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Make Pumpkin Boats

“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.

The Guide

Get inspiration from a story: 

Read or watch a read-aloud of The Golden Flower: A Taino Myth from Puerto Rico
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?

Extend Play!

  • 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 calmingideal 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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