Pumpkin Fun!

by: Diane Flynn Keith

So before I make the artificial happy face, I scoop the brains out? I thought they only did that at preschool?

Pumpkins are a big part of the landscape at this time of year and will remain so through the Thanksgiving holiday. Point them out to your little ones when you see them used as fall decorations in front of neighborhood homes or displayed in the produce section of the grocery store.

Pick out a pumpkin to purchase and when you get it home describe it. What color is it? What does it smell like? Rap on the pumpkin -- what does it sound like? Is the pumpkin smooth or rough? Is there a stem? Which part is the top? The bottom? Pumpkins provide lots of opportunities for learning with your little ones. Here are some fun ideas and activities to try...

Note: Some of the following information is compiled from a variety of Internet resources. I've included a link where appropriate.

Visit a U-Pick Pumpkin Farm

If you live in an area where there are pumpkin farms, it's not too late to visit one. The Halloween crowds are gone, so you can enjoy the experience without the chaos. At "Pumpkin Patches And More" you can find a directory of u-pick pumpkin farms listed by U.S. state -- as well as a list of farms in Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and South Africa. Find one near you and call ahead to determine visiting hours. Some of these farms also offer fun, family fall activities such as corn mazes and hayrides.

Pumpkin History & Geography

Pumpkins are indigenous to North America, where they have grown for over 5,000 years. Native Americans grew and harvested pumpkins. They ate roasted pumpkin and used dried strips of pumpkin to weave mats. Indians offered Spanish explorers pumpkin seeds as a peace offering.

Cabeza de Vaca reported seeing pumpkins growing in Florida in 1528 and French explorer Jacques Cartier spotted pumpkins near the St. Lawrence region of Canada in 1584. Learn more about pumpkin history and find tons of other pumpkin information at Pumpkins and More.

American colonists originated pumpkin pie by slicing off the pumpkin top, removing the seeds, and filling the insides with milk, spices and honey. Then, they baked the pumpkin in hot ashes. Yum! You and your little one can try this yourselves -- here's a recipe:

Visit your local pumpkin patch


If you relate the above history to your children, take the opportunity to point out North America on a globe or map. Depending on their level of interest, show them where Florida, Canada, and Massachusetts are located. Show them France and Spain too and draw your finger across the Atlantic ocean to America, tracing the path of the explorers. Don't forget to point out where your home is located on the globe.

Pumpkin Language Arts

The Pumpkin Circle video and book, for ages 4 and up, captures life in the pumpkin garden with time-lapse photography of seeds sprouting, flowers opening, bees buzzing, pumpkins growing, and jack- o-lanterns glowing. There is a companion website for teachers and parents who want to help children learn about "the miraculous cycle of nature that unfolds in every pumpkin patch." The materials they offer encourage you to grow pumpkins as a garden-based learning project. View Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden Lesson Plan.

Pumpkins In Children's Literature

Classic children's stories and fairy tales like "Cinderella" refer to pumpkins. You can read the poem "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater" and print out a coloring page for free.

You'll find pumpkin rhymes, songs, and a recommended reading list of children's books about pumpkins at: The Pumpkin Patch

Pumpkin Math

In the book "Too Many Pumpkins" by Linda White for ages 4-8, kids learn about basic estimation and multiplication skills as a story unfolds about a lady who hates pumpkins -- but finds herself the recipient of a giant pumpkin that rolls into her yard. She buries it, but the seeds sprout and the results teach her to set aside her pumpkin prejudice to benefit her whole community. Available at your local library or through Amazon.com. Use the book to springboard your own pumpkin math adventures such as...

NOTE: When you are through using the seeds as math manipulatives, wash them again, and roast them. Try this recipe for Roast Pumpkin Seeds

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Pumpkin Science

Do pumpkins sink or float in water? Test it out in a large tub of water to find out. (The bathtub will work.) If they float, do they float stem up (right-side up), stem down (upside down), or sideways? If your pumpkin floats -- can you guess why? (Pumpkins should float because they are hollow inside and filled with air.)

Cooking delicious pumpkin recipes reinforces math and science skills. Recipes for everything from pumpkin dip to soup to pie.

Our family grows pumpkins in our garden every year. I showed my kids how to harvest the pumpkin and turn it into puree in order to make our own delicious pumpkin recipes. Here's how...

Make Your Own Pumpkin Puree

There are several methods for turning raw pumpkin into puree. I've tried them all, and prefer the oven method. I'll let you decide what works best for your family:

  1. Oven Method: Cut pumpkin into quarters. Scrape off the stringy pulp and seeds. Place pumpkin, cut side down on a large cookie sheet or roasting pan lined with foil. Bake at 350ºF for one hour or until fork tender. Depending on the size of your pumpkin, you may have to do this in 2 or more batches. Remove from oven, place in colander and allow to drain -- you may want to press on the pumpkin mash to remove excessive moisture. Then follow the procedure for making puree below.
  2. Steaming Method: Cut the pumpkin into large chunks. Place pieces in a steamer basket in a large pot filled with about an inch of water. Cover the pot and bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and steam until tender when poked with fork (about 10-25 minutes, depending on amount and size of pumpkin). Drain the cooked pumpkin in a colander -- you may want to press on the pumpkin mash to remove excessive moisture. Then follow the procedure for making puree below.
  3. Microwave Method: Cut pumpkin into quarters or into pieces that will fit in your microwave oven. Put pumpkin cut side down on a microwave safe plate. Microwave on high for about 15 minutes until tender when poked with fork. If necessary, continue to cook in short intervals (1-2 minutes) until done. Place in colander to drain -- you may want to press on the pumpkin mash to remove excessive moisture. Then follow the procedure for making puree below.

To Make Puree: Allow the pumpkin to cool enough to handle safely. Remove the peel with your fingers -- and use a knife to remove any stubborn pieces. Put the peeled pumpkin in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Use the puree in any recipe that calls for for solid pack canned pumpkin. Freeze any that you don't plan to use right away.

The Keith Kid's Favorite Pumpkin Bread

The Keith Kids' Favorite
Pumpkin Bread Recipe

This recipe makes one large loaf or two, 7" loaves.


Optional: You can add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or macadamia nuts -- and/or add 1/2 cup chopped dates.

Directions: Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and four 2 loaf pans or, alternatively, spray them twice with cooking spray (such as PAM). In a large bowl mix all of the dry ingredients. In a smaller bowl, mix together the eggs, oil, water, and pumpkin. Add liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and beat until well-blended. (Stir in nuts and/or dates if desired.) Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaves comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes in the pans, then remove bread onto a rack to cool completely. This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily, and the bread can be frozen for later use.

Pumpkin Art

You will need a pumpkin, washable markers, and a damp cloth or sponge. Place a pumpkin on the table, surrounded by washable markers, and a damp sponge. Tell your children that whenever they feel inspired, they can draw faces on the pumpkin to make a "Mr. Pumpkin Head." If they make a mistake or want to change it, just use the damp cloth or sponge to erase their work.

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Have fun learning with pumpkins, and give your little ones a hug for me!

~Diane Keith - For Unpreschool