Pumpkin fun for young children

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 Imagechance 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. ImageImage 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.

ImageSo, 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!

ImageAnyway, 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!

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Window Painting

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Jasper and I love painting together.  He used to love mixing all the paints together on the page, marveling at the different patterns, colours and shapes he could make.  Recently though, he is keen that everything “is” something.  His pictures are a dragon, Grandma in bed, Daddy underwater.  He’s really into story-telling and quite often, his drawings or paintings will reflect his play.  It’s simply a joy to see.

However, this desire for his art to represent other things has spread over to other areas and it’s in those areas, he has started to become even more of a worrier and perfectionist than he already is.  He wants to write so we (and only because he wants to) have been working on forming letters and numerals.  I am very aware that he is only 3 and that there is absolutely no need whatsoever for him to be doing this yet.  No need of course, except that he wants to.  To me, that’s the beauty of home ed.  You can do things with your children not just when “they’re ready” which seems to be the current jargon used in the EYFS, but when they want to.

Although he wants to write and is so proud of his efforts, he becomes very agitated when he writes a letter that in his eyes in “wrong.” He will often point out that one letter isn’t “as good” as another.  A week or so ago, my husband returned from work and enquired as to the nature of Jasper’s day.  Jasper replied that although he’d had a fun time and done lots of playing he was “a bit worried because one of the letter ts wasn’t very good!”  It broke my heart.

I thought about not letting him write until he was a little older but the more I reasoned, the more ridiculous it seemed.  In essence, I would be saying, “No, you can’t learn to write until you’re older, even though you want to, because the time isn’t right.” Much of my problem, of course, with the school system.  I constantly praise him for his efforts, we play, have fun, giggle and explore but still the perfectionism seeps in.  Needless to say I’ve been looking for a way to help him to have fun with his letters; to allow him to have a go at the writing he so craves to do but without the pressure he puts on himself to be “right.”

I was delighted when I discovered this wonderful post on laughingkidslearn.com.  Kate, the writer, suggests you use a large sealable bag, fill it with paint before sticking it to the window to allow children to manipulate the paint inside the bag.  In addition to all the sensory learning that goes on, there are all those wonderful opportunities for mixing colours especially with the light from outside shining through the paint.  For me though, the idea was that Jasper could practise forming letters in the paint and just slide his hand across to rub them out and try again.

I couldn’t find a bag large enough, so instead, Jasper and I covered our french windows in clingfilm, squirted the paint all over it and then covered with another layer.

For the first few minutes, he was content to play.  He made hand prints, described the texture as “gloopy” and pointed out to me that he had made purple paint using red and blue.  He loved it.  The rain was pounding on the conservatory roof, so we put Debussy’s ‘Reverie’ on because it reminds us on the rain and pitter-pattered with our fingers all over the painted window.

ImageI didn’t suggest he did any writing but sure enough, after a few minutes, he drew the letter a on the window and explained what it was.  “Fantastic,” I said.  “I think I will have a go too.” I drew mine next to his.  Now of course, mine was and I use this term simply for want of a better word “correctly” formed whereas his, although it was clearly the letter a, was a little lopsided and had a rather long tail.  I’m not being pushy here, I know he is 3 and to me any interest in learning is great but him having fun is the priority, but my intention was to help him get over his worry.  Jasper then did what he always does when we write on paper.  He traced my letter with his finger before having another go himself.  This time his letter looked more like mine but instead of pointing out that his first attempt was “not very fine” as he usually does, he just slid his hand over his first attempt, laughed at the funny feeling of the cold paint through the cling film and tried again.

Now, I don’t know why this happened.  Maybe it was because there wasn’t the pressure of having a written recording forever.  Maybe it was because he didn’t think he was “writing” and so hadn’t put that pressure on himself because he was playing and enjoying himself.  I really can’t explain it.  But it was fantastic.

Even when we cleaned up afterwards, rolling the clingfilm into a snake-like shape all the way down the window, he wanted to turn it into a letter s.  It wasn’t quite long enough but instead of worrying that it didn’t look quite like the letter he just threw his head back, laughed again and exclaimed, “That’s just a funny type of s, isn’t it Mummy?”

So thank you Kate, for such a wonderful activity.  I enjoyed it as much as Jasper.