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Intentional Parenting                                                             Family Movies

Charlotte's Web

Click on the link for Charlotte's Web in the Classroom

Subjects: -- Science (Biology);

Social-Emotional Learning  —  Caring for Animals; Friendship; Grieving; Justice;

Moral-Ethical Emphasis  —  Respect; Caring.

At a Glance  —  Age: 4-8; MPAA Rating: G; Drama; 2006; 96 minutes; Color.

The Benefits of Reading the Book to or With Your Child

E.B. White's book, Charlotte's Web is a classic of children's literature. Most children love this book. Your child's imagination and verbal intelligence will be stretched if you read the book to your child or, if your child is a good reader, read it together or let your child read it to you. The positive effects of reading Charlotte's Web will be enhanced if the reading occurs before your child sees the movie, but reading a book stretches imagination and exercises language skills anytime. In addition, reading books is an excellent way to spend quality time with any child. Charlotte's Web is available at your local library or it can be purchased from

The vocabulary in Charlotte's Web is sophisticated. All children and most adults can improve their vocabularies with this book. Explain the meaning of the words that your child doesn't know and keep a dictionary by your side, either a book or a computer. If you aren't sure of the meaning of any word yourself, take the time to look it up. It is excellent modeling for a child to see an adult use a dictionary.

Description  —   Wilbur, a runt pig, has the great fortune of making two wonderful friends. Fern, a little girl, stops her father from killing Wilbur just after he is born, arguing that it isn't fair to kill the little pig just because he can't compete with his larger brothers and sisters. Charlotte, the spider creates a sensation describing Wilbur with words spun into her web. Her goal is to make Wilbur so famous that his owners will not make him into a Christmas ham. Wilbur survives, Fern grows and finds a boyfriend, but Charlotte, having lived the allotted time for a spider, spins her eggsac, languishes, and dies. Wilbur takes care of the eggsac for his friend and tells her children all about their mother.

The movie is excellent, following the outline of the book, retaining its message and charm. The filmmakers have added a few characters (the crows) and a few incidents. The movie won the 2006 Critic's Choice Award for Best Family Film of the Year.

Benefits  —   The lessons of this story include: the possibilities of affection between individuals of different species; acceptance of individuals who are different (that we must look behind appearance to see the true worth of an individual); the value of friendship; and acceptance of the natural rhythms of life. As Charlotte says, "After all, what's a life, anyway? We're born, we live a little while, we die." The story also allows children to begin to see human beings from the animal's point of view.

"Charlotte's Web" can also interest kids in learning about pigs and spiders.

Possible Problems  —   MINOR. There are a few burp and fart jokes. There is a fleeting view of Fern and her brother Avery standing in the back of the pickup truck as it heads toward the fair (a problem that can be corrected during the movie, by explaining how dangerous that is). Fern and Avery go off on their own at the fair, though this is approved by their parents, and if they aren't together, Fern is with her friend. Finally, Charlotte's death is sad, but tasteful and touching.

For more suggestions about how intentional parents can use family movies to foster verbal, social and emotional learning and teach lessons in character education, see Ideas for Talking and Playing Using Family Movies.

New Words  —   The movie features the following words that may be new to a child: litter, runt, nocturnal, chat, converse, address (as in "Will the party who addressed me last night at bedtime kindly speak up"), salutations, cured (two meanings, one referring to getting well and the other referring to smoking a piece of meat), radiant, terrific, humble, languish, and magnum opus.


CONVERSATION STARTERS  —  Was there a real Wilbur the pig?   —  Yes, there was, but he didn't have a name. E.B. White, the man who wrote the book, would raise a Spring pig every year and slaughter it around Christmas time. This was many years ago and lots of people did that back then. One year the pig that Mr. White was raising got sick and he had to take care of it. Mr. White observed that the pig had a real personality and that it suffered when it was sick. Mr. White became good friends with the pig but it never recovered and it died of the sickness. Mr. White never again looked at pigs as just something to keep confined, fed, and then to kill for food. As a result of his friendship with the pig who got sick, Mr. White wrote the book Charlotte's Web.

Did you know that pigs are smarter than dogs? They love their babies and can feel affection for people. They can be house trained and there are some people who keep pigs as pets. These pet pigs live in houses with the people who keep them, just like a cat or a dog.

Who was your favorite character in this movie? Who would you like to have for a friend?  —  If you were Fern, would you have wanted to save Wilbur?  —  If Charlotte wrote words in her web about you, what would she write?
(Just talking with your child fosters verbal, social and emotional learning. You can talk about a movie at any time: right after it is over, in the car on the way to school, during quiet time, or before bed.   —  Ask about the story, the characters, and the plot. Keep it light and fun.  —  Always encourage your child to form opinions and to share them.  —  Exercise memory skills by asking about plot details.  —  Open-ended questions will help get a discussion going.   —   Young children love Story Time.)
DISCUSSIONS BASED ON THEMES IN THE MOVIE   —  Select questions appropriate for your child.
    1.   Did you notice how all the animals worked togther to try to save Wilbur. What did each of them do? Talking about it  —  Charlotte spelled the words in her web. Wilbur looked cute. Templeton found things that helped Charlotte think of the words. The other animals suggested words for Charlotte's web.
    (When a parent takes a concept from the movie seriously, a child will start thinking about the lessons of the film. Often it only takes one comment. Don't try to cover everything contained in this Guide. Usually a few questions or brief comments are more than enough. However, if you allow your child to watch the movie more than once, on each occasion start a new conversation or pick a new activity. This will enhance verbal development and increase the number of lessons your child takes from the film.)
    2.   Can you name some characters in this movie who you didn't expect to be friends, but who became good friends? What does this tell us? Talking about it  —   Fern and Wilbur, Wilbur and Charlotte, Templeton and the farm animals. This tells us that the most important thing in finding a friend is not how they look, or how they are different from us, but who they are on the inside and whether we like to be together.

    3.   How can we show our respect for animals? Talking about it  —  There are lots of different ways: some people don't eat meat (they are called vegetarians), some people don't use things made from animals (like leather purses or shoes) and there are other ways, too. We can approach other people's pets kindly and gently, we can not step on or kill bugs (remember how important Charlotte, a spider, was to the farm? What would happen if all the spiders were gone?), we can volunteer our time at a pet shelter and play with the pets waiting to be adopted. What other ways can you think of?

    4.  Do spiders do anything that helps people? Talking about it  —  They kill and eat flies, mosquitos and other insects.


      1.   Wonderful Words  —  Templeton used things around him to find words for Charlotte to use in describing Wilbur. With your child, collect different objects from around the house (cereal boxes, magazines, junk mail, empty bottles with the labels still attached, newspapers) and cut out, or write onto paper, words that describe a pet, your child, a friend, or a relative. Try to find words that are just a little beyond the difficulty of words that your child can already handle. Explain the meaning of these words to your child. If there are any you don't know, look up the meaning and pronunciation in the dictionary. Get a piece of paper and help your child write the new words in a sentence describing the pet, your child, a friend or a relative. You can also play games online which are based on the wonderful words in "Charlotte's Web". Visit Gamequarium for vocabulary games broken up by the chapters of the book, or Kid Crosswords for a list of words from "Charlotte's Web", complete with helpful definitions.

      2.    Charlotte's Webs  —  Remember how amazing it was when Charlotte wrote words into her web? You and your child can do the same thing . . . just a bit differently. Start with a piece of construction paper. Trace an outline of a web with a pencil, and work with your child to come up with a word that describes a pet, your child, a friend, or a member of your family (fun, loyal, loving, etc). Fit this word into the web, then trace over the pencil outline with a thin line of white glue (not a glue stick). Have your child shake glitter over the glue lines (use lighter glitter for darker colored paper, and darker glitter for lighter paper) and then hold the paper up and shake off the excess. (Be sure to do this outside, on a craft table, or over some newspaper.) Wait for your wordy web to dry, and then hang it in a window or on a wall or bulletin board. Then repeat this for other pets, members of your family, or for friends. (Instructions adapted from Enchanted Learning's Halloween Crafts.)

      3.   Animal Guessing Games  —  Just like how every person is different, every animal is different. Think of an animal (start with an easy one like a dog or a cat) and give small clues until your child can guess what it is. For instance, it has a furry body, it walks on fur legs, it likes to play fetch, etc. You can make the animal more and more difficult to guess (donkey, lizard, koala) and you can also turn this into a "20 Questions" type game, by having your child think of an animal (and keep it secret) and you asking only questions which can be answered with a "yes" or a "no" (Does it walk on four legs? Can it fit in the car? Does it like to drink milk?). Make sure to reverse the roles so you can each do some guessing!


    Stories are essential tools for verbal development, social-emotional learning, and character education. Intentional parents can use family movies as a basis for storytelling.

    Repeat the story of Charlotte's Web, the book or the movie, at bedtime, on a rainy day, or at any quiet time. Let your child correct you if you make a mistake and, better yet, encourage your child to tell you the story. Both of you can invent new adventures for Fern, Wilbur, Charlotte and all their friends. Your child's imaginative and verbal capacities will be enhanced if you invent new characters and create situations that are not in the movie. To learn more about enhancing growth and development through stories told to children, go to
    How to Tell Bedtime Stories . . . Any Time

    Here is a bedtime story about the themes in "Charlotte's Web" that you can read to your child.


    My name is Maria and this is the story of the field trip my class took to a farm near our town that was an animal sanctuary. Our class had just finished reading "Charlotte's Web" when the teacher, Mr. Anderson, announced that we would be taking a trip field trip to see farm animals.

    Everybody started talking at once. Jason was the goofiest kid in the class. He was always acting silly. His ears stuck out and he had light blond hair with freckles on his face. He sat in the front row so that Mr. Anderson could see everything he did. "Is that the place where the cows lick your face? Yuchhhh!" said Jason. Then he turned around in his seat so that everyone could see him and made a truly awful face, as if someone had just put slime all over it, saying "Yuchhhhhhhhhhh!" and pulling on his ears so that they stuck out even more. All the kids laughed.

    "Are we going to see Wilbur?" said one girl.

    "What about Charlotte? Was there a real spider who spelled words with her web?" said my best friend Annie sitting across the room from me. She has long brown hair and a smile that lights up her face. We all knew that we wouldn't see Wilbur and that spiders can't spell. She was just joining in the fun.

    "Maybe she spelled 'Come to me fly. I'll drink your blood.'" said Jason in a voice that was supposed to resemble a vampire. He put his top teeth over his lower lip, trying to look bloodthirsty.

    When Mr. Anderson got annoyed or nervous, he would adjust his glasses with his left hand. He did that now and moved to the front center of the room with his right hand raised. He didn't say a word. This was the signal for the class to be quiet. The kids settled down, and Mr. Anderson said, "Now, I want you to be respectful. We're going to see a lot of animals close up. It will be interesting."

    I looked across the room at Annie, and she glanced back at me. We hoped Mr. Anderson would let us be field trip partners. In those days we were inseparable. We'd been born on the same day, in the same hospital, and had grown up on the same street. We'd played together nearly every day since I can remember. As a result, our teachers never let us sit together in class. "You'll just talk and won't learn anything," they explained.

    After school, Annie's mom picked us up and in the car we told her about the field trip. Annie said, "I hope they don't kill pigs at this farm. I wouldn't want to watch that."

    Annie's Mom said, "Don't worry, honey. They don't kill any animals at a sanctuary."

    The morning of the field trip was bright and cold. Everyone was bundled up in extra coats, hats and mittens. My mom had made some homemade hot chocolate . . . a special treat that I usually only got on holidays! When we got to the school, Annie and I huddled in the cold with the rest of the class waiting for the bus. Our breath made little clouds in the air and we stamped our feet to keep warm. Mr. Anderson, came up with a clipboard, pairing students off for the day.

    "I know you two want to be partners," he said, "and since it's a field trip, I'm going to put you together." He adjusted his glasses again. "But I also want you to sit with Jason and keep together when we get to the farm. Don't let him get into any trouble."

    The joy that Annie and I felt about being paired, sank into the ground at our feet. "Not Jason, Mr. Anderson." we said almost in unison.

    "He's so annoying." I explained.

    "It's up to you, girls." said Mr. Anderson. "If you want the privilege of sitting together, you have to make sure that Jason doesn't get into trouble. Besides, he's not so bad once you get to know him. He just doesn't know how to make friends. That's why he tries to make everyone laugh all the time."

    Being together was worth putting up with just about anyone, so we agreed.

    We took seats in the very back of the bus, hoping that no one would notice who we were sitting with. We said nothing to Jason, almost the whole trip. For some reason he was very quiet and didn't say much either. That was a relief. As the bus turned into the farm, I had an idea that would punish him for the fact that Mr. Anderson made us sit with him. I said, "Hey, Jason, is that a true story you told us about a kid getting licked by a cow?"

    "Sure, it happened to a friend of mine in Mrs. Fielding's class. They went the same farm we're going to on a field trip last week."

    I said, "Well, I don't believe you. I've never heard of cows licking people. I think you made it up."

    "I didn't make it up. That's what he said. And cows do too lick people."

    "No they don't. They eat grass. Who ever heard of a cow licking a person?" Annie taunted him.

    "They do, too. That cow licked my friend Juan. You can ask him."

    I said, "I wouldn't believe a friend of yours and I don't believe you. But if you want to prove it, why don't you get yourself licked today."

    Jason's face fell. "I never said I'd gotten licked by a cow. I said Juan got licked."

    Annie smiled at Jason. "I know, but Juan's not here to back you up, even if we would believe him, which we wouldn't. anyway. And he survived didn't he? He didn't die from getting licked by a cow, did he?"

    This was too good. I joined in, "I've a handkerhief if you need to wipe your face off. If your so sure that this happened, why don't you prove it. And then you'd be the only one in the class who'se been licked by a cow."

    "Well . . . " said Jason. I was amazed, he was actually considering it. "If I go up to a cow and get a lick, full in the face, will you go next? Same thing, full in the face." Annie gave me a vigorous poke in the ribs and shook her head, "no way."

    Well, this had to be considered. First, I had no intention of allowing myself to be licked by a big old cow. But also, I knew Jason was bluffing. He'd never go through with it. "O.K." I said. "If you do it, I'll do it. I bet you don't have the guts to get that close to a cow, let alone let one lick your face."

    By that time, the bus was coming up to the farm. It had a stone house and a large red barn. As the bus reached the parking lot, an older man in coveralls with white in his hair and a red bandana tied around his neck, stood in front of the barn and waved.

    Soon the entire class was assembled in front of the house and the man who ran the farm, told us that this was no ordinary farm. "This farm is different than almost every other farm, because we don't kill any animals, we don't send them to the slaughterhouse, we don't milk them and we don't take the wool of the sheep. This is a farm for the animals, so that they can live out their normal lives in peace."

    "Where do you get the animals from?" Mr. Anderson asked.

    "If an animal is lucky enough to escape from a slaughterhouse, the police will find that animal and bring him or her here. Sometimes, we go to the slaughterhouse. They aren't permitted to use an animal that can't stand up for human food, so we take those animals and nurse them back to health and they live here. Different kinds of situations in which an animal needs a home."

    Annie raised her hand. Annie is always asking questions. "What about Wilbur the pig? Do you have Wilbur here?"

    "Yes, we have a pig here named Wilbur. He's not the pig in the story. He's one of our heros because he escaped from a slaughterhouse and went running down the street."

    Mr. Anderson said, "O.K. class, we've got an hour before lunch. You can go and look at the animals. Be careful and be respectful. The people in blue T-shirts, work for the farm. You can ask them any questions you have about the animals."

    "Come on" I said to Jason, "Let's go find your cow." He swallowed hard.

    "You've got to do it, too." he said.

    "But, you've got to do it first." I said. I don't know but it seemed as if Jason looked kind of pale, except for his ears which seemed redder than usual.

    The barn with the cows was close to the house and easy to find.

    It was damp and dark inside the barn and it had the heavy wet smell of old straw and cow manure. The first thing we saw when we walked in the door was the largest, scarriest cow I'd ever seen. It was twice as tall as Jason or me and looked as big as a truck. Jason and I both stopped dead in our tracks. Annie said just one word, "Wow!"

    Jason started to turn around to walk out of the barn, but I pushed him toward the cow, "Oh, no you don't!" That's the cow you're going to kiss." By now, Jason's face was dead white, all except for his standout ears that were now bright red. He didn't say a word. I don't think he could have said anything, even if his mother was there.

    "Hey kids, what's up?" It was one of the farm assistants. He was a tall man with spectacles on his head. He wore the bright blue shirt with the sanctuary logo on it.

    "Jason here wanted to get a kiss from that cow." Annie said.

    The man looked at Jason and grinned. "Are you all right, son? You seem kind of pale."

    Annie said, "They're here on a dare. Maria dared Jason to get a kiss from a cow and he dared her back. So, if he gets a kiss, she has to get the next one."

    Jason looked sick and the sicker he looked the better I began to feel

    "Well," the man said, "Who'se going first?, He looked from Jason and then to me.
    Neither of us moved a musscle.

    Annie came to my rescue, kinda. "He's to go first, and then Maria."

    The man said, "O.K. Jason, let me tell you a little about this cow. Her name is Bessie and she's about 8 years old. She's a dairy cow and for years, she was hooked up to one of those electronic milking machines. For five long years she was like that and each year the farmers got her pregnant and each year they took the baby away and each year Bessie mourned. The dairy farmers keep their cows pregnant because it means they'll give more milk, but the baby gets taken away just afer birth and, like all cow mothers Bessie grieved the loss of her babies. And then, when she stopped producing a lot of milk the farmer was going to sell her to someone who would grind her up for hamburger. But Bessie somehow got loose and turned up in someone's back yard. With all the publicity, the farmer said she could come here. That was about four years ago. Now she has new baby to take care of, it's an orphan goat named Punkie. Bessie takes care of Punkie like she was the goat's mother.

    Annie said, "Will she kiss them?" All Annie wanted to see was Jason run away like a coward.

    "Oh sure," said the man. He took Jason by the hand and moved toward the cow.

    Now was the time. I expected Jason to bolt and run, but he didn't. He was still pale and his ears were redder than ever, but he didn't, he let the man lead him to Bessie.

    I could fee sweat dripping down my back and on the back of my knees. Was he really going to do it?

    Jason let himself be slowly lead up to the cow. "Now put your hands up to the sides of her face" the man said. "That's the signal that you want a kiss."

    I still expected Jason to turn and run, but slowly, his hands touched the side of the cow's face and I saw the tongue, large, and grey and rough, roll over Jason's face. Jason held his hands up on the cow's face for a minute after the cow had licked him and then he turned toward me. His eyes glistened.

    He said in a soft voice, "You don't have to get licked Maria, if you don't want to. It's o.k."

    Well, I wasn't going to let Jason go back to school and say that I'd run out on a dare, and any way, he had survived the lick, so why couldn't I.

    "It's her eyes," he said softly. "Look into her eyes."

    Well, I got licked by a cow that day. A large gentle tongue rolled over my face from my chin to my forehead -- and I looked into those deep, brown eyes, that had seen so much pain, but were so full of love.

    Annie got licked that day, too.

    And Jason, well it turned out, he wasn't so bad after all. In fact, he and Annie and I go around together quite a lot. He's a pretty funny guy.

    "It's Her Eyes" was written by James Frieden and Lauren Humphrey

    Bridges to Reading  —  Other stories by E.B. White include Stuart Little and The Trumpet of the Swan. You can find these books online or at your local library.

    Other Movies  —  Children who love this movie might be interested in Babe or The Adventures of Milo and Otis.

    Talking and playing based on family movies is an excellent way to enhance verbal skills and foster social and emotional learning. It's also a great opportunity for character education and increases communication between parent and child. When fathers and mothers take the time to make entertainment an engine for their child's growth and development, they are practicing intentional parenting at its best.

    For Learning Guides which help teachers and parents use feature movies to supplement curriculum for K-12, foster social-emotional learning and teach ethics, go to For more Talking and Playing Guides to popular movies for children 3 - 8, go to the Talking and Playing Home Page. To learn about the authors, click here.

    This Guide, in its entirety, may be printed or reproduced for distribution to parents or teachers. Any portion of this Guide may be printed or reproduced for such distribution so long as credit is given to, Inc. © 2007 by, Inc. "Talking and Playing with Movies" and the pencil filmstrip logo are trademarks of, Inc. This web page was written by James Frieden and Lauren Humphrey and first published March 30, 2008.

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