What’s the best way to get kids excited about STEM?
Turn it into play!
Science and discovery-based play can help kids become lifelong learners and explorers, even if they don’t grow up to be rocket engineers or software designers. That’s why we teamed up with fellow STEM enthusiasts like Mad Science, who came out to Barton Hill Farms the weekend of October 9th and 10th to demonstrate how much fun experiments can be.
If you missed the show last weekend, don’t fret! Here are 11 STEM-based activities that you can do with your kids and those leftover pumpkins for some fall-themed fun.
1. Make a Pumpkin Volcano
Why should volcanos be limited to papier-mache? Any mostly enclosed vessel can be the receptacle for a good old-fashioned baking soda explosion, including a pumpkin. Here’s all you have to do:
- Cut off the top and hollow out the pumpkin, just like you would for a jack o’lantern.
- Fill the pumpkin about halfway with white vinegar.
- Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to make the eruption foamy. If you like, add a few drops of food coloring to make your lava colorful.
- Give the liquids a stir.
- When you’re ready, add a few tablespoons of baking soda and see what happens.
It’s best to do this experiment either outside, or in the sink or tub. It can get messy!
2. Play with Pumpkin Guts
Kids of a certain age are obsessed with slime. Encourage their love of chemistry by making a special seasonal slime with the leftover pumpkin “guts.” This recipe from Hip 2 Save combines stringy pumpkin innards, Elmer’s Glue, baking soda, and contact solution (for the boric acid). The result is a cool, tactile slime that’s fun to squish and squeeze.
3. Do Some Pumpkin-Based Math
Help kids understand comparisons between different objects with some pumpkin-based math. Work together to answer questions like:
- How many pumpkins tall are you?
- How many pumpkins do you weigh?
- What is the volume of this pumpkin?
- How many cups of water can we fit inside this pumpkin?
4. Build a Pumpkin Launcher
Practice the engineering part of STEM with a DIY pumpkin launcher. With some bits of PVC, PVC glue, and a few screws, you can build a small catapult for small pumpkins or apples. This tutorial from STL Motherhood requires cutting PVC to length with a saw, so it’s definitely a project for kids and adults to work on together.
5. Plant a Seed and Watch It Grow
What better way to show kids the entire life cycle of a pumpkin than to grow your own from seed? After you carve your pumpkin this year, save a few of the seeds to plant in your backyard. Rinse them well and let them dry on a paper towel for about a week. Once they’ve dried out, you can store them until the next summer when it’s time to plant them.
If you’re in Central Texas like Barton Hill Farms, plan to sow your seeds in mid-June for a fall harvest. Of course, some people just like to toss their old pumpkins—seeds and all—into the garden and see what happens the following year!
6. Extract Some Pumpkin DNA
For the science buffs, extract some DNA from your pumpkin using simple household objects like a blender, dish soap, salt, and isopropyl alcohol. You may even be able to see DNA strands with the naked eye with this method.
7. Create Foaming Pumpkins
After Halloween has passed and your jack o’lantern has no more use, why not give it new life with this fun experiment?
Put a small cup of hydrogen peroxide, dish soap, and food coloring inside your pumpkin. In another cup, mix a packet of yeast with warm water. Quickly pour the yeast mixture into the peroxide cup inside the pumpkin, and watch your pumpkin “puke” out a foamy mess. Prepare for lots of squealing.
Get full instructions here.
8. Make a Battery Out of a Pumpkin
You may have heard of a battery made from a potato, but have you ever heard of a battery made from a pumpkin? It works just the same.
All you’ll need for this experiment are two small pumpkins, two galvanized (zinc-coated) screws, two small bits of thick copper wire, coated wires with alligator clips, and a multimeter to measure the voltage. You could also get an LED pin light to see if you can create enough power to light it up!
9. Work on Observation With Decaying Pumpkins
This simple activity for small scientists is all about hypotheses and observations. Over the weeks following Halloween, help your little ones keep an observation journal about the pumpkin. How does it feel and smell? What’s happening to its size and shape? Is it growing mold? Ask them to guess what they think is going to happen, and then compare their predictions to the results.
This simple activity can introduce young kids to long-term observation.
10. Make Pumpkin Fairy Houses
Turn a pumpkin into a feat of tiny engineering by carving it into a fairy house. This activity combines structural integrity with art and design. Plus, they’re super cute.
After scooping out the insides, use a knife to cut doors and windows into your fairy house. Then decorate it with bits of moss for a roof or use a gouge to carve designs into the walls.
11. Do the Levitating Pumpkin Experiment
Teach kids about the principle of inertia with this easy experiment. With a wide-mouthed vase or vessel, a piece of card stock, a toilet paper tube, and a small sugar pumpkin, you can demonstrate Newton’s First Law of Motion: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”
Need to stock up on pumpkins for all these fun STEM activities? Visit the Barton Hill Farms Fall Festival, Pumpkin Patch, & Corn Maze from September 25th through November 7th, 2021 to get your stash!