Mounds and Pounds of Pumpkins
The mounds of orange in front of roadside farm stands or the grocery store are hard to miss this time of year. It’s Fall and pumpkins are in season.
If you buy pumpkins to carve into Jack O Lanterns, or even if you don’t carve them for decorative purposes, think of all the great questions and learning opportunities pumpkins present. They are bigger than most fruit and vegetables (pumpkins are a fruit) and can be great fun to explore because there is so much more of them! Their color and variations in color are bright and beautiful. They are edible, can be carved into masterpieces of art, and they are associated with a changing season and scary-exciting holiday. These characteristics make pumpkins an obvious choice for exploration.
To understand the various components of this activity, please first take a look at the description of our strategy for nurturing your child’s sense of wonder. You will find a brief overview on the What is Guiding Curiosity page. Once you have taken a look at this, your role and how to use the following information should be clearer.
Listen for any of the following questions and initiate the investigation of pumpkins
Where do pumpkins come from?
How do they grow?
Where do they grow?
How big can they get?
What can you make to eat from a pumpkin?
Do other animals like to eat pumpkins?
Why are pumpkins carved into Jack O Lanterns for Halloween?
As is always the case, hints for observations can invite your child to consider the texture, size, color or shape of an object, or in this case a pumpkin or pumpkins. Who can imagine a better and more fascinating plaything than a giant pumpkin?
You do not have to grow your own or purchase a pumpkin to make an observation, although having one at home will allow for closer inspection. Take some time in the grocery store to look one over. Ask your child to touch, look, smell, and listen (put an ear to the pumpkin and gently knock on it). Look at pumpkins of different sizes and colors if you can find them. Some are cream colored and referred to as Cinderella pumpkins. Others have streaks of green or there are variations in the orange.
Is your pumpkin smooth or bumpy? Feel the outside all over to answer this question.
Open a pumpkin up, continuing the observations of what is inside. Feel for seeds and the stringy material the seeds are embedded in. Observe how the seeds are arranged in the pumpkin (to really get a good look at the seed arrangement you may have to make a cut that divides the pumpkin in two from top to bottom – not ideal if carving a Jack O Lantern, but okay if you plan to cook the meat).
Smell the inside and outside, is there a difference? Do the sections or segments one can feel on the outside of the pumpkin show up on the inside? Is the color consistent on the inside and outside? Are the seeds all the same color or are there variations?
Is the pumpkin symmetrical? That is, if you were to divide in in half from top to bottom or around the middle, would the two sides be the same shape and size?
So many variations, so much to keep one’s interest and inspire curiosity.
At the grocery store or farm stand, ask which pumpkins are bigger, taller, rounder (fatter?).
Compare a pumpkin with another squash (e.g., acorn, butternut, or spaghetti). Contrast the exteriors and interiors and examine differences or similarities in seeds and stems. How are they alike or different?
Find a gourd and compare it to a pumpkin.
Compare with other fruits (cantaloupes, passion fruit, watermelon). Examine with a hand lens to find similarities or differences.
Invite your child to draw an image of a fresh pumpkin and one that has been sitting for a while or even rotting (photographs on a phone will work for this as well). How are they different, or what has changed?
If you can find a patch of pumpkins growing or still on the vines, examine these over a period of time, comparing the younger pumpkin with the pumpkins about to be harvested.
Create your own pumpkin puree. You can boil, roast, or even microwave pumpkin meat. Once cooked (find recipes on-line), puree in a food processor (without the rind). The puree will freeze if you have extra. Be sure to measure the amount you end up with, or how may cups of puree did you make? Cooking the puree can be fun in itself. If you like, however, you can compare your freshly prepared puree with canned.
Once the excitement of carving that spooky image into a pumpkin wears off a little, don’t forget to keep the fun going with some hands-on measurement suggestions.
Count pumpkins in a pile or lined up at the store.
If you have more than one pumpkin and they can be handled (may not be appreciated in the store), invite your child to order them from largest to smallest.
Measure a pumpkin’s height and circumference. Which tools work best for these two different types of measurements? Cut various length of yarn or string. Lay them out from largest to smallest. Invite your child to select the length that she thinks will be the best measure of the pumpkin’s circumference – This is another form of estimation.
Start with two pumpkins. Estimate their size and weight. After measuring, how close were those estimates?
Weigh your pumpkin before and after it is carved. Use the bathroom scale if you do not have a larger kitchen scale. Have your child make two measurements. First, measure her own weight. Then measure her weight while holding the pumpkin. Now subtract the difference. Weigh the pumpkin by itself on the scale. How does this measure of weight contrast with the results of the previous measurement?
If you are going to carve a face or other image into the pumpkin, invite your child to sketch the image and then measure the drawing relative to the size it would be on the pumpkin’s surface. Is it big enough, too big, or just right? How would you scale the image up or down to fit?
Design an experiment to measure the amount of water displaced by a pumpkin. This will require a bowl large enough to hold the pumpkin so that it can float. Then place the bowl in another bowl, the sink or bathtub. Fill the first bowl to the top with water. Add pumpkin and watch as water is displaced. Now measure the amount of water displaced by scooping it up in measuring cups and counting how many.
How much water does the pumpkin’s interior hold, or what is the volume of the interior?
How many seeds were inside the pumpkin?
What is the weight of the pulp pulled out of the inside?
Don’t let those pumpkins just sit around as decorations, what else can you think to do with them?
Does a pumpkin float or sink?
How long will it take a pumpkin to rot if it is inside or outside? I live in the desert, so pumpkins take a long time to rot because of the dry air. Sometimes the birds speed up the process by nibbling on the pumpkin, ultimately devouring it before it would have rotted away. Pumpkins in very cold climates may freeze which breaks down cells and accelerates rotting. Have your child do an experiment where he observes two or three pumpkins over time in different conditions (inside, outside, in the basement or a garage). Compare how a pumpkin carved with the guts removed rots relative to a pumpkin that is whole. Alternatively, arrange with grandparents or a cousin or friend in a different climate to carve a pumpkin on the same day and share and compare photos taken with a phone and texted over several days or weeks.
If you have a rotting pumpkin inside, did fruit flies appear? Where did they come from?
If you have a rotting pumpkin outside, what animals are attracted to it?
Harvest some pumpkin seeds and plant them in a garden the next spring. Make observations about how they grow over time. Did some of the seeds grow faster or into bigger pumpkins? What is different about where those seeds are in the garden?
Examine the life cycle of a pumpkin from seed to Jack O Lantern. What different phases does it grow through? Draw images of the different phases (seed, sprout, vine, flowering phase,…). Days later, invite your child to arrange these in a sequence representing the growth cycle.
Build a ramp or roll pumpkins exerting the same force as your child pushes. Which pumpkin goes the farthest and why?
Look up on-line the record weight of a pumpkin, or the largest pumpkin that was grown.
Instead of carving a pumpkin, consider drawing a face or other images with washable magic markers. These drawings can be cleaned off and your child can start again if he likes.
If you have carved a pumpkin, instead of throwing the extra pieces away, invite your child to carve them into geometric forms or other shapes. Dip these in paint and use them as stamps to create pumpkin artwork.
Roast the seeds for a terrific snack.
Working together, make any number of recipes with pumpkins – soups, waffles, in chili or a curry, or pumpkin bread.
Take a poll of who loves, is okay with, or doesn’t like pumpkin pie. Chart the results. Alternatively, compare pumpkin pie with other fruit or custard pies. A pie chart is a perfect representation of pie preferences.
Determine where pumpkins can be grown around the world. What other cultures eat pumpkins? Do other cultures carve them for a holiday as we do in the US? Were pumpkins here in America when Columbus arrived or were they brought from the old world?
Find representations of pumpkins in works of art or literature (Cinderella?).
Dry and paint pumpkin seeks, using the colorful versions in various craft projects.
If you visit a pumpkin patch, you can draw or paint individual pumpkins or clusters. Consider also making a pumpkin patch map, indicating where pumpkins can be found (assuming the patch is not too big, or if it is large, map a row or section of the patch).