Fun with science and pumpkins

Discover science through plant activities.

Teaching young children science with plants is fun and easy.  With fall comes pumpkin season; have you ever wondered if pumpkins sink or float in water?  A fun activity to do with youth is to have them make predictions explaining what they think will happen when pumpkins are placed in water, and why.  Do they think the size of the pumpkin changes the results? Next, submerse various sized pumpkins and watch what happens.  Following the activity explain that pumpkins are hollow inside and contain enough air to make them float regardless of their size.  According to Michigan State University Extension, this scientific concept is called buoyancy.  Extend this activity by asking youth what would happen if they did the same experiment with a jack o’ lantern, and why.  After you conduct the experiment discuss that since a jack o’ lantern was cut open that there is no air trapped inside the pumpkin which is why it sank.

Another activity that children will enjoy, and will help them practice their estimating and math skills is to guess how many seeds a pumpkin contains or the weight of different size pumpkins.  Do similar size pumpkins always weigh the same?  Did the larger pumpkins have more or less seeds than the smaller ones?

Finally, an erupting pumpkin is a perfect way to learn about chemistry while enjoying a terrific Halloween themed activity.  Describe the steps of making an erupting pumpkin to children.  Encourage them to predict what will happen.  Explain that baking soda and vinegar cause a chemical reaction that creates carbon dioxide.  Add four tablespoons of baking soda and a few drops of food coloring to a carved pumpkin.  When ready to make the pumpkin “erupt” add vinegar and watch the show!

Pumpkins can be used for more than just jack o’ lanterns and pumpkin pie; they can be helpful in teaching science through floating, erupting and measuring as well.

The National 4-H Program encourages adults to use inquiry-based learning methods while working with children.  To do so the adults should refrain from giving answers to youth, but instead encourage them to seek answers to questions.  This can be done by asking open-ended questions.  Use terms that encourage discussion and interaction such as explain or compare if or what if certain things happen.  It is important to remember that the adult’s attitude toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) has an impact on children’s attitude.  Youth who are around adults that show interest and enthusiasm for STEM will be more likely to develop the enthusiasm themselves.  For more information about Michigan 4-H Youth Development visit the Science Literacy website.

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