10/24/2013 03:10 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

A Post-Halloween Teachable Moment (That Takes Months)

If you don't throw out a jack-o-lantern after Halloween what happens to it? How can a pumpkin die a natural death? What would that look like? These child-like questions, which may drive some parents crazy, are precisely the way scientists think. The best way to discover the answers is to keep your carved pumpkin outside, exposed to the elements, wait and see for yourself. I promise it will be a transformative experience for you and your kids. (Pun intended.) Besides, if we want to grow more scientists in this country, we must honor kids and questions like these.

However, if you're a squeamish parent or teacher and you want to keep your hands clean, check out David Schwartz's new book Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices, grossly illustrated with gloriously graphic photographs by Dwight Kuhn that range from the truly grotesque to the sublime.

Better yet, read David's book and do some rotten stuff of your very own. This is a perfect example of how the Common Core State Standards open up reading and learning. It is not just about reading and experimenting. Skills are developed when a child shares what s/he learns with others through speaking and writing themselves. And these are just the literacy skills. The demise of the pumpkin is an opportunity for kids to learn how other living things use it for sustenance from a nibbling mouse to mold, fungi, and plasmodia until it is a collapsed black husk of its former self.

Halloween is traditionally a holiday that celebrates ghouls, witches, ghosts, and other scary entities, mostly imaginary. Kids have strong feelings about Halloween. A teachable moment takes advantage of strong emotions to lead a child into real learning. It is something every great teacher recognizes and relishes, dropping whatever else is going on at that time to produce some profound learning. Rotten Pumpkin is a real-life look at the natural process of degradation and decay that transforms the initial feelings of disgust and abhorrence into fascination and intrigue.

For a fuller description of the book, read School Library Journal's Elizabeth Bird's review here.

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