Let Them Grow: Pumpkins Support Sensory Learning & Creative-Free Play

Let Them Grow by Candice Chouinard

Fruit of the Season

It’s pumpkin time in Western Massachusetts, surrounding us with their plump beauty of orange (and even white, red and yellow!). I try to stretch the pumpkin and squash season out to make the most of this harvest season. Working with toddlers makes me really appreciate the sensory experience a fruit can give them.

This week we talked about: orange, soft, seeds, and squishy. We talked about: tasty, stringy, tough skin, and soft innards. We talked about bake goods like pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, and pumpkin muffins. We talked often about the way pumpkins grow and what they can give us. Toddlers can begin to understand that this fruit has numerous uses — some productive and some really fun! We are going to focus on the fun.!

Last year I did a post about the fun new ways to decorate pumpkins. This year, it’s all about sensory exploration! 

After we used stickers and tape on our pumpkins, we painted them, them we open them up!  After mini- pumpkin prints and numerous pumpkin stories and songs, we are ready to explore! The innards of a pumpkin can often be too much sensory for may little toddlers. In order to engage them into the exploration we can offer tools and or simplify the process and make it less of a sensory overload.

Prepare for Exploration

After opening your pumpkin, depending on your toddler they may want to jump right in. Others may need a little coaxing. Sticking your hand in that mush can be a little overwhelming to some. I like to prepare the pumpkin by:

  • Opening a wide hole on top.
  • Cleaning some of the meat out of the pumpkin.
  • Loosing the meat from the side by scraping the tough bits off the edge.
  • Washing the seeds and replacing them.

Ready Set Explore

 By offering tools for exploration, it may make it easier for some toddlers to enjoy their pumpkin experience more.

  • Spoons or several sizes.
  • Small child cheese knives.
  • Scoops (I love formula or coffee scoops).
  • Ice cream scoops.
  • Tweezers.
  • Magnifying glass.
  • Muffin Tins and/or other containers into which they can add scoops of seed and pumpkin meat.

Pumpkin Meat and Seeds

Encourage your child to remove all the seeds. Pre-separating them from the meat may make this easier, older toddlers may be up for the separating the meat from seeds on their own.  Collect the seeds and talk about them in depth: they are small, slippery, slimy, soft, and hard; they can grow more pumpkins; we can eat them; we can play with them. Helping your child understand the connection between plant and seed is an amazing feat!

Counting seeds by moving them from one container to another can really engage a toddler. This also moves the experience from a sensory experience to a scientific and mathematical one. You can help your child fill individual muffin tins with seeds, lay them flat on a pan to cook, or just play with them.

To keep the pumpkin fresh and engaging, I will often put the seeds back into the pumpkin and have the children remove them again and again. They love to pull the top on and off, opening and closing, digging and replacing the seeds.  The whole experience is to a toddler and can remain new for the whole season!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Candice Chouinard has worked with youth of all ages and backgrounds, creating and implementing programming for children. She revels in hand-on, long-term, messy projects that are both fun and educational. Candice comes from a background in creative writing, as well as, child development and psychology. She owns and operates a day care in Northampton, MA.

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