Tutorial + How-to

Published on October 29th, 2009 | by Julie Finn


Pumpkin Pounding: A Halloween Project Kids Can Do Independently

Pumpkin Pounding

Encouraging my children’s independence is VERY important to me. Not only is it easier for me to parent two small children who can pour their own milk and put on their own coats and carry their own balance bikes up and down the front porch stairs, but it’s also a priority in my parenting that my girls see themselves as capable individuals who can handle challenges and perform the meaningful work of day-to-day living.

Because of that, carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns can be a really frustrating experience. I do permit my children to cut with sharp knives (with supervision), but not to use them on something as thick and unwieldy as a pumpkin. Although there are around-the-house materials that make pumpkin carving an activity more appropriate for small children (subject for a later post), my girls’ favorite jack-o-lantern craft is something that we call pumpkin pounding.

Pumpkin Pounding

Pumpkin pounding is a hands-on activity that uses real tools on a real pumpkin, and each of my girls was able to do it with help at age two, and independently by age three. The best part, however, is that in the end, depending on how enthusiastic a pounder your kid has been, you end up with a real, live jack-o-lantern for sitting on the porch steps and popping a candle inside.

You will need:

  • field pumpkin that’s not too round. You want to be able to sit it on its various sides, as well as its butt, and not have it roll all over creation.
  • hammer. You can lay out a variety of hammers for your kids to experience, but the best tool for them is one that’s as light as possible but has the widest hammer head
  • nails. Again, lay out a variety to try out, but the best ones are as wide as possible with the widest head
  • knife and scraping tool and whatever else you’ll need to cut the top of the jack-o-lantern and scrape the insides

1. Set the pumpkin up in a space where kids have enough room to swing a hammer, and where they can get in the correct hammering position–a low table or the floor or a bench, etc. Be prepared to leave the pumpkin in that space for a few days, to give the kids the chance to come back over and over to this activity independently.

2. Show your child how to press the tip of the nail into the pumpkin flesh until the nail is held there by itself. That’s the safest way to hammer, but older children can also be taught how to gently tap the nail into place with their hammers. For kids younger than three, you may need to set up a handful of nails like this for them to hammer.

3. Let your child hammer nails into the pumpkin. Remind them not to hammer the pumpkin just for the heck of it, but pumpkins are extremely sturdy and surprisingly forgiving, and even though your kid will hit the pumpkin a LOT, and HARD, as they’re aiming for that nail, it’s not going to crack.

Pumpkin Pounding

4. At about five years of age, your kid can also learn how to use the claw end of the hammer to lever the nails back out of the pumpkin when she’s done hammering. Otherwise, you’ll probably need to do this, so give her plenty of nails to work with before she needs your help.

5. The jack-o-lantern will show best with as many nail holes as possible, so feel free to take a whack at the pumpkin yourself. It’s amazingly cathartic.

6. When everyone is completely finished with the pounding (and this may take several days), cut off the top of the pumpkin, and scrape out the insides to finish it. Pop in a candle, and enjoy your pretty pumpkin.

My kids and I are, for some reason, inordinately fond of our autumn-themed craft projects. What are your favorites?

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About the Author

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now. Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.

13 Responses to Pumpkin Pounding: A Halloween Project Kids Can Do Independently

  1. Pingback: Pumpkin Pounding: A Halloween Project Kids Can Do Independently - Zidee.com

  2. Pingback: Pumpkin Pounding: A Halloween Project Kids Can Do Independently

  3. Jennifer O'Neill says:

    I LOVE this!!!! My son is a very enthusiastic tool user, and as young as 3 he has had his own real hammer. I too encourage independence, as much for my own sanity as for his development, but I was stymied with the pumpkin carving and this is a PERFECT solution, thank you thank you thank you!!!!!

  4. Chelsey says:

    What a great idea! We just carved last night with our almost 2 year old and he spent most of the time pretending to carve the holes we already cut out and drawing on the pumpkin with a sharpie. I’m going to try this with him next year, though, I think he’d have a blast!

  5. Pingback: How to bond with your family | Parenting help in Oregon

  6. TJ says:

    Fun! And quite creative.

    Maybe you were going to get to this in your ‘later post’, but we’ve found that the “safety knives” found with all the pumpkin carving supplies really do work for little ones. You still need an adult to cut off the top, but once it’s been thinned, the safety knives work.

  7. Julie Finn says:

    Even the safety knives require just too much hand strength and finesse for my littlest little one–those fine motor skills come later than the gross motor skills involved in whacking–but my older kiddo is now old enough to create some really great and intricate patterns with her pumpkin pounding.

  8. Pingback: Fall Crafting: Five Nature Projects to Do in Autumn

  9. Anonymous says:

    This is such a great idea! I’ve never heard of this before, but I too love finding ways children can use their creativity without the help of an adult. Great article!

  10. Juli says:

    this is great!

  11. Taylorneedstodiequietlysoon says:


  12. Frank says:

    late to the party six years later, but this is absolutely amazing!

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