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The “Icky” Factor: Exploring Decomposition with Pumpkins

The icky factor5

Because of the "icky" factor, children seldom get a chance to explore the decomposition process and its important role in life. Pumpkin season is a prime opportunity to investigate decomposition with your children and to observe the changes in pumpkins over time.

Great Books to Read Before Doing This Activity:

What's Needed:

  • Camera (optional)
  • Magnifying glass
  • Plastic, resealable bag
  • Plate
  • Small pumpkin
  • Refrigerator

How to Do It:

  1. Cut open the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. (Hint: Use the sections of pumpkin you are not using for the experiment to make a yummy pumpkin pie, if you like!)
  2. Place one chunk of the pumpkin shell in the plastic bag, and seal it closed.
  3. Place another chunk of pumpkin shell next to it on a plate.
  4. Put the experiment in a place where you both can see it easily.
  5. Periodically, record the changes you observe. What's the same? What's different?
  6. Make drawings or keep a chart of any changes that occur over time. Take photos if possible.
  7. Talk about the changes you observe: color, shape, and smell. What might be the causes for these changes?

You can also experiment with speeding up and slowing down decomposition.

  1. For another challenge, place one of the chunks of pumpkin shell in a cold spot (such as the refrigerator) and another in a warm spot (such as on the counter or windowsill).
  2. Observe and compare the decomposition of the pumpkin in cold and warm temperatures. Which shell decomposes faster? Why do you think this is so?
  3. Over a period of several weeks, look at and talk about the changes you notice.


For more ways to take the time to watch, wonder, ask questions, talk about, and explore the world of science with your child, check out Where Does My Shadow Sleep? by Sally Anderson with the Vermont Center for the Book.

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