We have had mini-pumpkins, gourds, and all kinds of fall squashes in our space for a little over a month. They have been carried around, put in baskets, rolled down the slide, talked into like telephones, “cooked” in the play oven, fed to the dinosaurs, and any number of other amazing feats of wonder. It was about time for these emblems of fall to find a home in a compost bin somewhere, and I decided to set up for one final squash-extravaganza. I taped paper to our table so the entire surface was covered, displayed the squashes in the middle, and waited for the kids to be drawn to the table.

“Oooo…what are *these* for??” (Amazing how the squashes take on a new life when they are moved to a new place.)

“I don’t know. They have an interesting texture. I thought they might be interesting to use with some paint.”

Looks like I was on to something. Everyone was thrilled with the plan. We all gathered at the table, and I brought out paint and platters. I imagined the kids would use the squashes like stamps — after all, they had such unique textures — but that’s not at all what happened next!

Cadence was compelled by the colors in front of her, and began using her hands to cover the smooth hourglass shaped gourd with as much paint as she could hold in her hand at a time, all the while stopping to check the colors on her hands.

Addie started with pink. She put her hands in it, and methodically rubbed the paint in the bottom of the metal tin. Occasionally, she would take her hands out to push them on the paper…excited to see her hand prints left behind. She asked for me to add white to the tin, which I did. She continued to mix with her hands. She began reaching out towards the blue on the paper and adding whatever blue was on her hands into her tin. Soon, she ended up with a lavender color.

“Look, Emily…it’s purple!” She continued to add blue and watched the color slowly morph. Occasionally, she reached out and rubbed her hands on one of the mini-pumpkins.

Simone started with a brush, painting her arms, and soon moved to painting her arms with her hands. The whole time saying, “This feels amazing!”

Christian took some paint and began to rub it on Simone’s arms. I hesitated at first, wondering if I should stop the kids from painting each other! 🙂 But, the activity was very calm, and Christian genuinely interested in connecting with her friend and doing something nice for someone her. Seeing as how Simone didn’t mind, I let it continue.


Henry gathered the colors into his hands, and began slapping the paper with his palm. He laughed and added more paint. Occasionally, he picked up the brush to see what would happen when he stirred things up a bit, but mostly he worked to make loud hand prints all over his section.

In the end, we had no squash prints. Many of the gourds ended up painted, but not the way I envisioned. I was fascinated watching this cluster of children so calmly engaged in this experience together — each one pursuing his or her own ends, pausing to give feedback or ask for help from their table-mates. What a profound experience to witness this powerful social feedback in the context of the kiddos pursuing their own ideas!! This is the root of the emergent curriculum.