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:
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
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...
- Weigh A Pumpkin
How much does your pumpkin weigh? Let your child try to pick it up or hold it. Is it light or heavy? Ask, "How much do you think it weighs?" Write down your child's guess. Show your child how to weigh the pumpkin on a bathroom scale. How much does it weigh? Write it down. Compare the actual weight to the amount your child guessed. Don't forget to weigh your child. Does your child weigh more or less than the pumpkin? Some kids really enjoy this activity and want to weigh everything -- including favorite stuffed animals.
- Measure & Compare the Circumference of a Pumpkin and a Preschooler
Show your child how to use a cloth tape measure to measure around your child's waist. Write down the number. Now, look at your pumpkin. What shape is it? Does it look like a circle? Measure the distance around your pumpkin - be sure to explain you are measuring the "circumference" -- the distance around a circle. Compare the difference in the measurements -- was the pumpkin's circumference bigger or smaller than your child's? Use words like "circumference" when talking to your child -- it will increase his/her vocabulary and knowledge of the world.
- Estimating & Counting Pumpkin Seeds
Cut off the top of a pumpkin and let your little one look inside. Is the pumpkin mostly full or empty? What does it smell like? What do they see inside? How many seeds do you think are inside the pumpkin? Write down their guess.
Now, have them scoop out the seeds and pulp with their hands. What do the seeds and pulp feel like? Are the seeds hard or soft? Is the pulp gooey, slimy, and squishy? Use lots of words to describe the sensation and textures. Be sure to point out where the "meat" of the pumpkin is -- the part we eat. Wash hands and the seeds and dry them with paper towels. Spread the seeds out on the table. Are all of the seeds the same size? Count the seeds. How many are there? Write down the number.
Compare it to the number they guessed. Do all pumpkins have the same number of seeds? If you have two pumpkins, cut another one open and find out!
- Sorting & Skip Counting with Pumpkin Seeds
Sort pumpkin seeds into groups of 2, 3, 5, or 10. Use your discretion to determine if your child will understand a demonstration of skip-counting. Use the piles to demonstrate skip counting, such as 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, etc. Remember you don't have to "teach" -- you can simply demonstrate. Start counting by 2's or 5's -- your child may or may not be interested in what you're doing or how you're doing it, but at least they will know that there are many ways to count.
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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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 Kids' Favorite
Pumpkin Bread Recipe
This recipe makes one large loaf or two, 7" loaves.
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 2/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (optional: exchange 1/3 cup flour for oat bran)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 eggs, well beaten
- 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup pumpkin puree (fresh or canned)
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.
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.
Have fun learning with pumpkins, and give your little ones a hug for me!
~Diane Keith - For Unpreschool