Did you know that pumpkins are thought to have originated in North America, and scientists have found pumpkin seeds in Mexico from 7000 and 5500 BC!? Most often pumpkins are planted in the summer, and are ready for harvest in the fall. In fact, pumpkins were an important food source for indigenous people in North and South America (and later the colonists), crucial for their survival through the hungry winter months. Originally symbolizing the harvest, but now associated with Halloween (October 31st), families carve them into jack-o-lanterns: silly faces that light up when a candle is placed inside. During Thanksgiving pumpkin pie is a common dessert. To celebrate “pumpkin season” here are more than 10 ways parents and teachers around the world can teach using pumpkins across subject matter.
Small groups of kids can each work with their own pumpkin, with a hole cut around the top for easy access inside. Students can use different instruments (scale, measuring tape, ruler) to find out the following questions. Remember to first make predictions and guess the answers; then determine if they were close to the real data. Each pumpkin group can record their answers on a class graph.
- How long is the stem of your pumpkin?
- How many ridges are there going around the pumpkin?
- What is the circumference of your pumpkin?
- How much does your pumpkin weigh?
- How many seeds are in your pumpkin? (use small pumpkins! Large pumpkins can have over 500 seeds!)
Pumpkin Social Studies
If there are more kids than pumpkins, have each child draw their idea for the pumpkin’s face. Create a “ballot” showing the different designs, and a ballot box. Hold an election and explain that everyone’s vote will count once in this decision, and the winning design will be used for the class/family pumpkin. This activity works well in the US, where political elections are held the week after Halloween!
Cut the top off a pumpkin and fill it with dirt. The seeds will naturally sprout when placed in the sun and sprinkled with water. Check out a picture here.
What happens to a rotting pumpkin? Read this young boy’s science journal on his own rotting pumpkin, and then observe your own (this is an outside activity!:).
Explore pumpkin “guts.” Creative Connections for kids has some wonderful ideas on how to investigate and learn about the pumpkin from the outside in: vocabulary, observations, and activities.
With a large, water-filled bucket or tub predict to see if different sizes and types of pumpkins will float or sink. Start with a tiny decorative pumpkin, try some gourds, and end with a huge pumpkin. Kids will ask you why and you can talk about the air that the pumpkin holds inside- similar to a boat. The empty space has less density, and is lighter than the water, so it floats.
Tell the story of how a pumpkin grows: first you plant the pumpkin seed, then it sprouts. You must have water and sun for it to grow. The vines grow bigger, a flower grows. A small green pumpkin grows from the flower, and slowly it turns orange. It grows bigger and bigger, and finally it is time to pick it. From the pumpkin you can make a Jack-O-Lantern or a pumpkin pie. Kids can illustrate the story and label the different parts of the pumpkin (vine, stem, seeds, skin, meat, pulp, ribs, leaves).
The Imagination Tree has a wonderful post on Alphabet Pumpkins and 5 Playful Literacy Activities to do with the pumpkins. Also, check out these wonderful children’s books that really teach about the life cycle and details on pumpkins.
I love the series “Let’s Read and Find Out about Science” because it’s nonfiction, illustrated and written in a way that makes science very accessible for kids. From Seed to Pumpkin is perfect for fall and explains the pumpkins life cycle for kids ages 4-10.
Another similar nonfiction book is The Pumpkin Book by one of my favorite children’s authors: Gail Gibbons. If you have never read one of her books, you are missing out. She explains science in such a clear and concise way that even adults learn (check out her book on owls!).
I like to include books with real photographs in addition to illustrations, and Ken Robbin’s book Pumpkins is such an eye-pleaser. This photo essay on pumpkins can be appreciate by the little kids through adults, showing the farmer’s perspective on the pumpkin life cycle.
Finally, though this is a fiction selection while the others are nonfiction, How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? is a wonderful pairing if you are actually going to estimate and count pumpkin seeds. This story of a class (which as an added bonus happens to be multicultural!) doing some hands-on science, talks about counting by 2’s, 5’s, and 10’s, to determine which pumpkin has the most seeds. Lovely book to read before (or after) cutting into your own class pumpkins.
The blog Not Just Cute notes that because pumpkins are hollow, they make great drums! Try their ideas here on how to practice rhythms and beats on a pumpkin.
Pumpkins in Español (Calabazas!)
For the Love of Spanish has a great craft and song in Spanish to celebrate “calabazas.”
And last but not least:
This delicious sweet pumpkin dessert is a traditional fall dish enjoyed in Mexico near Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Calabaza en Tacha is a candied pumpkin dish that kids will love!
Any more suggestions on how you teach your children using pumpkins? What other subject level activities do you use?