The octogenarian Eric Carle is a well-known and popular children’s book illustrator and author. Although he was born in New York (June 25, 1929), he spent the majority of his educational years in Germany and obtained his degree from the Akademie der bildenden Kunste in Stuttgart.
Two signature identifiers of his style are his skill as a collagist and his mastery of the art of brevity. A fine example of his innovative format and design is found in his third book: “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”
In approximately 30 or so words and a handful of collages, he communicates a message that many authors would be hard pressed to express in thousands of words. Over 33 million copies of this book have been sold, which makes it his best-selling and most popular title. He gained his entry into the world of publishing when Bill Martin, Jr. hired him to illustrate the book “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?”
Carle’s work typically ranges around the themes of nature or back to school, and within these topics he has produced approximately 70 books, which he has either written or illustrated or both. In addition to the artwork and conciseness of the text, interactive features such as sound, twinkling lights or cut-out pages engage the senses of learners of all ages.
The multisensory appeal, the subject matter and the popularity of the books makes them a favorite teaching resource for many teachers. They can be used to supplement or form the foundation for lesson plans, inspire ideas for activities and art projects, or provide an excellent transitional tool for rainy days or gaps in the classroom schedule. Here’s our collection of our favorite activities and lessons to help you enjoy teaching with Eric Carle books.
If you need a ready-made lesson plan or just want some ideas to spark your own creativity, you’ll find lots of inspiration in the articles provided here. From Carle’s wildly popular hungry caterpillar to his more laid back sloth, you’ll find that these are subjects your students will be eager to learn.
The nice thing about using a lesson plan is it keeps you focused and on track. You can make sure that you cover all the pertinent elements to provide a well-rounded learning experience for your class. It helps you define the learning objective and identify the best way to approach the subject. By preparing in advance, you can plan for all the necessary materials and add in any additional preparation time that may be required.
Some of the concepts, ideas and topics covered in this collection of lessons include:
- Vocabulary recognition and development
- Understanding the five senses
- Gross motor skills
- Reader recall
- Telling time to the hour
- Rote counting
- Identifying sets
- Insect life cycles
- Greater and lesser than
You can use these lessons as presented here or modify them easily to suit any classroom or home education environment:
- Eric Carle Lesson Plans for an African Theme Unit: Slowly Slowly Slowly Said the Sloth
- Brown Bear: Kindergarten Science Lesson on the Five Senses
- Papa Please Get the Moon for Me
- Telling Time with the Grouchy Ladybug
- Teaching Math: Papa Please Get the Moon for Me
- The Very Busy Spider
- Life Cycle of the Grasshopper: The Very Quiet Cricket
- Kindergarten Arctic Animals Unit: Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
Arts and Crafts
In this section of our guide, you’ll find ready-to-teach art lessons for some of Carle’s most popular books. These projects are designed to be presented and taught within a reasonable amount of class time and require inexpensive supplies and minimal pre-class preparation.
Some of the fun projects for your students include:
- Edible crafts
- Egg carton caterpillars
- Flip books
- Spider webs in various media
As the children work on their projects, look for teachable moments to reinforce social skills and other previously learned concepts. Use statements like:
- “I like the way you are sharing the glue with the others in your center.”
- “Thank you for being patient and waiting your turn.”
- “What words could you say if you needed to ask for help?”
- “What do you think will happen if we mix this blue paint with the yellow paint?”
- “Tell me about your picture (or craft).”
In addition, you’ll be teaching your little learners skills like the basics of collage making, how to mix different media, and how to identify media. Observation and recall skills are honed as is the art of following oral directions. They’ll be learning color recognition and identification and the basics of color mixing and theory.
Art projects help develop the fine motor skills and hand-to-eye coordination that elementary level students require as a foundation for pre-reading and writing and provide a sensory bonus on many different levels. Arts and crafts are excellent ways to teach to a broad range of learning styles with one format.
An important thing to keep in mind is that many times, students will be more fascinated by a simple thing like playing with the glue or paints rather than the process of actually creating a structured project. Smart teachers strive for student-created art that allows the children the freedom to experiment, discover and express themselves without too much adult intervention.
- Art Project for The Very Busy Spider
- Brown Bear Fun: Kindergarten Art
- Papa Please Get the Moon for Me
- The Life Cycle of a Butterfly: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Spider Art: The Very Busy Spider
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Make a Flip Book
- Teaching Art and Literacy with The Very Hungry Caterpillar in Special Education
- Elementary Art Lesson Plan for Fall: Pastel Spider Webs
Activities, worksheets and exercises for elementary students need to be simple and focus. Teach one concept at a time and make sure your class has internalized the concept before you move on to the next. The best formula for success is to adhere to the time-tested strategy of spaced, planned repetition. Present the same idea in a variety of way. This is especially important for math and reading where many times a new concept builds and is based on a prior lesson.
This segment of the learning process is where children exercise and develop skills like:
- Describing and predicting
- Auditory discrimination
- Measuring, comparing and contrasting
- Using a ruler or tape measuring
- Creating a chart or graph
- Patterning and sequencing
- Creating sets and collections
Because your students are familiar with these stories (especially if you are using a related lesson plan and craft), they are able to grasp the new concepts more quickly and retain them longer. The high visual appeal and interactive nature of Carle’s books adds many sensory layers to each lesson and allows teachers to teach the various learning styles in a more efficient manner.
- Elementary Education Cooking Activity: The Baker
- Teach Sequencing: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth: Word Scramble
- First Grade Math Activities: The Tiny Seed
- The Tiny Seed: Reading, Writing and Science
- Sequencing Activities: The Tiny Seed
- The Secret Birthday Message: Second Grade Story Map Activities
- Teach Listening Skills: The Very Quiet Cricket
- Learn Math With The Very Busy Spider
Take-Away Tips for Success
Here are four key ideas to keep in mind as you teach your students:
1. Younger students are concrete thinkers rather than abstract thinkers. They need to have their five senses engaged on as many different levels as possible to help them understand and internalize new material.
2. Carle’s method of communicating with children works because he uses short, simple words, colorful illustrations and fun activities like seeing a firefly light up, unfolding a ladder or hearing a cricket sing. Emulate his techniques and your lessons and activities will be successful as well.
3. Students under the age of 8 have a limited storehouse of knowledge from which to draw. You’ll need to spend more time reinforcing concepts in the lower elementary grades than in the higher ones.
4. Tailor lessons and other activities to age-appropriate time limits. The younger the student the shorter the attention span. Break up seated activities and projects with opportunities for the class to move and expend some pent-up energy.
We hope that you find this guide to teaching with Eric Carle books valuable and beneficial. Please share your thoughts with us in the comment section below — we welcome feedback from our readers!
- Image: The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Amherst, Massachusetts, August 2010 by John Phelan under CC BY 3.0
- Image: sxc.hu/photo/602188 by Anissa Thompson under royalty free license
- Image: sxc.hu/photo/994617 by flaivoloka under royalty free license
- Image: sxc.hu/photo/1128191 by nkzs under royalty free license
- Image: sxc.hu/photo/1083191 by Tinneketin under royalty free license
- Image: sxc.hu/photo/1321752 by alexbruda under royalty free license
- Image: Christie Black, Miss Virginia, reads the book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” to third grade classes at Fort Belvoir Elementary by Marny Malin under public domain.
- Image: sxc.hu/photo/1341254 by Ambrozjo under royalty free license
- Image: sxc.hu/photo/1338126 by cde010 under royalty free license
- Biographical Notes for Eric Carle