Estimating pumpkin seeds
         Here’s a fun activity that I like to do in my classroom each October. When
I suggest it to the parents of my students, they usually tell me that the family had
a good time with it. So read this before you carve up that Halloween pumpkin!

         The pumpkin can help you to teach a skill that can be improved only with
practice: estimating.

         When you’ve got all the insides scooped out, get that gloppy mass
together and ask all the family members how many seeds they think there are.
Perhaps one of the kids can serve as secretary for this one. (Make it a kid whose
hands have not ventured into the stringy mess!)

         Chances are good that the younger the child, the higher the guess will
be. Don’t be surprised if your five-year-old guesses something like “a thousand,”
“a million,” or “infinity.” This indicates that he doesn’t really understand the
meaning of these numbers.

         An exercise like this is valuable because it makes numbers real for
children. They have heard people talk about having fifty, one hundred, or one
thousand of something, but do they actually understand what these figures
mean? This is an opportunity to make a concrete relationship between a word
for a number and the number itself.

         After you count fifty or one hundred pumpkin seeds, give everyone a
chance to revise her or his estimate. Emphasize that you are not in this to win
anything; it’s just family fun time. By the time kids get to second or third grade,
their estimates will be closer to reality. 

         During this process, ask an older child to explain her thinking to you. Or, if
the kids are not able to verbalize their thinking, share yours with them: “It looks
like we have counted about half of the seeds,” you explain. “So far there are
200. So, if that’s about half, I think that there will be about 400 all together.”

         Opportunities to estimate will present themselves in many ways: how
many M & M’s are in the bag? How many pennies are in a little jar? How many
carrots are in the package? As you practice these activities with your children,
you bring the reality of numbers to them.

         Don’t forget this next summer when the family sits down to the season’s
first watermelon. (Hint: seeds!)

         This column has been incorporated into Teach Your Children Well: A Teacher’s Advice for Parents.

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