From Mary’s Teaching Toolbox
It’s not even cool here yet and already pumpkins are everywhere. I love using pumpkins in early education because they can be linked to so many topics. They are colorful, durable, and come in a variety of sizes. Best of all they are cheap. Buy a bunch in the beginning of October and you can use them guilt free all the way through Thanksgiving. The children love them so much, don’t be surprised if you still have them out come Valentine’s Day.
Loose parts are objects and materials that children can move, manipulate, control, and change while they play. The parts can be anything that isn’t a safety concern. They encourage creative, open-ended play. If you’ve ever had a child who preferred the box over the toy that came in it, you understand the allure of loose parts. For more information on loose parts I recommend Loose Parts: Inspiring Play in Young Children by Lisa Daly and Miriam Beloglovsky,
Here are a few ideas for how you can use pumpkins as loose parts.
On the Playground
When outdoors, children find many creative ways to use the pumpkins. They may just enjoy carrying them from place to place, use them in their pretend play or as building materials, or create works of art. Music is even a possibility as the pumpkins make a satisfying sound when they are banged together. If you have some large pumpkins, the children will need to get creative to move them. They might roll them or work with a partner to pick them up. You’ll want to provide a variety of sizes from very large to mini-pumpkins. Other natural materials such as acorns, sticks, and leaves add interest especially if the children help you gather them. Since many children just like to carry things from place to place, a few buckets is a good addition. You can even use plastic Halloween candy buckets if you have some. Finally don’t forget to have a crate or area to store the loose parts when they are not in use. Having a big pile to grab the children’s attention is better than having to search for where the last child to play with them set them down.
In Blocks and Dramatic Play
Pumpkins can inspire creative play in the classroom as well. Children can use them as props in their pretend play or as interesting building materials. Remember the idea with loose parts is to let the children decide how to use them. Setting up dramatic play as a pumpkin stand is a wonderful way to use pumpkins, but it isn’t using them as loose parts. Instead, have a large basket with various sizes and let the children determine how they want to use them. Maybe they will make a pumpkin stand, but they may decide they are cupcakes, or kittens, or spaceships. Support them in whatever direction they decide to take the play. Sizes from mini to medium work best as space is often an issue in the classroom.
Loose Parts Table Center
One of my favorite ways for the children to use loose parts is at a table center. Children may use the loose parts to make an art project, a pattern, or a game. They might sort, count, or observe them. For this center small to mini work best. Add some pumpkin seeds as well. You’ll want to also provide a variety of other materials such as small sticks, acorns, and leaves for the children to use. Small containers to sort the available items helps keep the area organized. A defined work area such as a cookie sheet or frame (see picture) help to keep the small items contained. Don’t forget to take pictures of what they made to display in the classroom or show their parents.
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“Preschool Pumpkins: Loose Parts” is the first in a series of posts on how pumpkins can be used in the classroom. Be on the lookout for the next post: Preschool Pumpkins: Estimating and Counting