I Like Pumpkins- Post #5: Gutting Time

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This year we bought two pumpkins. The idea was to use the first one for lots of hands-on activities that would essentially render the first pumpkin inedible, and use the second one for baking and cooking.

As I mentioned in the introductory post, our pumpkin work got off to a late start. And with my decreased energy levels, we worked through this series rather slowly. In fact, our first pumpkin started losing shape (thats my discrete way of saying that is started to rot) and my husband kept insisting we throw them both out. This was shortly after halloween and the City was collecting pumpkins. I kept saying that we would be cutting it open tomorrow. Tomorrow. Tomorrow finally came. And might I say…

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EWWWWW!

So I explained to my daughter that the pumpkin had rotted and was full of fungus. This invited a lot of questions. In the moment, I gave her a simple explanation (the water we had used in our initial washing off the pumpkins had seeped in and led to fungal growth, the same way we sometimes discover fungus-filled produce in our fridge). It also provided an opportunity to learn about day-to-day life (how to handle and store produce). In hindsight, this would have been a good starting place for doing an inquiry-based project together. Older children could definitely explore ideas surrounding decomposition, fertilizer and what happens to excess produce on farms and in grocery stores.

So clearly we did not want to consume those seeds. We threw away the first pumpkin and I made an executive decision to cut into the other one – there would be no puree this year (and I was secretly relieved).

H was not as interested in sensory play this year as she was last year.She really enjoyed getting into the pumpkin last year and pulling at the wet strings and carefully removing the seeds. This year, she removed some seeds and then lost interest. I was left alone to remove the rest of them and roast them.

We did make a fascinating discovery while removing the seeds – some of them had started sprouting!

I hope we can make reference to these sprouting seeds in the spring when we do some gardening. H has asked to grow/care for a tomato plant this year.

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I Like Pumpkins – Post #2: Washing and Drawing and Reflections on Failure

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When I was planning for what we would be doing with our pumpkins, I thought about what H enjoys doing, what she can do and what she needs to learn to do. I also thought about ways to stretch out what we were going to do as a means of deepening learning and covering more learning domains, not to mention, make the most out of our pumpkin purchase and generate content for this blog.

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Even though I planned, this experience was far from successful. I was reminded that other factors at play like time of day, mood and what else is going on affect a child’s ability to learn, play and engage with their learning environments. Not to mention that children’s interests shift and change and succesful planning follows the child’s leads. So while this whole series is not in line with emergent curriculum and following the child’s lead and more closely resembles traditional preschool planning, I am sharing it because it gives me an opportunity to reflect and better my own practice.

The pumpkins we had picked from the farm were quite dirty.  I thought H might enjoy washing the pumpkin, drawing on it and washing it again. This is an activity that is often done in preschool with small pumpkins at the water table. We don’t have a water table at home and I didn’t want to deal with the mess of an impromptu water table at home. I thought about doing it in the bathtub but given how heavy the pumpkin was (and how lazy I was) I decided to just put a mat down on the floor and encourage her to give the pumpkin a sponge bath. Here she is rolling the pumpkin and starting to clean it.

We later brought the pumpkin over to her table and I gave her markers to draw on the pumpkin. While children who enjoy drawing might really enjoy this experience, it only captivated H’s attention for a few minutes. I am almost sure that had I just given her the pumpkin in the bathtub with paint earlier in the day, she would have sat for an hour playing considering how much she enjoys sensory experiences. By this late in the evening she was tired and distracted and my lack of enthusiasm didn’t help.

One interesting thing that did arise from this experience will be covered later in this series. We could not have predicted the unpleasant consequences of this activity.

 

 

 

 

Pumpkin Mania: Part 3

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The third experience in our work with pumpkins focused primarily on “cooking.”

To be honest, getting my hands on some unprocessed pumpkin seeds was a big part of my motivation to buy a pumpkin in the first place. Not only was the experience personally sentimental (because it was reminiscent of my dad toasting seeds for us as children), but it was necessary given my daughter’s nut allergies. I was looking for something beyond raisins to add variety to homemade granola. I decided we would take on the task ourselves since it was proving challenging to find uncontaminated pumpkin seeds close to home (not to mention it was way more cost-effective to do it ourselves!)

Because this was such a simple recipe, my two year-old was able to take the reigns and I was the helper.

She simply transferred all of the seeds into the bowl. I helped by adding olive oil and then she used the salt shaker to season the seeds and mixed everything together. She then transferred all of the seeds onto a baking tray and then spread them out.

*Because this was our first time doing this, we decided to play it safe but in future years we will be experimenting with different seasonings and flavours.

Like many toddlers, she prefers using her hands to utensils, so I marveled at her patience as she transferred the seeds (by hand) through the different steps.

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We then baked the seeds at 350 degrees Celsius until they were brown (next time we won’t toast them for as long). She’s been particularly excited to munch on these as a snack and share them with her Papa. Eating seeds has proven to be nice bonding time for them, since someone else has to extract the seeds for her (and I am terribly unskilled at this).

* We were also intending on bringing some for her seed-loving grandfather, but sadly after a night of Mama and Papa binge-munching, there weren’t enough left to share.

This experience was an opportunity for sensory play, fine motor development, and contributed to numerical and scientific concepts (related to measurement and transformation) and life skills (because knowing how to cook IS important). It also had great socioemotional benefits as my daughter was able to eat (and share) something that SHE had created – what a reason to be proud!

Now what happened to the rest of the pumpkin, you wonder? I roasted, puréed and stored it for the last part of our pumpkin experience.

Pumpkin Mania: Part 2

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The second part of our pumpkin adventure was getting to the good stuff: the ooey-gooey insides! This sensorimotor experience is fantastic for all ages. As an adult partaking in the experience, I was surprised by how cold, wet and stringy it was. I was also surprised my daughter didn’t make more of a mess (I dressed her in old clothes and proactively covered my floor, expecting an orange explosion).

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This is also a great time to introduce more refined vocabulary and concepts or apply the ones you have already explored in your readings together. Use all five senses to interact with your pumpkin. The depth of your conversation will depend on your child’s age and their predisposed interests.

  • What do you see? Does the inside of the pumpkin look the way you thought it would? Does it remind you of anything? What colours are inside? What shape is it?
  • How does it feel? (Note: If your child uses an adjective like “gross” or “disgusting”, probe them further. Why is it gross? What makes it disgusting?) This is also a good time to contrast this fresh raw pumpkin to other forms you may have seen (in the previous post, there was a picture of my daughter touching the inside of a smashed pumpkin at the corn maze. That pumpkin was dry and hard since it had been laying in the sun for a while). Is it heavy? With older children, you can also estimate how much it weighs.
  • How does the pumpkin smell? Does it remind you of anything?
  • How does it taste? (you may have a child brave enough to try this one)
  • How does it sound? It may be interesting to compare the sound when you knock on the pumpkin, pre and post-gutting.

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You can also use this time to draw on other areas of learning. My daughter is particularly interested in fine-motor activities and numeracy – she enjoys handling small items one by one, making the seeds ideal for counting. With older children you can estimate how many seeds you think are inside of the pumpkin or estimate how many seeds are in one fistful. The nice thing about this approach is that you can count the seeds and adjust your estimate before trying again with the next fistful. If you have multiple pumpkins, you can work on sequencing (ex. arrange them by biggest to smallest etc.)

The next thing we did was wash the pumpkin seeds (we intended on toasting them later). My daughter has washed things in a basin on the floor before, but this time I decided to pull up a chair and let her stand at the sink. She was super excited for the change in view.  Most toddlers love to play in water. To provide more sensory variation, you can adjust the temperature of the water, vary the force, and change the flow to the shower setting if your faucet has this feature.

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Next, we lay the seeds out on a kitchen towel and allowed them to dry until we were ready for the next experience, a few days later.

Pumpkin Mania: Part 1

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As promised, new fall content! I’m super excited about this four-part series since it was emergent curriculum in action. One outing blossomed into many experiences, providing my daughter with rich opportunities for hands-on learning. I hope our projects can inspire and encourage you to see the wonderful potential of pumpkins.

It started a few weeks ago when a dear friend asked us if we would be interested in going to a local Calgary gem: Cobb’s Corn Maze and Family Fun Park . While corn season was over, the place was full of pumpkins!

I thought it would be a fantastic opportunity, and so our learning journey began. I introduced my daughter to the following books (from my personal/professional library) and they became instant favourites. We’ve been reading about pumpkins daily for the past few weeks.

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These books were all ordered through Scholastics during my time as a preschool teacher. “This Pumpkin” is part of an excellent science-based series for young children. I will do a blog post to cover this series and its merits at a later time.

Each of these books was a non-fiction choice, full of real photographs. The language and concepts in these book prepared my almost two year-old daughter for the play that lay ahead. When we finally make it to the library, we will look for some more (fiction) books that tie into the ideas we have been contemplating.

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Our trip took place on a gorgeous day! We didn’t have a lot of time to spend, but my daughter was elated to climb and sit on pumpkins.

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We came across some smashed pumpkins and she curiously poked around. From our reading, she knew that pumpkins had seeds inside.

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There were also pumpkins for sale, so we brought one home to continue our learning. Later that week when we went grocery shopping, we saw all sorts of pumpkins for sale. I handed this one to my daughter and we talked about how small and bumpy it was. (Yes, those are bite marks. My daughter decided to take a bite while I turned around. She didn’t like the taste much).

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Our pumpkin sat on the kitchen table for a week before we got to do anymore hands on work. In the meantime, we continued exploring the books, talking about things we may be able to do with the pumpkin.