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Utah Agriculture in the Classroom

Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

Pumpkins... Not Just For Halloween (Grades 3-5)

Grade Level
3 - 5

Students estimate the size and weight of pumpkins, sprout pumpkin seeds, and make pumpkin pie in a bag. Grades 3-5

Estimated Time
2 hours
Materials Needed


Activity 1: The Great Pumpkin Story and Pumpkin Predictions

Activity 2: Pumpkin Peddlers

  • Pumpkin Peddlers activity sheet
  • Newspaper
  • Knife
  • Plastic cups, 10 per group
  • Resealable bags, 1 per group
  • Large spoons

Activity 3: Sprouting Pumpkin Seeds

  • Clear plastic cup (for planting)
  • Paper towels
  • Cotton balls
  • Craft/popsicle stick

Activity 4: Pumpkin Processing


pumpkin: a large, rounded fruit with a thick rind, edible flesh, and many seeds

Did You Know?
  • Illinois is the top pumpkin producing state in the nation with nearly 500 million pounds of pumpkins harvested each year.
  • The size of a pumpkin depends on water, temperature, insects, diseases, pollination, fertility, soil type, plant population and weeds.
  • Bees and other insects help pollinate the pumpkins. Some insect are harmful and some insects (like bees) are helpful. Farmers try and spray to kill bad insects when there aren’t flowers and good, beneficial insects aren’t present.
  • Pumpkins are ready to harvest when they are the right color and have the right rind readiness. But remember, they can be a lot of different colors.
  • Pumpkins can be sold at farmers markets and grocery stores. Many of them are sold to companies like Libby’s to make pumpkin puree.
Background Agricultural Connections

Pumpkins are an original American (New World) food product. Pumpkins have been cultivated for at least 9,000 years in North and South America. They are part of the family of vining plants called Cucurbitaceae that includes cucumbers, squash, gourds, melons, and others. Pumpkins were a staple in the diet of Native American tribes who raised pumpkins as one of three main crops—maize (corn), beans, and squash. They baked or boiled the pumpkin flesh, toasted the seeds for tasty snacks, and ground the seeds into flour or meal for making bread and gruel. They also dried and saved seeds to use for planting the next year’s crop.

When European settlers arrived in the Americas, the natives showed them how to plant, grow, and use pumpkins. “We had pumpkins in the morning and pumpkins at noon. If it were not for pumpkins, we’d be undone soon,” one settler wrote in 1683. Pumpkin pudding was a real treat for the early settlers. To make it, they sliced off the top of a pumpkin, removed the seeds, filled it with milk, and then baked it until the milk had been absorbed.

Pumpkin plants have separate male and female flowers. Pumpkins develop from a fertilized female blossom. You can identify the female blossoms by a bulge in the stem behind it. The male flowers provide the pollen. Blossoms can be eaten fried, raw in salads, or as a component of soups.

The size and quality of a pumpkin is influenced by many factors, including water, temperature, insects, disease, soil type and fertility, pumpkin variety, and weed competition. Before planting pumpkins, it is helpful to conduct a soil test on the patch where the pumpkin seeds will be planted. A soil test will determine the type of soil and what nutrients are present in this soil. Then the planter will know what type of nutrients (fertilizers) to add to the soil.

After conducting the soil test and adding the necessary nutrients, pumpkin seeds may be planted when the ground temperature is 60–65F and the last frost has passed (usually May or June). The seeds should be planted five to eight feet apart, and the rows should be six to eight feet apart. The plants need to be pollinated by bees or by hand about eight to ten weeks after planting.

From planting until harvesting the pumpkins need to receive an adequate amount of water as well as hoeing or hand weeding to minimize competition from weeds. Pumpkins can be harvested after the shell is completely hardened. It usually takes 90–110 days for pumpkin plants to grow from seedlings and produce fully mature pumpkins. Harvested pumpkins should be stored in a cool, dry place to keep from rotting.

  1. Ask students to draw a picture of what they think a pumpkin looks like. Hold their pictures up and see how many just think it is an orange round with stem on top. Show samples of different pumpkins and how they come in different shapes, colors, sizes etc.  
    • Use the attached Pumpkin Varieties PowerPoint Slides to show pictures of many varieties of pumpkin
  2. After students have observed several different varieties of pumpkin, brainstorm a list of uses for pumpkins on the board. 
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: The Great Pumpkin Story and Pumpkin Predictions

  1. Have students read The Great Pumpkin Story and answer the questions at the end.
  2. Divide the class into groups of four. Provide each group with a pumpkin (do your best to get pumpkins that are quite different from one another).
  3. Ask the groups to estimate the height, diameter, and weight of their pumpkin.
  4. Ask students to guess which group has the largest pumpkin. Which pumpkin weighs the most? Do they think the largest pumpkin will weigh the most? Will the smallest pumpkin weigh the least? Which two pumpkins are the closest in size? Which two pumpkins are the closest in weight?
  5. Next, provide each group with a ruler, some string (for measuring the diameter), and access to a scale (a bathroom scale will work). Ask each group to weigh and measure their pumpkin.
  6. Were their predictions correct?

Activity 2: Pumpkin Peddlers

  1. Part of the botanical definition of a fruit is that seeds will be found inside. Ask your students to predict how many seeds they might find inside their pumpkin.
  2. Hand out the activity sheet Pumpkin Peddlers to each student, and pass out ten cups and one resealable bag to each group.
  3. Using the activity sheet, have each group record a reasonable price for the pumpkin and their estimate of how many seeds the pumpkin will contain.
  4. Place newspapers underneath each pumpkin, and cut off the tops of the pumpkins so that students can dig out the seeds. You may want to provide metal spoons for this. Students should take turns digging out the seeds. As the seeds are removed, other students in the group should clean off the fibers, dry the seeds using a paper towel, and then begin to fill the paper cups with groups of ten. When all ten cups are filled, pour the one hundred seeds into a resealable bag, keeping a tally of how many hundreds are emptied into the bag.
  5. Were their predictions accurate? Did larger pumpkins have more seeds than smaller pumpkins. Did weight have an influence on the number of seeds? You may want to graph the results of each group’s seed count.
  6. Discuss how many pumpkins could be grown from one pumpkin. Help students fill in the rest of their worksheet by calculating how much money their pumpkin could generate by multiplying the price they would sell their pumpkins for by how many seeds were in it.

Activity 3: Sprouting Pumpkin Seeds

  1. Provide each student in the group with a clear cup, a paper towel, some cotton balls, a craft stick, and four pumpkin seeds—the ones they cleaned out in Activity 2 will work just fine. (Try to schedule this activity for a Friday, as the seeds won’t sprout over the first two days).
  2. Students should tear or cut a three-inch wide strip from the paper towel. This strip should be placed around the inside of the cup. Student should trim the towel if there is a lot of excess so that there is only one layer around the inside.
  3. Next, have students fill the center of the cup with cotton balls. Tell them to thoroughly dampen the cotton by setting the cup under a dripping faucet. The cotton will moisten the paper towel. No water should drip to the bottom of the cup.
  4. Ask the students to insert the pumpkin seeds between the cup and the paper towel. You can have them place some of the seeds with the pointed end up and some with the pointed end down.
  5. Label each cup with the group’s name. Set the cups on a sunny windowsill. Instruct groups to water as necessary and to watch for the seeds to grow. You may want them to draw how the seedlings look on each day once they sprout and begin to grow.

Activity 4: Pumpkin Processing

  1. Brainstorm with the class all of the uses for pumpkins.  In addition to carving for Halloween, pumpkins are also processed into various food products such as pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheesecake, and more.  In fact, the majority of pumpkins grown in the United States are processed into pumpkin puree that is typically canned.
  2. Explain to students the difference between a whole, raw food product (like a pumpkin) and a processed food product, such as pumpkin pie or any other food product made from pumpkin.  Use the following diagram:

  3. Use the instructions found in the attached file Pumpkin Pie in a Bag to make pumpkin "pies" for your students.

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Pumpkins are the fruits of the pumpkin plant that contains seeds inside.
  • In addition to carving for Halloween, pumpkins are also processed into pumpkin puree and various other food products.

Iowa Agriculture in the Classroom contributed Interest Approach/Motivator, Ag Facts, and Activity #4.

Debra Spielmaker
National Center for Agricultural Literacy
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