My son is 3 and he’s just starting to get really excited about Halloween. Last year, we went to a party but he just saw it as a chance to dress up, whereas this year, he’s been hunting for ghouls in the cupboard and ghosties lurking behind corners all week.
This morning (at 5am when he got up!) we decided to carve our pumpkins. I’ve seen some fantastically intricate ones all over the internet; some are truly breath-taking and must have taken the creators hours upon hours of careful carving!
It got me thinking though. Jasper was filled with enthusiasm and desperate to create his own spooky pumpkin but – although I am keen for kids to have a go and think health and safety has become utterly ludicrous – there was no way I was letting a 3 year old loose with a vegetable knife or even help me to carve.
So what could I do? I wanted the pumpkins to be his, not mine but I also didn’t fancy a trip to a&e to have his fingers sewn back on. That would be taking today’s gore a little too far. After a little thinking, I came up with some ways to involve Jasper properly (but safely!).
Here are my top tips:
(1) The design
Halloween is all about the spooky so we played a little game to see who could pull the scariest face. We experimented with sounds too – we howled like werewolves, cackled like witches and roared like monsters. We pulled out our tongues, bared our teeth, scowled. You name it, we did it! We then decided which was the scariest and decided that these would be the faces we tried to create on our pumpkins. Then, with a dry-wipe pen (and after we’d done all the scraping), Jasper drew the design onto the pumpkin ready for me to carve.
(2) The scraping
The great thing for little ones with pumpkins is all the sensory fun they can have. Inside the hard shell is a world of slime and string; hard, flat seeds buried in oozing flesh. Wonderful at any time of year, but when you’re already in the spooky mood, the possibilities for exploring vocabulary in addition to experiencing different textures are immense.
So, Jasper had drawn the circle on the top of the pumpkin (he’d explained to me that it wasn’t a proper circle, the shape wasn’t correct and that because the pumpkin was bumpy, he had struggled to draw it!) and I’d carved around his shape. He then tugged the lid off and we talked about why it was difficult to do even though I’d carved and he commented it was a bit like tugging vegetables out of the ground. He thought it was funny that you had to tug a pumpkin lid off when you didn’t have just had to snip it off the plant in the first place (we’d grown our own earlier in the year!). Then we scraped the stringy bits, we scooped seeds with fingers – we essentially just had a great old time squashing and squeezing!
(3) The carving
Now, this is the part where I didn’t let him join in. I don’t know, perhaps there are safe tools you can get so the kids can have a go themselves but as I said, all I had was a vegetable knife. I didn’t want to lose the Halloween mood though, so I put some spooky music on (Ghostbusters, Monster etc) and Jasper had a boogie around the other side of the room pretending to be a vampire which is what he’s going to dress up as later, whilst I did the carving! When I’d finished, I lit the tea-lights and turned off the lights but I let him blow them out when we’d finished.
(4) The aftermath
Earlier in the week, we went to the woods to collect out autumn objects for out nature table. They are still drying in the airing cupboard (check back soon to see the end result) but Jasper suggested we add the pumpkin seeds to the mix. So when scraping, we sorted the seeds into one bowl and the flesh into another. I’m sure we’re going to have a great time with the seeds – I’m thinking sorting, counting, planting, stacking…. but I didn’t want to just throw the flesh out either. As we’d grown our own pumpkins, I was hoping to be able to use these for carving and cook the insides but they just didn’t last long enough so we ate those a while ago. Our carving pumpkins are from the supermarket and when we’ve eaten them in previous years, they’ve been, although edible, bitter and stringy. Perhaps they’re bred for tough carving flesh or carving – I don’t know!
Anyway, I still wanted to do something with the insides, so I spread them all out thickly on a baking tray (you could use a bowl though or any container really) and buried some little toys, foil, money and keys underneath. I blindfolded Jasper and he dig through the mix to see what he could find. This was a brilliant activity for him thinking of the textures and shape of objects – what did it feel like? What could it be if it was smooth, shiny, made of metal etc! It was particularly interesting when he found chunky bits of carved skin and had to squeeze to see whether it was pumpkin or the hidden treasure.
Happy Halloween everyone!