Turning Your Pumpkins Into an Educational Experience

As a kid, I looked forward all year to carving Halloween pumpkins. I would spread newspapers out over the kitchen table while my dad penciled a circle on the top of the pumpkin, around the stem. I got to use a knife alone, cut open a lid and then dig deep into the squishy innards with my bare hands and tear out stringy guts. It was so gross-awesome, and a lot of fun, but I think there were a lot of ways that the experience could have been more educational.

The time has come for you and your kids to eviscerate and detail a pumpkin, which raises some important questions. What image are you going to carve? How can you turn it into more than just a fun family experience, but also make it educative for your kids? You can use the pumpkin seeds as tools of learning if you save them to plant or roast, but there’s another way to work in some lessons disguised as fun: carving nerdy designs. Challenge your children to replicate someone or something of note this year and learn a little more about the world in the process. You might have to help a bit more than you would for more simple designs, but you probably secretly wanted to anyway. Here are five recommendations to get you started, but feel free to come up with designs of your own.

Famous Art or Artists

Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” in pumpkin form.

A pumpkin version of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” may end up looking more like a Jackson Pollock than a masterpiece of impressionism, but learning the subjectivity of art is also an important lesson. Tell the story of an intriguing artist’s life while you refine their features in squash. For an added challenge, kids could try to carve an artist’s portrait in that artist’s own style.

This holiday appropriate portrait of Frida Kahlo could use a little more eyebrow.

U.S. Presidents and Other Historical Figures

Show your support – or disdain – for our presidential candidates this Halloween.

Sketch and chisel one of the current presidential candidates and explain the political process to your kids. Or pick an obscure oldie, like James K. Polk, and tell some stories about what the 1840s were like (or at least play for them the classic They Might Be Giants song about the president’s life). You could do a different prez every year from now on, and eventually have carved each one—quite a nerdy goal, if we do say so ourselves.

Fun Fact: Benjamin Franklin may have been the first to develop the recipe for pumpkin ale when sources of barley malt became low in North America in the late 1700s.

You could also try significant historical figures not in government, such as the explorer Meriwether Lewis or Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school in the U.S.

Elizabeth Blackwell graduated from Geneva Medical College on Jan. 23, 1849, making her the first woman to earn a medical degree in the United States.

Fictional Characters
This might be more fun for kids than the history. They could do an orange rendering of their favorite friends from Yo Gabba Gabba or best-loved protagonist of a Pixar film.

Cartoon characters may be an easier task for younger kids to handle.

Or, it could be homage to an iconic character that your progeny might not yet love, but will (with your guiding support, of course). We’re thinking someone from Star Wars, Ghostbusters, or maybe The Goonies.

Bonus points for successfully convincing your kids that Episodes IV-VI are far superior to the Expanded Universe.

Harry Potter
Getting ideas for this category should be easy. There are websites with templates for dozens of designs from this culture behemoth. You and yours can carve your favorite person, portkey, or house crest. If you have enough kids, or willing family members, assign Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw to different carvers and see which house “wins” by finishing first.

If you’re really skilled, you’ll capture the tension between Ron and Hermione, and Harry’s obliviousness to it.

Architecture
This category is probably most interesting for older kids. If you have a special building from a family trip, or a dream destination, model that. The Eiffel Tower or Coliseum will look super cool on your porch. If you want to go really deep, you can explain to your kid who someone like Rem Koolhaas is, and try to construct your pumpkin masterpiece in his aesthetic.

Admittedly, this Koolhass asymmetrical design would be a challenge to do in pumpkin form, but it’ll pay off when your kids’ architectural firm supports you through old age.

Whatever you choose to carve this year, choose nerdy. The neighbors will envy your pumpkin savvy and your kids will have the coolest pumpkin stories to share at school.

Check out our other Halloween articles:

DIY Gross Halloween Treats

DIY Halloween Costumes For The Kids

Halloween-Inspired Craft Projects

Halloween – Make Your Own Haunted Cemetery

Halloween Movies For Kids That Parents Will Enjoy

Getting Creative With Halloween Treats

Creative Halloween Kids Activities

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