While exploring pumpkins with young children, you can’t miss the opportunity to examine the insides of these fascinating gourds as well as the outsides! Cut open a pumpkin and place it in your sensory table with scoops, spoons, tweezers, and magnifiers. Provide cups as well, for collecting the seeds. You can air dry them and use them to grow pumpkins next year! (Read more about saving seeds here. Pumpkins are really quite easy to grow if you have the space. Saving and reusing seeds also ties in very nicely with the book, Pumpkin Pumpkin by Jeanne Titherington.)
While you’re exploring the topic of seeds, you might as well have yourself some fruit snacks. No, not the gummy imitation of fruit my children try to count as one of the four food groups, but actual fruit, for snacks. Instead of quickly doling out fruit slices on each child’s plate, turn snack time into science time. Take some time to examine and talk about a few fruits and their seeds.
Select a few fruits with different sized seeds: small (strawberries, kiwis), medium (apples, oranges, watermelon), large (peaches, nectarines, mangoes). Hold up each fruit, one at a time, and talk about the characteristics of the fruit, how the fruit grows and where the seeds might be. As you cut up the fruit, isolate the seeds and pass them around for the children to look at (include magnifiers if you like). Compare the sizes of the different seeds, even sort them into groups of small, medium, and large if you’ve used several samples.
Dramatic play is a fantastic way for preschoolers to really synthesize the information they’ve been gathering throughout their experience with a theme or unit. They naturally use new vocabulary words, implement concepts, and contemplate new ideas all in a meaningful way. Here are a few ideas for dramatic play themes within a seeds, plants, garden, or flowers unit.
Ok, first of all, a few that are old standards, not in any specific book. I always try to brainstorm nursery rhymes and fairy tales as I do my book list. These are all too often disregarded in favor of the newest and freshest. We need to remember however, that these are new to most young children and necessary for a foundation for future literacy. Think of it as the Shakespeare and Homer for preschoolers. Here are two that come to mind on the topic of seeds: Mary Mary Quite Contrary, of course; and Jack and the Beanstalk. Any others you would add?
It’s only June, and my preschool age son is already antsy for school. He asked me to “play preschool” with him yesterday. A convenient request, since I’m pretty good at playing preschool. He’s watched the show Sid the Science Kid on PBS (a great show for kids and teachers alike), and wanted to do a “Super Fab Lab” science activity like they do. He was in luck! I just happened to have such an activity on hand! It might be one you’d like to recreate as well!
I had been sprouting pumpkin seeds in Ziplocs with wet paper towels. It gives them a jump-start when you plant them, and also helps me determine whether or not the seeds we’ve dried from last year’s jack-o-lanterns are viable seeds. Well, the seeds were great, and I’d planted all I could use, but still had quite a few left over in a bag. Being a procrastinator, I left the last bag on the window sill, until I decided what to do with it. And then I forgot about it. I noticed it the other day, and it had full-on seedlings in it. Luckily I didn’t throw it out, because it was perfect for our “Super Fab Lab”.
Because seeds come in such a wide array of colors, sizes and textures, they are great for creating mosaics and collages. You may want to use a collection of seeds that are already mixed, maybe seeds leftover from another activity, like rain sticks. You could also take the time to open several containers of seeds and look at each type. Compare the seeds to the plants they grow into, as well as to each other. Either way, the variety of seeds gives a great opportunity to introduce a multitude of descriptive words, as well as the concept of comparing and contrasting.
To make the mosaics, you can take your pick of these two ways. The first is the standard Elmer’s glue method. I like to put the paper on an art tray to control the strays, and provide a jar lid of glue and a paintbrush to make it easier for the children to control how much glue they use and where it ends up. The children can apply the glue and then select their seeds from a nearby container and sprinkle them where they’d like.
When Froebel created that groundbreaking child-centered preschool in Germany, centuries ago, he chose the name “kindergarten”, which translates to mean, “children’s garden”. It seems fitting, that a proper “children’s garden”, might include an actual garden as well! Class gardens are really the best way to teach science topics like seeds, plants, and the origins of food, as well as pro-social skills such as the value of work, responsibility, and working together toward a shared goal. Additionally, few preschool-aged children can comprehend environmental issues in distant places like rain forests and ozone layers, but they will easily learn about the importance of preserving a good environment when it comes to protecting their own prized pumpkins! And we can’t overlook the development of motor skills that takes place as they care for their patch of plants.