Carve a Pumpkin and Do Some Learning, Too!

Carve a Pumpkin and Do Some Learning, Too!

Why not inject your pumpkin carving activities this year with extra fun? Everyone’s favorite: embedded learning! We’ve come up with some fun ideas to add learning to spice up this annual tradition.

Carving faces into pumpkins is a perfect opportunity to practice emotion recognition for young kids. When planning what jack-o-lantern face to carve, start with these ideas to plan it out:

  • You might start by drawing the pieces of the face you want to carve on paper. It is especially helpful to draw your child’s attention to what the different parts of our faces do with different expressions to help recognize and draw feelings. The mouth, eye brows, eyes, and area between our eyebrows are often the most distinctive.
    • What is the shape of the mouth for the feeling you want to carve? Is it turned up and broad like a smile, or turned down at the sides in a frown, or showing teeth like when you’re really angry?
    • What about the eyebrows? Are they like a ‘V’ in the middle of the forehead like when you’re angry, or raised and more on the sides of the eyes like when you are surprised, or scrunched together like when you’re scared?
    • Are the eyes wide open like when you’re scared, or squinting like when you’re smiling really big?
  • Another way to introduce recognizing facial expressions is to look in a mirror with your children and practice naming feelings as you make faces. Or take pictures on your phone of everyone making feelings faces. Help your child recognize feelings by asking questions about what our faces look like. What does your face look like when you are happy vs. sad vs. angry vs. scared? What are your eyes and eyebrows doing: is there a wrinkle between your eyes or nose? What does your mouth look like?
  • Have you already carved your pumpkins? Talk a walk around the neighborhood to go on a jack-o-lantern hunt, looking for pumpkin faces to identify. Up the stakes and turn it into a family scavenger hunt with a list of the types of pumpkins to find (a smiling Jack-o-lantern, a rotting one, a scared one), and maybe things that aren’t pumpkins, a spiderweb and a black cat too.

Use the pumpkin carving experience as a way to discuss beginning scientific thought and exploration:

  • Check out this great idea for turning pumpkin carving and roasting the seeds into a sensory experience. There are many recipes for baking pumpkin seeds. At the simplest: Rinse the seeds in a colander, pat dry, toss 1 cup seeds with 1 Tbs oil or butter, 1 Tbs salt, and roast in a single layer in the oven at 350 for 25-30 minutes, stirring a few times.
  • Talk about the problem of quickly decomposing pumpkins, and encourage your kids to think about how to solve this problem by slowing down the natural process of decay (I know, very gross, and very Halloween season appropriate!). Reasons pumpkins start to rot fairly quickly after being carved: The insides are exposed to oxygen, they dry up, bacteria/bugs get to them, moisture collects at the bottom of the pumpkin.
  • Another way to engage your kids could be to think about how to solve this problem of decomposition. Do they have any ideas for how to preserve the pumpkin longer? Don’t reduce creative thinking to possible solutions, encourage kids to think crazy. For example: where might less oxygen be found? Could you somehow cover all the exposed areas in something to keep bacteria and bugs out? Ideas could range from putting it in the refrigerator when not using, to dipping it in wax, plastic, nail polish, to shooting it into outer space.
  • Try a science experiment! Think about or research ways that ‘might’ help to preserve the pumpkins and test the theories on real pumpkins! Below are a few ideas that really are supposed to prolong the life of jack-o-lanterns. For a science experiment, cut the bottom out of one pumpkin, spray a different pumpkin with diluted bleach, and carve a third pumpkin as usual. Use your scientific brains to observe the rate of pumpkin decay over the next week to see which approach was most effective. Take pictures to more accurately capture the differences day to day.
    • Cut out the bottom of the pumpkin instead of the top: increases air flow, prevents moisture pooling in the bottom, and makes it easier to light the candle without burning yourself! (Light the candle and then place the carved jack-o-lantern over the top.)
    • Keep it fresh longer: mix 1 TBS bleach (or peppermint castile soap) per quart water in spray bottle and spray interior.
    • Apply Vaseline or oil to the cut parts of the pumpkin to prevent it drying out.
    • We know lemon juice keeps apples from turning brown… does it work similarly on carved pumpkins?
  • Other creative thinking skills: what makes a jack-o-lantern a jack-o-lantern? What else could you carve a jack-o-lantern out of? Any overgrown zucchinis left in your garden? Turnips, and even apples might work. What about acorn or butternut squash? What about just painting the outside of a jack-o-lantern?

Hopefully some of these ideas are a hit with your family this pumpkin carving season. Are you doing a socially distanced carving party? Do you have your own pumpkin carving traditions? We’d love to hear about it!

Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2020

Image: © Rawpixelimages | Dreamstime.com

Livia Carpenter
Livia Carpenter is the Clinical Supervisor for KITS. She has been with the organization since 2008. Livia has a passion for working with kids from high risk backgrounds, which began when working with foster children prior to coming to OSLC. When she is not inspiring those she works with, she reads, tries new recipes, makes art, and really enjoys a good, whole-hearted belly laugh.

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