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 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.
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?