Literacy: Wake up to spring

The Very Hungry Hedgehog is a spring story with a message about sharing. Claire Hewson suggests ways to use the experiences it describes to extend children's vocabulary and comprehension skills.

Isaac the hedgehog wakes up hungry from a long winter sleep but Starling won't share a juicy worm with him. Isaac sets off to find something else to eat but loses out first to Toad and then to Heron who steals a slug from under his nose. We can see from the illustrations that from the beginning of the story Isaac is being stalked by Fox, but he's eventually saved by his prickly spikes. Isaac tells Fox that he is not food, but kindly suggests that Fox looks around – it's spring and there's enough food for everyone. The gentle storyline and watercolour illustrations reveal the natural world starting afresh. Shoots burst from the ground, catkins cluster from trees, and flowers emerge.

Playing and exploring

  • Children show a ‘can do’ attitude by completing puzzles and literacy challenges
  • They use their senses when they're out and about investigating spring
  • They seek out interesting springtime photograph opportunities

Character puzzles

In this activity children practise reading the names of animal characters in the story, and they write the animals' initial sounds. To set up, make each character into a two-piece puzzle so children can match the animal to its name. Draw a small line on each animal picture where the children can write the initial sound. Laminate puzzle pieces so they can be written on with whiteboard markers.

Describing animals

Here children write words to describe what an animal from the story looks like, what it might feel like to touch, and perhaps how it might be feeling emotionally or physically; for example – ‘tired’, ‘fed up’. To create the activity, print or draw a picture of each animal accompanied by an empty speech bubble. In the speech bubble write ‘I am…’ Ask a child to choose an animal and to verbally describe it to you before writing some of the words they've suggested in the speech bubble.

Experience springtime

Take children outside to experience the sights, smells and sounds of spring just like Isaac in the story. Give them a pictorial, labelled springtime spotter sheet. Put about six things on the sheet, and only include what you think they are likely to spot: ant, bud, butterfly, flower, grass, ladybird, lamb, leaf, nest, spider's web etc. Encourage children to sound out some words on the sheet.

Capture spring

Give children cameras to take spring photographs. Encourage them to observe closely and to think carefully about what they would like to capture. They then choose their favourite photograph to talk about. Through discussion, elicit descriptive vocabulary and spark imagination by asking children why they chose that particular photograph, what they like about it, and what they can see. Prompt them to look at fine details by describing the colours in the petals. Scribe some of their thoughts as photograph captions and read them together.

Small world area

Equip this with miniature characters and other animals children might see in spring. Include natural materials inspired by the story's illustrations. Children might re-enact the story or make up their own versions. Include labels such as ‘hedgehog’, ‘leaf’ and ‘fox’ so they begin to recognise words and sounds.

Set up a rhyming activity centred around Fox. Put a toy fox next to a dustbin along with a selection of items and pictures that rhyme and don't rhyme with ‘fox’. Any items/pictures that rhyme with ‘fox’ are sorted into the bin.

Set out a selection of spring-themed books such as What Can You See in Spring? by Sian Smith and Everything Spring by Jill Esbaum. Provide a selection of materials for children to make spring pictures inspired by the books.

Active learning

  • Children concentrate on observing animals, paying attention to their characteristics
  • They enjoy making their own choices and decisions
  • They have the opportunity to maintain focus for a period of time

To write letters on character puzzles they identify initial sounds and look carefully at how letters are formed. To describe animals from The Very Hungry Hedgehog they need to notice what each animal looks like and what it might feel like to touch. By going out and experiencing nature, they observe natural features and animals in the environment. When talking about a photograph they have taken of a spring scene they are encouraged to notice fine details in their picture.

When reading The Very Hungry Hedgehog to children, ask them how they can tell it is spring. What clues are in the illustrations? What can they see? How is spring different from winter?

In most activities there is an element of choice so that children feel motivated to discover and learn. They select character puzzles to complete and animals to describe. When they take spring photographs, they walk around first to decide what they would like to photograph and then choose their favourite picture to discuss.

The activities improve children's ability to focus for a period of time. Completing puzzles and reading and writing purposefully develop concentration by engaging children and channeling their attention. Extend their focus by encouraging them to generate new ideas. For example, how many more words can they think of to describe Isaac?

Creating and thinking critically

  • Children's curiosity is sparked by The Very Hungry Hedgehog and their thinking can be extended by planning linked experiences
  • Through careful questioning children relate Isaac's feelings and experiences to their own
  • Children use clues in the story to predict what might happen next.

Plan experiences linked to The Very Hungry Hedgehog in order to extend children's thinking about the natural world. Why do they think Isaac has been asleep? Elicit that he has been hibernating for the winter. Can children name any other British animals that hibernate? If they are curious, find out together which animals wake up in spring. With children's help, make a collection of picture books with animals that hibernate (bats, frogs, dormice, bumblebees, butterflies, ladybirds etc).

Relate the story to children's own experiences in order to develop their empathy and understanding. Can children relate to how Isaac is feeling when woken up from a long sleep? Have they ever been woken up by somebody else? What happened? When Isaac's food is taken by other animals can children suggest what Isaac could do about it? What do they think about the other animals’ behaviour and Isaac's response? Have children ever had to share something that they didn't want to? Why do they think it's important to share? Play games and activities that involve sharing and taking turns such as board games and activities with limited resources.

Encourage children to make predictions as they listen to the story. Have they spotted the fox stalking Isaac, for example? What do they think will happen next?

EYFS Early Learning Goals

As you read The Very Hungry Hedgehog and question children around the theme of sharing they can meet the PSED outcome, ‘understands that own actions affect other people…aware of the boundaries set, and of behavioural expectations in the setting’.

The writing activities here support children to meet the Physical development outcomes, ‘begins to form recognisable letters’ and ‘uses a pencil and holds it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed’. By describing characters they meet the Communication and language outcome, ‘extends vocabulary…’ All the activities provide the opportunity to meet the Communication and language outcomes, ‘maintains attention, concentrates and sits quietly during appropriate activity’, and ‘two-channelled attention – can listen and do for short span’.

Key learning points

  • Children identify and write initial sounds
  • With help, they read and write simple words
  • They use a range of adjectives to describe story characters
  • They demonstrate understanding of The Very Hungry Hedgehog by joining in with conversations and answering questions

Useful resources

  • The Very Hungry Hedgehog by Rosie Wellesley (Pavilion Children's Books)
  • Pictures of characters from the story.
  • Cameras

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