Pumpkin Picking Time Thematic Unit for Home School or Classroom
Pumpkins Thematic Teaching Unit
Pumpkins fascinate children, whether they are growing in a field or carved as a jack-o-lantern on the front porch. This thematic teaching unit is all about pumpkins from growing them and eating them to the history and symbols associated with this member of the gourd family. A variety of learning activities are given that will develop skills in every discipline, including: Language Arts, Science, Math, Art, Physical Education and Research / Library Information skills. Children will enjoy going orange and will learn a lot, too.
Squirrels Carving a Pumpkin!
Why Teach About Pumpkins?
Pumpkins are native to the American continent and were first cultivated by Native Americans over 5000 years ago, long before Columbus and the European colonists arrived. To the Native Americans in the eastern United States, pumpkins almost equaled corn and beans in food importance. All parts of the pumpkin were used. The "flesh" was baked or boiled and the seeds were ground into meal for gruel or bread. They have been used for food, as symbols and even toys since before recorded history.
Pumpkins and other members of the Cucurbit or gourd family are delicious and nutritious and are relatively easy to grow. The European settlers, especially the Irish, helped to make this bright orange fruit popular during Halloween, when they adapted the tale of Stingy Jack and his turnip to use a pumpkin instead of a turnip and the jack-o-lantern was born.
Some other reasons to study pumpkins are because:
- the season makes pumpkins readily available.
- the children are already interested in pumpkins because of jack-o-lanterns, so we are grasping a teachable moment.
- third graders can learn about plant reproduction and growing conditions.
- Grade Level and Time Frame: This unit is designed for third grade and will take about two weeks to complete.
Catch the Moment
If it's pumpkin picking time, why not take advantage of a teachable moment and study those big, orange fruits? Here are some of my ideas to sneak in those skills while doing something that's fun!
In Search of the Perfect Pumpkin
This delightful informational book is both interesting and humorous and will hold the children's interest. Each page of the search has a pumpkin fact to learn, making it a perfect complement to the activities in this unit. The book covers the gambit from growing pumpkins in the field to baking a pie. It can be used in a variety of ways - as a read aloud to introduce the unit or in a center, as a fun way to research pumpkins. I heartily recommend this book.
The students will:
- demonstrate creative writing skills.
- demonstrate knowledge and appreciation of folklore.
- create an alliteration.
- The children can create alliterations using the letter "P". Use the tongue twister "Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers" as an example. They can locate words beginning with "P" in the dictionary.
- A listening center can be stocked with stories and folklore dealing with squash and pumpkins. Short stories can be found in Pellowski's, Hidden Stories in Plants.
- Creative writing activity: "Pumpkins can be used in many ways. Write about an unusual pumpkin recipe or an unusual way to use pumpkins."
- Small groups can visit the library to research the origin of the jack-o-lantern and also the origin and cultivation of the pumpkin.
As an elementary school teacher and librarian I was always on the lookout for good thematic lesson books with reproduceables and this one fits the bill. The creative thematic ideas and materials found here will serve as a springboard for language arts skills for the harvest season and Valentine's Day. Busy classroom and home school teachers will also find the time-saving reproducibles very useful for this unit, as well as in February.
The students will:
- explain how flowering plants reproduce.
- recognize good growing conditions for plants.
- identify vegetables grown in truck farms.
- The students can go on a field trip to a truck farm to see first hand the cultivation and growing stages of vegetables.
- Pumpkins are very high in Beta Carotene. A small group can research other vegetables and plants that are in the same food group and are high in Beta Carotene.
- Children can plant a pumpkin seed in a small pot. Each child will record the plant's growth rate and characteristics on a time line.
- Small groups can visit the library to research the reproduction of flowering plants, and especially the pumpkin and squash family.
Excellent lesson plans for math and science activities can be found at the Pumpkin Project - Math, Science and Fun by Scholastic. Good books foor researching include In Search of the Perfect Pumpkin.
Growing Pumpkins from SeedClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Pumpkin That Grew - by M. Lucille Ford
One time there was a pumpkin,
And all the summer through
It stayed upon a big green vine,
And grew, and grew, and grew!
It grew from being small and green
To being big and yellow
And then it said unto itself,
"Now I'm a handsome fellow!"
And then one day it grew a mouth,
A nose, and two big eyes!
And so that pumpkin grew into
A jack-o'-lantern wise!
Cut out some pumpkin shapes and vines from flannel and this poem makes a cute and educational (growth of a pumpkin) flannel board story for younger children.
How to Grow Pumpkins - Libby's Pumpkin
Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper
The students will:
- estimate circumference and weight.
- measure circumference and weight.
- chart and compare weight and circumference
- measure ingredients for cooking.
- The children can do estimation activities with a pumpkin. Estimations can be made of the weight, circumference, and number of seeds. Then the actual measurements can be taken and compared when the jack-o-lantern is cut. The person with the closest estimate can take the jack-o-lantern home.
- A cooking activity can provide opportunities for the children to measure in cups, tablespoons and teaspoons. Pumpkin bread is a good, healthy thing to make.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups canned or cooked pumpkin
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves (if desired)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
With an electric mix, beat eggs and sugar well. Add pumpkin, oil and vanilla. Mix thoroughly. Combine flour, soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Add to pumpkin mixture and blend. Fold in pecans. Divide mixture into two well-greased loaf pans and bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour (this dough freezes well). Yield: 2 loaves.
Pumpkin bread is delicious sliced thin and spread with softened cream cheese or butter.
This recipe was made available by the Energy Advisors Committee of LA Power & Light. (circa 1980s)
If you want to make a pumpkin pie as a reward for the children at the end of the unit, I have a delicious pumpkin pie recipe on our Louisiana Holiday Feast lens.
The students will:
- locate growing regions on a map.
- identify the tribes and customs of Native Americans who farmed.
- A small group can visit the library or use the Internet to research the states and regions that grow pumpkins. Encyclopedias, atlases and almanacs may yield information on the growing conditions most suitable for pumpkin farming.
- Another small group can visit the library or use the Internet to research the tribes of Native Americans that grew pumpkins and squash. Their location can be mapped and their customs and lifestyle noted.
Three Sisters Garden and Legend
The three sisters style of gardening dates back to ancient Native Americans. Planting corn, beans and squash (including pumpkins) together in a group is beneficial when growing and when eating. Here is a link to a wonderful set of Three Sisters Gardening lesson plans.
There is also the Legend of the Three Sisters from the Oneida Indian Nation which has been passed down by word of mouth.
Legend of the 3 Sisters Plus Indian Foods
Books About Pumpkins and Native Americans
Learn more about Native Americans and how they grew pumpkins with the book, Living Like Indians: A Treasury of North American Indian Crafts, Games and Activities.
This exellent book/Kindle and audio Native American legend about an Indian princess who sacrifices her precious birthday gift, a large pumpkin, to save her village during a terrible drought lends itself well to this unit. The audio features Native American music and talented narrators which make the book come to life. It can be used as a springboard for writing or recording stories about sacrifices that the students or other family members made to help their family. This legend verifies the close relationship Native Americans have to native pumpkins and squash. It extends the study of pumpkins in an outstanding way that both adults and children will enjoy.
Key Word Searching
Picking out the most important, key word or phrase is the most crucial skill in Internet research. Start with a broad search, using 1 or 2 words, then narrow your search if there are too many hits. Often, different combinations must be tried until you get the information that you are looking for.
Booklet Cover Library Information Skills
The students will:
- use an atlas.
- take notes from trade books.
- locate information in the Guinness Book of World Records.
- read and record information on charts.
- look up words in a dictionary.
- appreciate literature on their own level.
Skill: Estimation, index, and note-taking
Two real pumpkins (1 small and 1 medium) will be provided. Students will estimate the weight and circumference of the 2 and record their guesses on a chart.
Then they will look for the "record" for the largest pumpkin in The Guinness Book of World Records".
Sample Work Sheet - Pumpkin Estimation
The Biggest Pumpkin Ever
World Record Pumpkin Grown in RI
Skill: Table of Contents and Note-taking
Students will follow the directions on task cards to locate and read a Chapter in a trade book that has been preselected. Make copies of the task card and fill in the blanks for each book that you have chosen. They will be instructed to write 5 words about the subject and then write down all they know about the subject using the 5 words.
Choose informational books with chapters like: Deanna F. Cook's, Kids' Pumpkin Projects, Edna Barth's, Witches, Pumpkins, and Grinning Ghosts The Story of the Halloween Symbols, Marjorie Waters', The Victory Garden Kids' Book and/or Jennifer Storey Gillis', In a Pumpkin Shell.
Sample Pumpkin Task Card
Skill: Dictionary Use and Writing
The students will use the dictionary to help them write alliterations that begin with the letter "P".
Sample Task Card:
An alliteration is a poem or sentence in which almost all of the words start with the same letter.
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where's the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?
Use the letter "P" to make your own alliteration. You may use the "P" section of the dictionary to help you find "P" words.
Skill: Mapping, reading for information and note-taking
The students will draw their impression of what the inside of a "pumpkin house" would look like.
When finished, they will find the dimensions (weight and circumference) for the current record pumpkin, using a current newspaper article or Wikipedia.
Skill: Plant reproduction and cultivation and folklore
The students will listen to any of the books and audio below or also to some folktales from Hidden Stories in Plants.
Develop Story Telling Skills
Retelling or acting out a story will help children with many important skills and will also improve self confidence.
Flannel Board Story Telling Books
The books Story Telling with the Flannel Board volume 1 and 2 by Dr. Paul S. Anderson are filled with short stories and patterns that can be used with flannel boards or magnetic boards. Perky Pumpkin's Open House Surprise is in Book 2. Children can practice their story telling and memory skills using the character patterns in these books.
Art, Music, Drama and Physical Education
Art, Music, and Drama
- After reading Mousekin's Golden House, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, or Perky Pumpkin's Open House Surprise, the children can draw what the inside of a "pumpkin house" would look like.
- The children can participate in a "Design the Jack-o-lantern's Face" contest. The best design will be carved on the pumpkin.
- Various poems and finger plays can provide role-playing and dramatic experiences for the children.
- The music teacher can provide pumpkin and jack-o-lantern songs during the weekly music lesson.
- A game similar to thimble, thimble, who has the thimble? can be played with a tiny paper pumpkin. The refrain is, "Pumpkin, Pumpkin, Who has the pumpkin?"
- Native American games from the Pueblo and other farming tribes can be played by the children.
How to Carve Halloween Pumpkins
You may not believe it, for hardly could I:
I was cutting a pumpkin to put in a pie,
And on it was written in letters most plain
"You may hack me in slices, but I'll grow again."
I seized it and sliced it and made no mistake
As, with dough rounded over, I put it to bake:
But soon in the garden as I chanced to walk,
Why, there was that pumpkin entire on his stalk!
Poems for Every Season
As a classroom teacher and a librarian I used this book in ways too numerous to mention here. The pages of this book are packed with plenty of pumpkin poems, as well as other entertaining poems for all the seasons and occasions on many elementary grade levels. The poems can be used as launch pads for a variety of writing, art and even science activities. My original copy was so dog-eared and falling apart from over use that I recently purchased a new one. Some of the poems here were taken from Poetry Place Anthology.
Jack-O'-Lantern Garden Poem
Gertrude M. Robinson
I wish I had a garden,
Where the warm sun brightly shines.
I'd plant each nook and corner
With jack-o'-lantern vines.
Then, from my little garden
I'd pick for Halloween
More golden jack-o'-lanterns
Than you have ever seen.
Of course, I'd choose the biggest,
The one that's brightest gold,
To peep in at your window--
Oh, there, I almost told!
Billy brought a pumpkin in
And Mother scaped it out.
Daddy carved a little mouth
With such a funny pout.
Sally cut some crooked eyes
And trimmed the thing with beads,
While everybody laughed at me
Because I saved the seeds.
But I will plant them in the spring
And wait till fall, and then--
I'll have at least a hundred
© 2008 Yvonne L B