Pumpkin carving with a toddler or preschooler can be a chore, or it can create happy Halloween memories. Skip the elaborate templates and maximize parent-child bonding time with these tips for a fun pumpkin carving experience with your two to five year old. Your child will create a classic pumpkin face of their own choosing.
Pick the Perfect Pumpkin with Your Toddler
A perfectly carved toddler’s pumpkin starts with their personal perfect pumpkin. Head to a pumpkin patch a week or two before Halloween, before the good pumpkins are gone but not so early that the pumpkin will rot. Discuss the ideal pumpkin – tall, short, big, small, round, skinny – with your preschooler as you choose from the available gourds. Make sure the pumpkin has a solid flat bottom and will not tip easily. If your toddler has a hard time deciding, narrow down to two pumpkins and play eenie-meenie-minie-moe. Wait to carve the pumpkin until one or two days before Halloween, and create a countdown calendar for the impatient child.
Consider Pumpkin Faces with Your Preschooler
For a four or five year old with a longer attention span, browse through Halloween picture books and look at pumpkin faces. See which carved pumpkin face appeals the most to your preschooler, and what parts of the face they like – a smiling mouth, scary eyes, or pointy nose. My article, “Top Five Young Children’s Books for Halloween” has a number of great picture books for the under-5 set. There also are a number of online contests with photos of carved pumpkins, although many of the designs are too complex or too scary for a toddler or preschooler.
Prepare the Pumpkin-Carving Stage
In addition to the usual newspaper, knives and bowls, make sure you have paper towels for the child to wipe their hands. Books, stickers, coloring supplies or other activities laid out and standing by are a necessity for the slow pumpkin cleaning out process. Make sure your toddler or preschooler has had a snack and a nap before starting.
Open and Clean the Pumpkin
Many toddlers and preschoolers want to be there for the first cut into the pumpkin. Talk with your child about knife safety and explain that these knives are for grownups only. Have them stand back a little as you carve open and remove the top of the pumpkin. Encourage your preschooler to help scoop out the pumpkin guts, but don’t force them if they are squeamish. Save the seeds for roasting.
As the pumpkin cleanout continues, your toddler or preschooler may get bored. Allow them to read, play with stickers or draw pictures as you scrape out the pumpkin. Have the child point out which side they would like to use for the face, and spend extra time scraping the inside of the pumpkin to thin the wall for easier carving.
Carve a Pumpkin Face Together
Have your toddler or preschooler tell you the parts of the face. Allow them to choose which feature they would like to carve first, and point to the part of the pumpkin where it should be placed. For example, for the mouth, ask your child if they would like a big mouth or a small one, with or without teeth, and smiling or frowning. Your preschooler may wish to draw a picture of their ideal pumpkin face. A dry erase marker can be used to draw on the pumpkin before committing to carving it. Go through the pumpkin feature by feature – a big triangle nose? Small square eyes? Let the child choose.
Carving a pumpkin with a toddler or preschooler can be fun if they are allowed to participate. Avoid complicated templates and allow your two to five year old to create their own pumpkin face. Once the pumpkin is carved, put in a lit tea light, turn out the lights, and enjoy some cider and oatmeal cookies together. Happy Halloween!
Susi Frock, “Top Five Young Children’s Books for Halloween”, Associated Content