Enchanting Child-Inspired Pumpkin Carving

I’m thinking about launching a campaign similar to Nike’s using their slug line, but instead of Just Do It, I’d advocate Just ‘Let Kids’ Do It.

Letting kids do it whenever possible, when they want to, opens the door to self-expression and encourages creativity, originality, and innovation. Letting kids do it might sound simple and obvious, but it can actually be quite challenging because as parents, caregivers, and teachers, we have a natural inclination to:

  • Share our great ideas
  • Teach and demonstrate
  • Help children succeed in tasks and projects

There’s certainly no fault in these objectives, but unfortunately, the result is that our ideas tend to take over and redirect — or even discourage — our children’s original instincts. Our teaching can inhibit self-motivated learning and create unnecessary dependencies. Furthermore, as adults, we tend to define success quite differently than our children do, and our more goal-oriented perspectives can have a powerful and sometimes crippling influence.

Our interventions undermine opportunities for self-expression that are healing, stress-releasing, affirming, and profoundly confidence-building, not to mention far more interesting, meaningful, and enjoyable for all concerned.

In my post Creative Spirits – Making the Most out of Halloween, I recommend a child-centered approach to pumpkin carving:

A two-year-old child can choose a pumpkin. It might be the most lop-sided, lumpy and unattractive pumpkin we’ve ever seen, and it may not even stand up properly, but does that matter? When we let go of the notion of creating the ‘perfect’ holiday from our point-of-view and allow a child to lead in the fun, it lightens our spirit, and our child gains self-confidence because we are trusting his choices. Participation is the key.

When we bring the lumpy pumpkin home, our toddler can participate in carving it (but not with a knife). If the child wishes to scrawl something, anything, with a pen or crayon on the pumpkin, we can carve the drawing. Our child enjoys watching us carve out her creation, even if it’s just a crooked line. And when a candle is placed inside, the jack-o-lantern is complete and it is a creation our toddler takes pride in. (These look really cool. You may never want to go back to carving faces again.)

As Carol (an artist and mom) notes in the story I share below, “I know what I can do.” We all know what we can do but have yet to discover all that resides in the minds and hearts of our children. By letting them do it we’re provided a glimpse.

Hi Janet,

I read your post about Halloween. I was still trying to think about how much of the pumpkin carving our 3.5 year old daughter would be doing when I read it. Long story short, these are my favorite pumpkins! Here’s the longer version…

I am an artist, so I make a concerted effort not to draw for her since I know what I can do. I asked A to draw whatever she wanted on each pumpkin. She had been drawing foxes lately, so I thought perhaps she would draw one of those. What she did instead was draw a portrait of herself with “crazy hair” on one, and the other was of her little sister E who she said was “crying because she’s teething.”

Although I did most of the carving, A put her hand on mine and tried to do a few cuts herself. I then brought out the Dremel tool, and she had fun helping add a few scratchy details. She also let me know if I was forgetting something or missed a line. Thanks for reminding me once again to let her lead. The joy on her face really said it all!

Thank you, truly,


 pumpkin 1

pumpkin 2

pumpkin 3

pumpkin 4

Dawn also had a success to share, and she posted it on my Facebook page:

“I read your blog that suggested having your child draw on the pumpkin and an adult carve the design. My husband and I decided to try it. Our son was interested in drawing but showed some anxiety over the carving. We took two days to carve it, reassuring all the while that daddy would only cut orange, not his green drawings. When he saw the finished pumpkin lit by candles, he asked for it to be moved to his play area. He spent the rest of the night alternating between playing and admiring his pumpkin. Today he asked me twice to “turn it back on.”

Thank you for your wonderful suggestion to fully involve a toddler in Halloween fun. He obviously has a sense of ownership and pride in his creation.”


Dawn’s post inspired several other parents to enthusiastically share their children’s creations:

Melissa:  “My two year old boy drew this face and was thrilled when we carved it out for him. I was impressed it actually looked like a face and he calls it his happy punkin. It’s definitely a tradition we will keep going! My 14-month-old did the squiggle above the eye, which is a “bow” according to the 2-yr-old. I’m excited for next year having two kid-made pumpkins!”


Julia: “My 2 year old’s designs.”


Penny: “Here is my 5 yr old’s pumpkin design. He’s singing a spooky song to it.”


Sara:  “My 3 year old took great pride in her work and so did we!”


Kim: “My 21-month-old designed this one, and we had a wonderful time going to a few houses in our quiet neighborhood with him dressed as a bee. He didn’t quite choose his costume, but bee was one of his first words. He was fascinated with them buzzing about all summer, so I took that level of interest as a choice, and he loves his costume.”


Gina Marie: “This was my three-year-old’s! Thank you for your encouragement! She was so proud of it and it was our only carved pumpkin this year!”


Karin: “We did this with our 21-month-old…she LOVED it and was so excited about the process, she asked to “color more punkins” again today!”karin-pumpkin-best
Lee Anne: “He draws – I carve. He was so proud. He claims the one on the right is happy pumpkin and on the left is sad. Then I wanted to give him extra options for creativity so we got out the paints too. He loved it!”


Malgorzata: “My six year old loved it! Thank you for your post.”


Adrianne: “I found it pretty difficult to carve out my 2 year old’s excited scribbles with just a steak knife! Lol”


Sarah: “He was so proud of his pumpkin.”


Thank you to all the parents for sharing these masterpieces!


In “A Jolly Toddler Holiday” I offer a few of my ideas for letting kids do Christmas. I’d love to hear any thoughts you might have for encouraging self-expression on Halloween, Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, or just a plain-old regular day!

I share more about nurturing creativity and self-confidence in
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting



Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. I have always tried to stay out of showing my daughter things and letting her explore and figure it out on her own so to say. She is 6 now and quite independent. My challenge however is that because I have always given her this space she doesn’t want to be shown “how” to do anything and gets very angry if I try to even give her any instruction or tips on how to do something that she is struggling with and needs or wants to be able to do. For example she wanted to learn to play tennis but was having trouble hitting the ball. She was getting frustrated and I could see she was holding the racket wrong so I tried to show her how to hold the racket and she got upset with me and refused to even try it. Now if she won’t accept tips on how to hold a tennis racquet and therefore may not be able to play very well, even though she wanted to learn, that is not necessarily a problem. But in life there are times where you need to be able to let someone show you how to do something and I am starting to wonder if my daughter will recognize that at some point or will she struggle or just not succeed at things she wants to learn or is required to learn because she refuses to let anyone show her how to do anything?

    1. Interesting, Tammy. Does your daughter tend to put pressure on herself? I do not believe her resistance to instruction is the result of being trusted as a self-learner. It sounds like she feels pressure to achieve…

  2. I love these words… so incredibly true… one of the top parental tips… “our ideas tend to take over and redirect — or even discourage — our children’s original instincts. Our teaching can inhibit self-motivated learning and create unnecessary dependencies. Furthermore, as adults, we tend to define success quite differently than our children do, and our more “goal-oriented” perspectives can have a powerful and sometimes crippling influence.

    Our interventions undermine opportunities for self-expression that are healing, stress-releasing, affirming, and profoundly confidence-building, not to mention far more interesting, meaningful, and enjoyable for all concerned.”

  3. Janet,

    I love this article and Carol’s example of following her child’s lead. Those little pumpkin drawings and turning them into carvings bring back memories. I learned to work with my daughters this way, and at 26 & 27 they are highly creative and empowered young women. One is in NYC as an emerging artist the other writes many of our blog posts. “Just let kids do it” – definitely sharing this! Thank you!

  4. Thanks for your reply Janet. My daughter has always been highly capable for her age and most things seem to just come easily to her. In the very few cases where that is not the case I guess she puts pressure on herself to achieve those things since she is used to being able to do whatever she tries without much difficulty. We just are not sure why in those cases she doesn’t want to take any assistance from us and gets so angry if we try to give any helpful suggestions.

  5. This article is exactly what I needed! Tonight I observed my husband playing with our nearly 3 year. My son and I had been playing blocks in his room when he called for his Dad to come see what we (under his lead) had been working on and join us. It wasn’t long before my husband was “fixing” things, only for my son to wail “Dada messing up my house!”. Then my son said he wanted his Dad to help build a car- which resulted in Dad building a car, moving any pieces son put in the “wrong” place, and son deciding to walk away and build a tower on his own. I could see the excitement and confidence leaving him each time his work was “corrected” and it killed me. I am planning to share this article with my husband to help him see where I am coming from and would love links to any articles you have on the same topic!

  6. My husband & I told my 3.5 year old she could paint our family pumpkins — and she spent all afternoon joyfully painting about 5 pumpkins. She eventually invited me to join in. We didn’t give any direction — just paints & pumpkins — & she was in her glory. A good reminder for us to give her time & supplies to create. She has art supplies, but I guess we all forget they’re there sometimes.
    This was a great article, thank you — your work has been recommended to me by several people.

  7. These pumpkins are bringing tears to my eyes- they’re so beautiful!

    As a creative, I’ve always had the notion to let children ‘just do it’ whatever it is they want to do creatively when ‘creating’. My son’s first piece of artwork was done in a toddler art group along with my nephew and sister-in-law. I was blown away by what my son produced at only 1.5 years old, but blown completely out of the water when my SIL reached over and put ‘finishing touches’ on my child’s masterpiece.

    Perhaps a tad dramatic, but I look at this piece every day and remain perplexed by how an adult would have such a strong urge to ‘perfect’ what’s already been perfectly created by our children.

    Here’s to self expression!

  8. Over 20 years ago my son (3-4 years old then) carved his own pumpkin with a small pumpkin carving tool. He was so pleased with his creation when he was done. A pumpkin with a very large hole where the face should be! He was so proud of his hard work and it went on the porch with a candle glowing inside!

  9. This is actually a helpful thought to encourage the creativity of the children. It will also help in their overall growth.

  10. I had a Toddler Pumpkin Decorating Party. There were pumpkins all over the playground, and the toddler picked the pumpkin and there were two decorating stations. One had cookie cutters and mallets for pounding shapes, and the other had acrylic paint for painting on the pumpkin. I wish I could post pictures of the event. It was adorable!

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