The Very Hungry Caterpillar
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A small caterpillar is born hungry and eats everything in sight until it gets a stomach ache. After that experience, he eats a leaf and it helps him to become a beautiful butterfly.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a story about a small caterpillar who emerges from an egg and begins eating everything in sight. After six days of eating fruits, sweets, and “junk” food, he gets a stomach ache. On the seventh day, the caterpillar eats a “nice leaf” and feels much better. The now big, fat and not-hungry caterpillar builds a cocoon around himself and finally emerges as a beautiful butterfly.
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Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion
This short story by Eric Carle is filled with moral questions on the topics of self-control, well-being and happiness, and growth and change. The caterpillar eats more and more with each passing day, until it does not feel good. It takes eating a “nice leaf” to make him feel better. This change in diet allowed the caterpillar to build a cocoon and grow into a butterfly.
The first set of questions prompts children to dive into the virtue of self-control. It examines the inherent value and importance self-control can have on our lives. These questions aim at juxtaposing the pleasure gained from consuming something like sweets versus the benefits gained from refraining to succumb to these pleasures. In the story, the caterpillar eats a lot of unhealthy food that makes him feel bad. Similarly, in life, we sometimes over consume something that makes us feel bad afterwards. The virtue of self-control helps with preventing this scenario from ever happening. It helps us tell the difference between good and bad decisions and habits. Furthermore, when discussing self-control it is important to emphasize that freedom of choice does not mean that one can do whatever he or she wishes. All actions have consequences. No one told the caterpillar that eating all that food would be bad for him. In life, we are often left to our own devices to determine what is good or bad for us. A time comes when our parents cannot look after us all the time. It is up to us to tell the good decisions from the bad ones.
The second set of questions deals with well-being and happiness. In the story, the caterpillar felt happy while eating all that food. Similarly in life, satisfying our wants pleases us. However, this feeling is short-lived and soon we need more to satisfy our wants or cravings. This question set aims to draw the distinction between pleasure gained by satisfying our desires and happiness gained by attending to our well-being. Furthermore, these questions aim to spark discussion about why attending to our well-being through activities such as exercising and healthy dieting is harder than just satisfying our cravings or desires.
The third set of questions deals with growth and change. The tiny caterpillar emerged from his egg very hungry and looking for food. Similarly, we too are born with a craving for food and certain experiences. The caterpillar eats many different foods each day. After eating too much, the caterpillar ends up with a tummy ache so he turns his attention to a nice green leaf. Sometimes negative experiences, like feeling poorly from eating too much junk food, can spur us to change or grow.
Questions for Philosophical Discussion
- Why did the caterpillar get the stomach ache?
- What is it like to eat sweets and “junk” food? Why is “junk” food called that? Is it hard to say no to junk food? How do you do it?
- Why did the nice leaf make the caterpillar feel better? Why do you think the caterpillar decided to eat that leaf?
- If you had the freedom to eat anything you want, what would you eat? Would you force yourself to eat things you do not like to eat but that are good for you? Why or why not? Do you think it would be hard?
- If you have to do something you do not like, do you do it right away or do you put it aside until you really need to do it?
- Is it good to have self-control? Why or why not?
- How do you learn self-control?
- Do you think the caterpillar would have acted differently if someone could tell him to eat healthy? If you were the caterpillar, would you have acted differently? Why or why not?
- Is it easier to have someone tell us what to do or for us to do it on our own? Why?
Well-being and Happiness
- The caterpillar ate a lot of food in the first six days. Do you think it made him feel happy? Explain.
- Do you think that eating the nice green leaf made the caterpillar happy? Why? Why not?
- Have you ever eaten a lot of sweets? Did it feel good?
- Have you ever tried to eat healthy? Did that feel good?
- Why can it be bad to follow our cravings all the time?
- Why do we not like to do some things? What makes these things, such as eating healthy or exercising, hard to do if they make us feel better?
- Why is it important to take care of yourself by eating well or exercising?
- Was the caterpillar happier when he ate the junk food or when he ate the leaf? Why?
- Is happiness something that lasts only a moment or is it something that lasts longer?
Growth and Change
- In what ways does the caterpillar grow in the story? Does he grow only physically or does he also grow because he learns a lesson?
- In what ways do humans grow and change? In what ways have you grown and changed?
- Is it easier to stay the same or to change?
- Why do we change? Do you have to change? Can you stay the same if you want to?
- Have you ever tried to grow and change but failed? What did you try to do? Why do you think you failed?
- Is change always good? Can you think of an example where change can be bad?
Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s excellent resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a wonderful guide for navigating tough conversations.
Philosophy often deals with big questions around things like death or the existence of a higher power. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.
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