Looking for fall-inspired sustainability science lessons? Check out our hands-on pumpkin science activities, complete with free printables and upcycled art project instructions.
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Nothing says fall quite like the presence of pumpkins. We see them everywhere and in all forms: real pumpkins, plastic pumpkins, wooden pumpkins, paper pumpkins – all signaling the change of season. My kids love to count all the varieties of pumpkins they see when we’re out for a morning walk.
Learning About Pumpkins
We intentionally grew pumpkins in our garden for the first time this year, and it was a fantastic learning experience for our entire family. I specify “intentionally” because we’ve accidentally grown a small variety of pumpkins in prior years due to the annual addition of compost to our vegetable garden.
My kids loved watching the tiny decorative pumpkins take shape in the past, so this year I purchased some “Jack O’Lantern” pumpkin seeds to attempt to grow larger gourds. Much to my surprise, we were able to harvest over a dozen pumpkins!
And yes, some of them were compost pumpkins, but we did manage to grow six large pumpkins from the seeds I purchased. I call that a win!
We recently performed a simple science project focused on our favorite gourds as a way to summarize our pumpkin growing project and celebrate the arrival of autumn, interweaving science, literacy, art, and sustainability. Our homeschooling group thoroughly enjoyed the projects, so I wanted to share them with you. No pumpkin growing experience is necessary!
Materials for the Pumpkin Science Lesson
We are frequent patrons of our local library, and a few weeks ago I came across the book, “From Seed to Pumpkin” by Wendy Pfeffer. Written to explain the life cycle of a pumpkin in a simplistic, scientific way to a young audience, this children’s book was perfect for our lesson. If you are unable to find this book at your library, it’s also read aloud by a variety of different people on YouTube.
Here’s what you’ll need for this simple science lesson:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Full-grown pumpkin
- “From Seed to Pumpkin” by Wendy Pfeffer
- Life Cycle of a Pumpkin Plant printable
Download the free “Life Cycle of a Pumpkin Plant” printable by dropping your email address in the form below.
Introduction to the Pumpkin Science Lesson
To begin the lesson, give each child a pumpkin seed to hold in their hand. Ask them if they know what it is. Many may realize it’s a pumpkin seed, but some may not. Next, give them a pumpkin to hold or look at and ask them the following questions:
- Approximately how much time does it take for a pumpkin seed to turn into a pumpkin?
- What does a pumpkin seed need to grow into a pumpkin?
The children may not know the answers to either of these questions, which is perfectly okay. These questions help gauge prior knowledge and get kids excited about what they’re going to learn.
Write these questions on a chalkboard, whiteboard, or piece of paper, and record each of the children’s responses to each question. Their answers will guide your discussion as you read the book “From Seed to Pumpkin”.
Reading About the Pumpkin Life Cycle
The children’s book “From Seed to Pumpkin” by Wendy Pfeffer, walks you through the life cycle of a pumpkin from the eyes of a farmer and his family. As you read the book aloud, considering pausing when the story mentions one of the children’s answers from the introductory guiding questions.
Discuss what topics or ideas surprise or interest you and your young learners. My children loved when the author explained how pumpkin vines are like straws or hollow tubes that suck up water from the soil to create the pumpkin fruit, which is approximately 90% water.
Ideally, this is a perfect book to read outside on a crisp, fall day sitting amongst a pumpkin patch. Readers can connect with the pumpkins and their growing cycle through hands-on interaction.
However, that’s not realistic for most of us. Alternatively, we’ve created printable sorting cards for your listeners to use to reinforce the concepts presented in this book. Simply drop your email in the signup box below, and we’ll send your free pumpkin life cycle printable cards right to your inbox so you can print them and share them with your curious young naturalists.
The Life Cycle of a Pumpkin Plant Sorting Cards
After you’ve read the book aloud, distribute the pumpkin life cycle sorting cards. Depending on the age of your audience, you can instruct them to cut the cards apart, building those fine motor skills as they go, or pre-cut them to expedite the activity.
Once separated, ask your learners to organize their cards in sequential order by prompting them with questions like, “Which card comes first?” “Which card comes next?”, etc…
The correct order of the sorting cards is:
- Green pumpkin
- Orange pumpkin
As you walk through the steps, lay out the cards in a circular fashion to demonstrate the cyclical nature of growing pumpkins. Be sure to mention that every seed grows one pumpkin. However, every pumpkin has many, many seeds inside of it. So for every pumpkin grown, many, many more seeds can be planted the following year to grow that many more pumpkins.
After students organize their pumpkin life cycle cards, they can glue them in order to a piece of paper or set them in a pile to rearrange again and again.
Things You Can Do With Pumpkins
We know how a seed becomes a pumpkin, but what do we do with the pumpkins once they’ve grown? This is a great follow-up question to ask your learners. Expect them to suggest making Jack O’Lanterns, baking pumpkin pie, and whipping up other baked goods. This is the perfect time to slip in a sustainability science fact.
Each year in the United States, we throw away one billion pounds of pumpkins. When we discard pumpkins into the trash bin, we waste food and send unnecessary waste to the landfill. Once at the landfill, food breaks down in the absence of oxygen, creating carbon dioxide and methane; two greenhouse gases that are major contributors to climate change.
Related: For another educational activity about landfill gasses, check out this sustainability science experiment about the science of landfill decomposition.
To avoid wasting pumpkins, here are a few additional things you can do with your fall fruits:
- Bake a Whole Pumpkin to Make Pumpkin Puree
- Make Delicious Pumpkin Cherry Muffins
- Whip up a Batch of Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Compost Your Pumpkin to Return Nutrients to the Soil
There are many ways to keep pumpkins out of landfills. That many of these options involve tasty treats is an added bonus.
Making a Pumpkin…from Trash?
Although we love any variety of pumpkin baked goods at my house, if you just want some pumpkins for decoration and don’t plan on cooking them, consider making your own pumpkins….out of trash!
Yes, you read that correctly. Make trash pumpkins. My kids and I had a blast making these pumpkins. Even better, they cost almost nothing to create. We repurposed most of the materials from our trash can and recycling bin, minus the orange acrylic paint. Creating these trash pumpkins also demonstrated to my kids that materials have value (even after they’re deemed “trash”) and should be reused whenever possible.
Head over to my website, Thoughtfully Sustainable, to access a simple, step-by-step tutorial to turn trash into pumpkin treasure.
Have you turned pumpkin season into a sustainability science lesson for your young learner? If so, we’d love to hear what you do. Leave us a comment. And if you try our lesson, we’d be thrilled to see it in action. Tag us @RaisingGlobalKidizens on Instagram or Pinterest and show us your pumpkin science fun.
About The Author
Jess Purcell, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a science educator who is dedicated to making the science of sustainability accessible to all learners. She creates sustainability science lessons and nature activities written for students of all ages to be done in the classroom or at home to foster critical thinking skills and a love of the natural world. You can find more of her work at Thoughtfully Sustainable.
Jess lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats and can usually be found outside, working out the kinks of an experiment, upcycling trash into “treasure”, hiking with her family, or attempting to read a book while being cajoled into a game of hide-and-seek.