By: Jessica Pollack, Kindergarten Teacher at Seminole Science Charter School
Fall and Halloween usher in pumpkin season – and there’s a good chance you have quite a few of the popular gourd decorating your home. At the end of the season, you likely toss them in the trash – but you could use them to encourage your kids to explore the science behind the fall symbol.
Here are some fun STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities your family can do to give your pumpkins some new life.
Set off a pumpkano eruption.
Instead of carving a jack-o-lantern, turn that hollowed-out pumpkin into a fun science lesson. Placing the pumpkin in a shallow dish, fill it with a mixture of warm water and green food coloring until it is about 3/4 full. Add several drops of dish soap and a few tablespoons of baking soda, which will act as your base. When you’re ready for your pumpkano to erupt, instruct your child to pour in 1/4 cup vinegar. The vinegar is acidic, which insights a chemical reaction, producing the gaseous carbon dioxide fizzing and bubbling from the pumpkin.
Get your hands in some pumpkin slime.
Grab another pumpkin, carefully cut off the top and ask your child to mush their hands inside, loosening up the seeds and fibers. Measure 1/4 cup liquid starch and help your child pour it directly into the gourd. In a separate bowl, mix 1/2 cup water with 1/2 cup clear Elmer’s Washable School Glue, and then pour into the pumpkin. Have your child mix everything up with their hands, kneading it until it develops a slime-like solution they can pull apart and play with.
Investigate pumpkin decomposition.
Once Halloween is over, most families throw away their jack-o-lanterns. This year, turn them into a science experiment. Decomposition, also known as rotting, is the process in which organic substances break down. Once a pumpkin is carved, it starts decaying, and after a few days, you’ll likely notice it growing mold and shriveling up. In addition to observing the external process of decomposition, gather tools like a magnifying glass, tweezers and spoon, and let your kids observe the process up close. Encourage them to examine all the different parts of the decaying pumpkin.
Learning and exploratory-based activities like these are a great alternative to TV and toys. The next time your child needs something new to do, consider a STEM activity to improve their critical thinking skills and, most importantly, have fun as a family.