During the month of October, Pre-K students are always busy with pumpkins. Not only is this around the time that this autumnal squash becomes fully developed, but Halloween is at the end of the month, holding the pumpkin as one of the holiday’s most recognizable symbols. Each year, they look at the seeds. They take pumpkins and wash and paint them. Students see a pumpkin as an object that comes to them ready-made. Often, they don’t know where they come from or how they grow.

Each year Kim Johns (Ms. Kim) tries to grow pumpkins in her garden. Most years, she has bee foiled by either the elements of nature or the local bunny population. This year, however, she found success as her pumpkin vines took hold and flourished! When she saw these beautiful, vibrant plants growing in her back yard, it occurred to her that she had a wonderful demonstrative visual and physical aid to help her students explore the life cycle of a plant: the vine, the blossom, the leaves, and a small pumpkin. You could see the whole process and life cycle of this plant, more specifically, pumpkins.

In Pre-K B, children got out the magnifying glasses and took a close look at part of a pumpkin plant that came from Ms. Kim’s garden. They were able to see and touch the leaves, roots, flowers and tendrils of the plant, which grows dwarf pumpkins. Children could also see examples of pumpkins in various stages of growth.

They were able to investigate these beautiful fall squashes and noticed that while the pumpkins themselves were smooth, the stems and leaves could be a little prickly! Ms. Kim knows that science for Pre-K has to be close to them. It has to be accessible to them in their real life. You have to touch, smell, hear, see something, and sometimes taste it to know what it is about. You have to see that the vines have tendrils and will loop on to you. You can tap on the side of pumpkin and hear the empty space inside. Until you touch the vines and tendrils you don’t know that they are prickly. Students noted that the top of the leaf and the bottom of the leaf have different textures. As Ms. Kim points out, they have to be up close to them and using their senses to discover these truths.

The next week she brought in a cucumber vine, a cousin to the pumpkin, to compare to the pumpkin vine. What aspects of this plant are similar and what are not? The students discovered that the tendrils are similar. The fruits were very different.

Science for them is in their immediate environment. It is something they can explore themselves. It is the hope of our Pre-K teachers to bring this sort of immersive investigation, which is at the core of the pursuit of scientific knowledge even at the adult level, to their students. Ms. Kim’s pumpkin exploration is endemic of the types of experiences to which our youngest learners are fortunate enough to be exposed. They build up their experience with it so that next year when they get to kindergarten they will have something to draw upon.