walking around the house reciting the chants and singing the songs.  The chants are excellent for teaching rhythm and steady beat, a concept I usually teach using Ros Bayley’s Beat Baby.  I wonder whether Ros has considered creating a Beat Baby app?

There are a number of things that I really appreciate about the way my children use technology to play and learn about literacy.

  • The children freely choose the literacy apps and never feel like they are learning literacy skills.  Everything they choose to play is fun and interactive.
  • The apps are an added dimension to their experience of literacy. They still love books and choose to read traditional books more often than  e-books, still love to write, tell and listen to stories.

Current touch screen technology is still a little small to offer good mark making experiences for the youngest children but the drawing apps are good fun for when they get a bit older and are able to work on a smaller scale.  I look forward to a time when I can roll out a big screen onto the floor and let the youngest children explore markmaking on a large scale.

I also think Kinect holds great possibilities for literacy. My children talk to their dad via video Kinect when he is not at home. There would be great potential for speaking and listening activities if they connected with other children from around the world and shared experiences about their life and culture.

My girls are avid readers, I’m not afraid that new technology will distract them from traditional literacy, but that it adds a richness to their lives and new possibilities for exciting literacy experiences.

Top 5 Books for Children Under 5 as Chosen by my Children

My competition to win 6 Picture Books has prompted some wonderful comments about reading with young children.  Lots of the comments suggested that parents were always keen to find new books to share with their children.  I have already written a post sharing my top books for under 5’s so I thought this time I would ask my children.

  The Elephant and the Bad Baby  by Elfrida Vipont and Raymond Briggs.

This was my 7 Year olds favourite book when she was 2.  We read it again and again and the repetitive text almost drove my husband bonkers.  When my middle child was 2 she latched onto it also and it became a firm favourite.  The first part of the book is repetitive and it is easy for the children to learn it by heart and join in with the story, especially the ‘rumpeta,rumpeta rumpeta as they go down the road.  The message behind the story is the importance of saying please and it does this in a charming and humourous manner.  Both my children have loved the page with the baker’s shop, looking at the cakes and deciding which one they like best.  I’m sure it is a book you will find your young children ‘reading’ by themselves before long even if they are unable to read.

Stick Man by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

This was my 3 year olds choice.  Her dad read it to her recently and said ‘What a lovely book, why haven’t I read this one before?’ (his other favourite is The Snail and the Whale  by the same authors).

Written by the authors of the Gruffalo , this rhyming book is about a Stickman who gets himself into situations because he keeps getting mistaken for a stick.  He is desperate to get back to his family and is losing hope when he meets Father Christmas who lends a helping hand.

You Choose by  Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt

This was one of the books from my 7 year olds Bookstart Treasure Chest.  This soon became the one book we read every evening until I became so sick of it and I would plead with her to choose something else.  She is still very fond of it and it is one of the few picture books she refuses to pass down to her younger sister.

Each page asks a question such as if you could have any house what sort of house would you choose?  Then you choose the one you like best from the illustrations.  Nick Sharratt’s illustrations are lovely and it is a great book to stimulate discussion but in our house it was a little over read!

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This is not strictly for under 5’s, my 7 year old chose it and I’ve allowed it in the list because we first read it together when she was 4. Pippi Longstocking is a very witty and insightful book and you will get a lot out of it as an adult too (in a similar way to Winnie the Pooh).  There are a few books that stand the test of time and this is one of them.  My daughter’s copy has been so well read it is falling apart but when I offered to replace it with a new copy she declined my offer.

Sharing a Shell by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

There is a Charlie and Lola story about a library book that Lola is fixated with and takes home every time she visits.  This was the book that my 7 year old borrowed from the library time and again until finally the library sold it off because it had become too shabby.  We bought it for 30p.

It is a beautiful rhyming story about sharing and friendship and helping others.  We lost our copy a few years back after I used it at work .  My 3 year old found a copy at our doctors surgery, we read it together and I explained that it had been her sister’s favourite.  She loved it too.  When my 7 year old suggested this one she beamed and said’Oh I love that one’ running to her bookcase to get it.  I explained that we didn’t have it anymore.  Writing this has prompted me to buy a replacement copy and I will enjoy reading it to my 2 younger daughters.

Review of ‘Your Baby Can Read’

Some time ago I was asked to review ‘Your Baby Can Read’, a system for teaching babies from 3 months old to read. The system aims to introduce the written word at the same time as a baby is developing a verbal vocabulary. As today is International Literacy Day I felt I should bite the bullet and go for it.

So why the procrastination?  My initial thoughts were that such a system goes against my beliefs.  I have seen many parents who focus far too early on reading and writing and become both stressed and competitive about it. A baby has so much to learn in the first years is it really necessary that we add reading to the list?  I also feel that a lot of the time a focus on learning to read and write means that many of the underpinning skills necessary to achieve this are overlooked.  However, I felt that it was important that such products are reviewed by someone with an early education background.  I was interested in seeing the products to help make an informed view.

The materials in the programme include 5 DVD’s, 5 lift the flap books, 5 sets of sliding word cards, music cd, 82 double-sided word cards, a sliding windows board book, word game cards, a parent’s guide and early learning workshop DVD.

To be honest, I liked the materials more than I thought I would.  My biggest reservation about the whole programme is that reading is taught through DVD’s.  There is a firm emphasis on how interactive the DVD’s are but there is no requirement to sit with your baby as you watch them.  I watched the DVD’s with my 10 month old and 2 year old, the 2 year old was mildly interested and the 10 month old paid no attention at all.  Personally I don’t see that there is anything that the children can learn from the DVD’s that they couldn’t learn from sharing the books with an adult. I may be wrong, but I feel that this is an easy way for parents to avoid feeling guilty for not  spending time with their children. The DVD’s themselves are watchable and encourage the children to interact.  It is unfortunate in my opinion that they are American, I think some of the pronunciation of words may be difficult for  young British children when listening to American accents and some words like colour use the American spelling.  I feel to transfer the programme to a UK market it would be beneficial if the DVD’s were remade with British accents and spelling.

I really like the lift the flap books.  These have the word printed on the flap and when the flap is  lifted  there is a photograph to illustrate it and a number of interactive questions and instructions eg. How many dogs are there? Point to your elbow and What is your favourite thing to eat?  My 2 year old particularly liked these and enjoyed focusing on the words, pointing to them and ‘reading’ them with me.  I can imagine that with her interest in books and the written word, having read them a number of times she will begin to read the words in the books.  The same words are used in the sliding word and picture cards and word cards (flashcards).  The word game cards have 2 of each word so that you can play matching pairs games with the words. I can imagine my 2 year old enjoying this, although I haven’t tried it yet.

The programme suggests that you begin by reading the parents’ guide and watching the early learning workshop DVD. The parents’ guide explains how to use the books with your child and gives practical ideas for sharing other literacy related activities   with your child. I thought the DVD was excellent, with a lot of sound advice about early language acquisition and literacy.  My worry is that it is very long and I wonder how many parents would actually sit through it before embarking on the programme.

Dr Robert Titzer the creator of the programme begins by explaining how the programme originated.  He explains that he created the DVD’s to occupy his baby daughter in those times when she was ‘doing nothing’ while he was making dinner or reading the paper.  I found this a strange choice of phrase – I  don’t think I have ever seen a baby ‘doing nothing’.  He also talks about early brain development and the rapidity of brain development in the first few years of life.  This is a perfect reason for interacting with babies, but I’m not sure it is a justification for the need to read at this age.

Having said that there are a number of very positive points about babies and learning that Dr Titzer makes.

  • Parents should be active as the child’s first educator
  • Spend lots of time interacting with your baby
  • Children have receptive language (the ability to understand the meaning of words) before they can speak.
  • Talk to your baby, talking about what they are interested in.
  • Babies learn through movement
  • Play games with babies in the mirror and follow their lead building on the things they instinctively do.
  • Don’t let  children watch too much television, it is far better to read with them.
  • The concept of number needs to be taught in practical situations
  • Children are ready to write when they can master the physical skills – there is no particular age at which this will happen and it should not be introduced too soon.

The children in the case studies shown on the DVD have clearly learned to read both individual words and whole books.  They enjoy reading, are happy and engaged.  I have no doubt that the programme works but I question the appropriateness of teaching young babies to read.

The main argument for teaching babies to read is that the earlier a child learns to read, the more educational advantages they will have later. There is  a wealth of research that shows that the size of a child’s vocabulary at the age of 3 is the biggest predictor of how easily they will learn to read . The programme encourages the development of vocabulary through the introduction of 164 key words. It gives opportunities to introduce other words related to the children’s interests, by providing blank cards and a wipe clean marker pen.   However, surely it would be as beneficial to focus on spoken language and oral/aural skills (such as rhyme, identifying sounds, alliteration) in the first 3 years, accompanied with fostering a love of books, story, song and rhyme? 

Dr Titzer explains that the earlier a child learns to read then the more likely they are to love it.  From personal experience with my own children I disagree with this.  My 2 year old has been obsessed with books since she was around 6 months old but cannot read yet.  At almost 3 she is beginning to show an interest in words and is keen to read some for herself.   My 7 year old went to school without being able to read but with a huge vocabulary, an interest in books, the  ability to recognise rhyme and alliteration, a love of singing and poetry, the ability to keep a steady beat and some knowledge of the alphabet.  Within weeks of being in school she learned to read, she is now a well above average reader, an avid bookworm and reads aloud with more expression than most adults (including myself). Based on my 2 year old’s extensive vocabulary, love of books and ability to recognise rhyme I expect her to go the same way. From this experience I question the necessity of programmes such as ‘Your Baby Can Read’.

I think if you have a pre-school child who has built a good vocabulary, oral and aural skills, loves books and is showing an interest in the written word then this could be a useful tool in the journey to learning to read. Personally I don’t like the idea of teaching reading using DVD’s because reading is as much about sharing a special time and ideas with your child as it is about the act of decoding words. I will use the rest of the materials with my 2 year old daughter if she shows an interest but I wouldn’t choose to use them with my baby. For those who would like their baby to read I have no doubt that the system works and that if the system is followed according to the comprehensive guidance the babies and toddlers will get great pleasure from it.  From the perspective of an early educator, I would let babies be babies and use it when the children are a little older.


My Top 5 Books for Under 5’s

To mark World book day, I thought I would list my top 5 books for under 5’s .  I have chosen the books that the children enjoy, but also that I do not get tired of reading. There were lots on the shortlist but I think these are my favourites.

  Any of the original Mr Men books by Roger Hargreaves.  I loved these as a child and my children love them too.  The stories are witty and clever without being too long and my eldest learned some really sophisticated vocabulary from them when she was 3 .  When I was a child (much older than 5) my aunt worked in a bookshop and we would visit her and sit by the Mr Men shelf reading all the ones we didn’t have.  Timeless.

Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne – not strictly for under 5’s but my eldest had a real thing about Winnie the Pooh when she was 3, to the point that Piglet was her imaginary friend and went everywhere with us.  We used to have to listen to the audio books (with Stephen Fry and Judy Dench) in the car, but I never tired of them.  This is a book that I first read as a university student and found it endearing and hilarious.  Thankfully the children love it too.  Some of the best quotes come from Winnie the Pooh.


 Something Else by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell  This is a heart warming story about a creature who is teased because he is different and then strikes up a friendship with another creature.  It has beautiful illustrations and a quirky twist at the end.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears by Lauren Child  – I love this one, a traditional story retold in an intelligent and witty way,  in the way that only Lauren Child can.  On my first reading it made me say ‘Wow!’  If you love Charlie and Lola you will love this too.


Burglar Bill by Janet and Alan Ahlberg –The comical story of a burglar who steals a box and later finds a baby inside. I really enjoy reading this one and acting out the voices of Burglar Bill and Burglar Betty.  There are lots of funny bits in it that make the children laugh out loud.