I have fond memories of carving pumpkins when younger. At a kitchen table covered with comic pages, we would concoct elaborate designs for our jack o’ lanterns as we scraped out the pumpkin guts and seeds. Our mom would whisk the seeds away to the oven, roasting them while we carved our pumpkins. At some point, we’d be asked to pause for a snapshot or two, and once we finished carving pumpkins, the creative masterpieces would be carried carefully out to the front stoop. I’m sure many of us have similar fond memories of carving pumpkins. And I want our boys to have the same fond memories of carving pumpkins when they are grown.
Of course, there’s the whole question of helping kids carve pumpkins — how much should you let them do on their own? Last year, our pumpkins were object-specific. Toby wasn’t really at the point of designing yet, so he gave input on the things to be carved. We ended up carving a tractor, a block letter for our favorite sports team, and called it good at that.
This year, Toby was ready to do the whole carving pumpkin thing himself. …well, aside from touching the pumpkin guts. For whatever reason he hated the slimy feel. i wasn’t ready to let him do everything on his own, but set him loose on the pumpkins to create designs — with no restrictions. he got to help me cut some of the holes, but most of his time actually carving pumpkins was spent waiting for me to finish cutting so he could poke out the pumpkin pieces.
It was great to see his creativity come alive as he told me about his designs. We had 5 pumpkins this year — two gifted to us by our neighbors, another two from grandma. Here’s what he designed, from left to right:
- a bear with ears and a toothy grin (the teeth were added midway through carving).
- an alien monster, with many eyes and mouths all over.
- an angry face (he let me draw this one).
- a silly face with a really big mouth, and an almost forgotten nose. This one also had a baby on the side, go figure.
- a happy face – 2 eyes, a noes, and a mouth.
Toby was thrilled with our activity, the fact he got to design everything himself was a big selling point. When Daddy came in from cleaning the garage, Toby proudly showed off the pumpkins we’d made. And, of course, we enjoyed toasted pumpkin seeds too (recipe later on).
Now let’s get to those 6 tips for helping kids carve pumpkins I’ve promised you! These are geared towards helping your child feel “in charge” while keeping things safe. Because that’s part of helping kids carve pumpkins — making sure they’ do so safely.
1. Don’t micromanage your child
It’s amazing how many times I catch myself about to direct my son’s activity in a certain way. It’s a force of habit, but one I try to curb. I’d much rather Toby create something from his own ability and thought process, rather than draw within the lines of my constraints. It’s like process art vs. paint by number. Process art lets creativity shine. So set back and don’t micromanage when carving pumpkins with your child. Who cares if the smile is crooked, or missing a tooth?
2. Help as needed, to keep things safe.
While I’m all for letting kids do things themselves, there is an age appropriateness factor. My son has been practicing knife skills for quite some time, but I decided it wasn’t time yet for him to saw the openings in the pumpkin. Maybe next year. So to keep him involved, I let him place his hand on top of mine as I sawed; he also “held” the pumpkin steady for me while I sawed (hands far away from the blade). You know your child — go with your gut and keep thing safe.
3. Invite your child to draw a design on the pumpkin.
And then step back and watch. Ask open-ended questions if you want, but try understand your child’s creation from their point of view, rather than making assumptions or guesses. I gave Toby a permanent marker and let him have at it. He drew swirly spiraling circles for eyes, lines for ears, and chicken-scratch noses. It’s ok if there are too many lines (I’ll address that in the next tip).
4. Have your child direct you which lines to cut.
Toby pointed out the lines I should cut — I followed one of the many lines for the eyes to make a shape that approximated his abstract swirls. The mouth I followed, to an extent — suggesting we shorten it so the pumpkin didn’t fall apart on us.
5. Don’t be afraid to improvise. Follow your child’s lead.
We added teeth midway through our bear pumpkin carving — Toby was thrilled with the design change. It may not have been on his drawn design, but that’s ok. I let him call the shots as we carved the pumpkins.
6. Have no expectations.
Having no expectations really freed me to enjoy the whole experience. And I have to say, I love the results. The pumpkins that Toby and I carved are whimsical, creative, and definitely not run of the mill. The most standard one is the baby pumpkin that I carved… how uncreative of me, right? But that’s the thing. As adults, we have preconceptions of how things are supposed to look. Kids are often free from those constraints — it lets their creativity flourish.
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Recipe
Now, as promised, here’s my recipe for delicious roasted pumpkin seeds. Or, one of my recipes… I have a few variations! There’s no measuring, you do everything by feel and to your preference.
- pumpkin seeds
- olive oil
- sea salt
First, separate the seeds from the guts. I tend to leave some of the slime on the seeds, but you can rinse it off if you want. I add enough olive oil to coat the seeds, then sprinkle generously with sea salt. Then it’s into the oven on a baking sheet at 350 F for 30-40 min, stirring after the first 15 min and then every 5 thereafter. They’re done once the pumpkin seeds no longer are wet, and the pan has no remaining oil or liquid on the bottom. Usually by this point, mine are nicely golden brown, or even a little darker. Enjoy once they’ve cooled enough to handle!
I’ve also added seasonings with much success — one of our favorites is Italian seasoning sprinkled over top.