Pumpkin science experiments

Pumpkin experiments that help teach your child about change

Change is a part of life. For children, change is both expected and surprising. For a three-year-old, summer is about a quarter of the life they remember. It is a wonder when the season changes. It is amazing when clothes that used to fit are now too small. You can explore the nature of change, of life and of death with pumpkins. These are fun, easy to find and big enough to show changes in a variety of ways. Plus, all of these experiments show the child how change can be irreversible. In none of these activities will you be able to put the pumpkin back. You will not be able to make the pumpkin the way it was before you changed it. This helps your little one explore the ephemeral nature of life.

Pumpkin Taste Test

In this experiment, you and your child will explore how heat changes pumpkin flesh. For the experiment, you will need a sharp knife, a pie pumpkin (the smaller type of pumpkin found in the produce section of the grocery store,) a baking dish, oven and two spoons.

Start by washing your pumpkin. Talk to your child about how dirt is not part of the taste test. Then preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Next, cut the baking pumpkin in half. Cut a small piece of the flesh from the rind of one half of the pumpkin. You and your child can taste the raw pumpkin flesh. It will be hard and not terribly tasty. Talk about the flavor and the texture of the pumpkin. Plpace this half in the refrigerator.

Place the other half of the pumpkin cut side down in a small baking dish. Pour water in the dish until the water is about half an inch deep. Place the pumpkin dish in the oven and bake for one-and-a-half to two hours. You can test the pumpkin by pressing on the back with a large spoon. When the skin gives, the pumpkin is fully cooked.

Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let it cool completely. When cool, scoop a small amount onto a small plate and taste test the roasted pumpkin. Next, take the pumpkin from the refrigerator and taste it as well. Compare the two. Talk about how different the two tastes are, even though they came from the same pumpkin.

If you wish, roast the other half and scoop out the pumpkin for your favorite recipe for pumpkin bread, muffins or pie.

Growing Pumpkins

When you make a Jack-O-Lantern, what do you do with all the pumpkin guts? Do you roast the seeds? Do you just throw it all away? You can use them to explore the changing nature or, well, nature.

For this experiment, you will need a pumpkin, water, a bowl, newspapers or paper towels, a clear plastic cup, paper towels, small pots and potting soil.

Pull the seeds out of the pumpkin and wash them. Soak them in clear water, rubbing the seeds between your hands to remove any pumpkin from the seed coats. Then spread them out on newspaper or paper towels to let them dry in the air. You can move on to the next step, or store the dried seeds in a cool, dry place until late winter or early spring.

Take one seed and split it open. Look for the tiny plant that will grow in the future. Talk with your child about how the next pumpkin plant is already inside the seed. Show how many seeds are inside the pumpkin and that not all of them will grow. But many of them will.

Crumple up paper towels and push them into the plastic cup until it is full. Slide five or six pumpkin seeds around the outside of the cup so that you can see the seeds through the cup. Pour water into the paper towels, thoroughly soaking them. Place the cup in a sunny window. Keep the towels moist over the next several days. Every day, check the seeds to see if they have sprouted. Watch as the root sprouts down and the leaf sprouts up.

When the seedlings have all sprouted, transplant them to the small pots. Water them until you can find a time and place to plant them outside.

The Melting Pumpkin

Not all change is growth, sometimes things rot as well. Rather than throwing out your Jack-O-Lantern after Halloween, why not use it to explore the wonderful world of decomposition.

The most important thing to remember is that your child must understand that she cannot touch the pumpkin as it begins to rot. Some of the molds that grow can be dangerous and many people have allergies to mold.

For this experiment, you will need a pumpkin, preferably a Jack-O-Lantern, a safe place outside, and a camera (phone camera is wonderful.) Begin by taking a picture of the Jack-O-Lantern just after it was carved. After it has served its purpose as a decoration, place it in an area that is away from where children play. Think about a place that is fenced away from children. Think about getting an inexpensive wire mesh to wrap around the pumpkin to keep children, pets and large animals away. You can also think about placing the pumpkin higher than your child can reach. Every day, inspect the pumpkin with your child daily. Talk about how the color changes. Look for colonies of mold and compare the colors. Sniff the air and see if there is an odor. Look for insects. Discuss how bugs break down the pumpkin and use the nutrients to live.

Take a picture of the pumpkin every day, rain or shine or snow. Put the pictures in their own folder on your computer or device. As your pumpkin breaks down, flip through the pictures. If you do it fast enough, it will look as though your pumpkin is melting.

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