Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

November 18, 2014

Invite math to the table this Thanksgiving with these five easy Thanksgiving centerpieces made with pumpkins. After all, October may be over, but pumpkin season is still going strong! These ideas are simple enough to do with your kids, and they’re a great way to introduce your children to important concepts in geometry and math.

Arrange pumpkins and candles on a table runner. Younger children will enjoy counting the pumpkins, placing them in alternating patterns with the candles, and arranging them various orders like smallest to biggest, lightest color to darkest color, most to least spherical. Can your little ones come up with at least five different criteria for sorting or ordering the pumpkins?

Tie a gold ribbon around the widest part of a mini pumpkin (secure with glue dots or a glue gun). This simple task helps explore two concepts. First is the notion of the great circle, the largest possible circle that can be drawn around a sphere. (Similar to an equator, if you want to think in geographic terms. This design also creates an opening to explore the concept of circumference: how much ribbon will you need to wrap around each pumpkin? Measure out the circumference and the diameter, then divide the circumference by the diameter. Do this for several pumpkins of different sizes. Notice that your answer is the same for each pumpkin. In other words, it’s a constant: pi! You’ve just made pumpkin pi without messing up your kitchen!

Wrap a square of gold tulle around a pumpkin, and secure with wired ribbon for an eye-catching decoration as pictured above. Lay out the tulle and put those estimation skills to work. Ask your kids to cut out a large square that will completely cover each pumpkin when the corners are pulled together and still have enough tulle left over to make a beautiful froth where it’s gathered and tied at the stem. This is a great time to talk about the surface area of a 3D shape (the pumpkin) and compare it to the surface area of a 2D shape (the tulle square).

Older kids can calculate the area (the surface area of a sphere is four times the area of a circle with the same radius) and make sure their tulle square has at least that much square footage. Younger kids can estimate the amount of tulle needed by wrapping a measuring tape around the pumpkin and measuring its circumference — your tulle square will need to have a diagonal at least as large as your pumpkin’s circumference.

Glue pumpkin seeds onto the surface of the pumpkin (here’s a post with instructions on how to dry and color pumpkin seeds!). Sneak in some math by arranging the seeds in 5-petal Fibonacci floral patterns! The first person to guess the pattern gets to take the pretty pumpkin home!

Make a turkey out of a small sugar pie pumpkin. You’ll need colored feathers and construction paper of craft foam. Cut a head, wings, eyes, beak, and wattle from construction paper or craft foam. Then hot glue (with adult help) the head, wings, and tail onto the pumpkin. While positioning the turkey’s body parts, talk to your child about angles and geometry: when looking straight down at the top of the pumpkin, the head should be directly opposite the tail, and the wings should be directly opposite each other. If you were to draw a line between the head and the tail, and another line between the wings, the two lines would be perpendicular, and they would form a quadrant with four right angles.

Don’t want to use a glue gun? Secure the head and wings with masking tape, and make the turkey’s tail with fruit kabobs! Slide red strawberries, orange cantaloupe chunks, and red raspberries onto skewers — this is a great way to work in a lesson about patterns — and poke them into the tail section of the pumpkin.

When you all sit down together for turkey and pie, you’ll feel the warm glow of satisfaction from knowing that your bellies are filled with good food, your home is filled with beauty, and your children’s heads are filled with math!

Ana Picazo first fell in love with math (trigonometry, to be precise) in 10th grade and went on to earn undergraduate and graduate engineering degrees. She met her computer engineering husband at a financial software company and they have passed their love of math on to their three children. Ana blogs at Finding Bonggamom and The Savvy Source for Parents.

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