Autumn is the perfect time of year to learn about pumpkin life cycles. You can find pumpkins at farmer's markets, grocery stores, and roadside stands. And... you can even find them in coffees, teas, bread, pies, soups, muffins, and more! Since pumpkins seem to be everywhere and in everything during this time of year, it makes sense to incorporate pumpkin life cycles into your science lessons in the fall instead of waiting until spring when other plant concepts are taught. Keep reading to learn about a fascinating pumpkin life cycle STEM activity and a popular children's book you can use as a part of your science lessons!
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All photos in this post are used with the permission of Blakeley Kantor.
Pumpkin Life Cycle
Before starting this STEM activity with your students, it's important to introduce the phases of a pumpkin life cycle to them. There are many ways to teach these phases, so feel free to teach them in a way that works for you and your students. Just be sure your students are familiar with these vocabulary words:
- seedling, sprout
- adult plant
- vine, blossom
- green pumpkin
- orange pumpkin
- life cycle
- vine, leaves, roots, stem, blossom
Other important vocabulary words to review for this STEM activity include:
Reading Pumpkin Jack
After reviewing the phases of a pumpkin's life cycle, get your students excited by reading Pumpkin Jack by William Hubbard to them. Pumpkin Jack is about a pumpkin that was discarded outside once Halloween was over. Throughout the story, readers see the changes the pumpkin went through as it rotted and how seedlings emerged from it in the spring. Pumpkin Jack is the inspiration for this STEM experiment.
About Pumpkin Jack
Author Summary: The first pumpkin Tim ever carved was fierce and funny, and he named it Jack. When Halloween was over and the pumpkin was beginning to rot, Tim set it out in the garden and throughout the weeks he watched it change. By spring, a plant began to grow! Will Hubbell's gentle story and beautifully detailed illustrations give an intimate look at the cycle of life.
🍎 Title: Pumpkin Jack
🍎 Author: Will Hubbell
🍎 Illustrator: Will Hubbell
🍎 Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
🍎 Date: January 1, 2000
🍎 Pages: 32
Pumpkin Life Cycle STEM Activity
Now that you've introduced the phases of the pumpkin life cycle to your students and read Pumpkin Jack to them, it is time to plunge into this pumpkin science and STEM activity!
You Will Need
Step One: Getting Everything Set Up
Take the large plastic container and cut a hole large enough to fit your small pumpkin through. Save that piece. Add several inches of planting soil to the bottom of the container and spritz with water until damp. Do not saturate the soil. Place the pumpkin in the container and replace the top of the container. You may need to use packaging tape to fasten it in place.
Step Two: Letting Mother Nature Do Her Thing
Your pumpkin will need warmth and water in order to decompose. The warmer the air and soil get in the container, the faster your pumpkin will rot. Place the container in a warm area of your classroom and leave it be. Don't open it unless you absolutely have to. Opening it will allow the warm air and moisture to escape from it... which will make it take longer for the pumpkin to decompose.
Step Three: Ewww
Throughout the autumn and winter, you will see the pumpkin go through the phases of decomposition. Fungus and will grow on it and spread to the soil. As the fungus decomposes the pumpkin, the pumpkin will change colors, shrink, and eventually disintegrate into the soil. All of this is normal... kind of gross... but normal.
Step Four: New Growth
Once the pumpkin has disintegrated into the soil, it's time to open the container and let the fresh air in. (May I suggest doing this outside? This will be really smelly!) Cover the remains of the pumpkin and the seeds with planting soil. Spritz the soil with water until it's damp, replace the top, and wait. In a week or so, you should see little seedlings emerge!
Step Five: A Mature Plant
After you see seedlings begin to emerge, you can remove and discard the top of the container. Keep the container in a sunny window so the seedlings can grow. Water the seedlings as needed and watch your seedling become mature plants!
If there are too many seedlings in the container, you can thin out the smallest ones to make room for the others. Don't throw those small ones out! You can transplant them into paper cups for your students to grow at home.
Step Six: Transplanting the Pumpkin Plants
Eventually, the pumpkin plants will outgrow the container they're in and will need to be transplanted. Depending on the type of pumpkin you used for this activity, its vines can grow up to 20 feet long! Carefully remove the plants from the container and transplant them into the ground... far away from the playground... or to a raised garden bed. Continue to water and care for the plants as needed. Depending on when your school year ends, you may be lucky enough to see some yellow blossom on the plants.
🍎 Farmer Christiana from Jones Family Farms talks about the pumpkin life cycle and reads Pumpkin Jack in the video below:
Did you enjoy learning about this pumpkin life cycle activity? If so, check out these blog posts about more STEM projects: