Science with pumpkins and squash

As kids carve their Halloween pumpkins, use the opportunity to explore science.

Encourage young people to find the science in every day life, including carving pumpkins! Photo credit: ANR Communications | MSU Extension

Encourage young people to find the science in every day life, including carving pumpkins! Photo credit: ANR Communications | MSU Extension

Many families carve pumpkins for Halloween. During the process of picking, carving and disposing of your pumpkin, you can ask good questions that encourage the young people in your life to discover science in everyday life. Squash can also be used in the same manner as pumpkins to explore these areas.

While working with pumpkins or squash, consider asking youth the following questions and engaging in the following activities.

  1. What kind of pumpkin makes a good jack-o-lantern? On your trip to the pumpkin patch, ask the kids what they are looking for in their pumpkin. Do they want the biggest one? Do they want one that will last the longest? Do they want a certain shape? Why do they think some pumpkins grow bigger or differently than others do?
  2. When you get to the field, encourage the children to observe what the differences are in the field. Ask them to notice what areas of the field have different sizes, shapes or colors of pumpkins and explain why that might be. Do certain areas of the field have more green pumpkins, more rotten ones or bigger ones? Have deer or other animals been eating the pumpkins in certain areas of the field?
  3. Knock on the pumpkin. Does that give you any clues as to what it will be like inside?
  4. Will a pumpkin float? If so, what will be on top: the stem or the bottom? Find out in the bathtub!
  5. Before carving the pumpkin, weigh it. Ask the children to guess how much it will weigh after you remove the seeds. See if you are correct. Weigh both the seeds and the pumpkin to see if they add up to the pre-cut pumpkin weight.
  6. After you cut into the top of the pumpkin, notice how the seeds are arranged. Is there a pattern? Why do you think that is? Is it the same arrangement as the seeds in other vegetables? Why or why not?
  7. Do you think the “meat” of the pumpkin is the same thickness everywhere? As you cut the top and face of the pumpkin, measure the thickness.
  8. How many seeds do you think there are? Why do pumpkins need so many seeds? Do bigger pumpkins have bigger seeds? Do bigger pumpkins have more seeds? Count them and find out.
  9. Try roasting the seeds. Cover some with oil and try dry roasting others. Is there a difference in the flavor and texture? Why do you think that is? Do roasted seeds grow if you plant them?
  10. Once Halloween is over, ask young children how long they think it will take the pumpkin to rot. Will pumpkins decompose faster inside or outdoors? Do pumpkins that aren’t cut rot as fast? Do pumpkins with more carved out rot differently? If you left the seeds in would it rot faster or slower?

Michigan State University Extension recognizes there are many opportunities for science education that occur in the natural world, including this one with Halloween pumpkins. This lesson can be conducted by any group working with children, including families, day cares, schools or 4-H clubs. Have fun this Halloween season and enjoy investigating your pumpkin!

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