“If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” —Loren Eisley
Water truly is magical and supports life on our planet in so many ways. Water sustains all plant and animal life, is a home to many creatures and is even an essential mode of transportation for humans. Inspired by the book The Golden Flower: A Taino Myth from Puerto Rico, we share how kids can turn pumpkins into boats to inspire imaginative play, experimentation and an appreciation for the many gifts that water provides.
This activity is featured in our October Activity Calendar in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. If you do not yet have your free copy, get it here.
by Nina Jaffe, illustrated by Enrique O. Sanchez. This book is a retelling of the Taíno origin story of how Puerto Rico (called Borikén by the indigenous Taíno people native to the island) came into existence when the Earth was a desert without water. In the story, a child discovers and plants seeds, which grow into a beautiful forest on top of a mountain. Among the forest, a golden flower grows and eventually turns into a pumpkin. When the pumpkin bursts open, the sea and all its creatures pour out, surrounding the mountain and creating the island of Puerto Rico.
Explore pumpkins and invite play:
Before you do anything, look at your pumpkin. Challenge kids to pick it up. Wonder together what you might find inside the pumpkin. Wonder together how you could turn this pumpkin into a boat. Do you think this pumpkin will float in water?
Float Test #1:
Place your pumpkin in a bucket, pot or bathtub full of water. What do you notice? Wonder how you could change the pumpkin to make it float like a boat.
Scoop it out and explore seeds:
Cut open the top of the pumpkin. Just look and marvel at all that is inside! Invite kids to scoop out all of the insides onto a cutting board or into a bowl. If your kiddos enjoy ooey, gooey tactile fun, let them use their hands and lean in. If not, offer tools like spoons, tongs or tweezers. Save the seeds for roasting or try out this pumpkin seed counting activity.
Float Test #2:
Once the insides are removed from the pumpkin, make another prediction together and then put the empty pumpkin in a bucket, pot or bathtub full of water. What do you notice?
Make an island: Use stones, sticks or mud to form an island in your bowl or bin of water (a great way to connect to the Taíno story of how Puerto Rico was formed). How does your boat move around the island?
Add ocean life: Talk about the types of plants and animals that might live in your boats “ocean.” What nature objects (e.g. rocks, leaves, grasses) could your child use as pretend coral, kelp or fish? Notice if some of the objects sink or float.
Set Sail: Find passengers in the form of acorns, pine cones, pebbles, twigs, legos or other objects. See how many small objects can take a sail in your pumpkin "boat."
Make a regatta of your own—Watch footage of the Great Pumpkin Race in Oregon—it may blow your minds! Make more boats out of pumpkins, squash or try this paper boat activity. Find out which boat floats the best or race them in your bathtub or bucket to see which one gets to the finish line first. Test out other objects (rocks, sticks, seed pods/acorns, flowers, flower petals, leaves) to see what else floats like boats.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Playing with water and removing the insides of a pumpkin stimulate multiple senses and engage kids attention for long periods of time. Water is also simultaneously stimulating and calming—ideal for focus. Making and testing predictions are core STEM skills and great ways to develop curiosity. And, pretend play with boats and various passengers they choose can help kids develop imagination and flexible thinking. Using this story to spark play is a great way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, help kids learn about the cultures and stories of other people, and reinforce an appreciation for the gifts that nature provides all living things.
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Curiosity means the ability and habit to apply a sense of wonder and a desire to learn more. Curious people try new things, ask questions, search for answers, relish new information, and make connections, all while actively experiencing and making sense of the world. To us, curiosity is a child’s ticket to engaging fully in learning and, ultimately, in life.
Why does it matter?
As a parent, this skill is, perhaps, the easiest to grasp and has the clearest connection to a young children’s learning. We all want my children to wonder, explore and drive their own learning and, better yet, to experience the world fully. Most teachers would agree that the curious children so often seem more attentive, involved and naturally get the most out of time in school. Even the research suggests that being curious is a driver of higher performance throughout one's life, as much if not more than IQ or test scores.
What are Problem Solving Skills?
When we talk about problem solving, we mean the ability to solve a problem in which the solution is not obvious and in which the possible paths to solution are many. To solve such problems, kids will need two things. First, they’ll need the self confidence and comfort to both attempt to find and persist in finding a solution. The only way to develop this is to be given the chance to struggle with ambiguous situations or open-ended problems. We parents are all guilty, from time to time, of helping kids avoid struggle or swooping in to alleviate frustration when our kid encounters challenge. The goal is actually to do the opposite whenever possible. As long as the problem is not too difficult to understand or challenging to solve, even young kids can get comfortable with the feeling of not knowing the solution and fall in love with the joy of finding a solution to a problem.
Kids also need strategies to attack problems with which they are faced. If adults are able to work with kids to solve problems “as a team” but in such a way that the children feel and act “in charge” of the decisions, adults can actually teach foundation problem solving skills and strategies through modeling. For example, when you solve a problem together, kids get practice with key parts of the process like brainstorming, testing ideas, revision and solution. It’s also pretty easy to model how to use simple strategies like trial and error or breaking a problem down into smaller parts. Although children age 1 to 7 should not be expected to name, catalog or identify when to use a particular problem solving strategy, they are able to form habits and repeat approaches once those habits or approaches have become familiar. The more problems they solve, the better they know and can use these methods.
Why does it matter?
“The highest ranked skills for students entering the workforce were not facts and basic skills; they were applied skills that enable workers to use the knowledge and basic skills they have acquired” (Source: Are They Really Ready for Work? Conference Board 2006).
Although it seems a long way to go before our young children are hitting the job market, the ability to solve challenging, ambiguous problems has already been identified as a critical skill for success in the 21st Century. With advances in technology, finding information has never been easier. However, knowing how to interpret a problem and use available information to devise a solution still needs to be learned. And, we fear that the classrooms of today are neither designed nor incentivized to teach these skills effectively. In most schools, so much time is spent learning discrete skills, that applied skills like problem solving are wildly underemphasized. In a world that demands it, it is increasingly necessary that children learn and practice these skills outside of school.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?