Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater

October 27th, 2007 by Steph

Last Monday I arrived at my high school to discover with dismay that I was at the wrong school. It’s not so surprising actually. With 15 schools to visit, it’s a wonder I don’t make this mistake all the time. With one hour to regroup, I went home and began my planning for elementary school lessons. Raw ingredients for the day’s lessons included:

  • my

    smallest school, with only 10 kids in the entire student body

  • my voice, hoarse and almost inaudible, from a long and insistent cold

I racked my brain: with an hour’s notice, how could I finagle a day of successful lessons? And then it hit me: Of course! I would bring the pumpkins.

Living in Japan, it defies all expectation to have a hallway full of large orange gourds. As I learned last Halloween, pumpkins are remarkably scarce in Japan, at least the kind I grew up with in America. Last year, faced only with green, thin-skinned squash to carve, my English club instead opted to make Halloween origami. Creative, but slightly sacrilegious.

A month or two later, as the winter weather advanced and snow began to fall, I was not a little surprised to find an unusual care-package in my mailbox: pumpkin seeds from my father. Asking no questions about how these horticultural gems passed through customs, and knowing I would kill every last plant with my black thumb, I ferried these seeds off for a better life with a friend in the next town over. The seeds were then passed on again to some bemused and trusting farmers who promised to look after the little guys. And 5 months later, here we are, with pumpkins in my hallway, hiding from the rainy season, waiting for their moment to shine.

Enter stage left: Hikage Elementary. Pumpkins were the perfect answer for my little school: small classes would ensure that everyone could get their hands dirty, and a carving lesson would be gentle on my already failing voice. With this plan firmly in place, I arrived at Hikage (on time, thank you very much) to find a Song and Dance routine waiting for me:

Elementary Dance

After 45 minutes of entertaining the first graders (no knife oriented activities for you, kiddos!), we began pumpkin carving in earnest.

All my kids thought that fresh pumpkin was just about the nastiest thing they’d ever smelled. Some of my kids looked like they were going to pass out from the fumes. One of the joys of this lesson was watching the kids decide whose drawing to use for the jack o’ lantern face. Check out the whiteboard below:

Here we’ve got 3 different pumpkin drawings by the 5th and 6th graders. Instead of choosing their favorite drawing, they decided to make their final face by combining elements of everyone’s drawings: the unibrow from the drawing on the left, the eyes from the one in the middle, and the mouth from the one on the right. The end result is circled in red. A brilliant demonstration of group dynamics in Japan. And it made for not a bad Jack o’ lantern either.

The day went really smoothly and we all had a great time. Sadly, I discovered that this particular school is closing in March due to low student attendance. Sad, because Hikage Elementary (which poetically translates to, as far as I can tell, “school of the sun’s shade”) is a forgotten and overlooked gem on the very outskirts of Noshiro.

Take for example the principal, who makes drawings every month, incredibly detailed drawings which illustrate everything that happened at school in those 30 days. The drawings include the staff and children, and the faces are left blank, so that everyone can draw-in their own expression. Scenes vary from harvesting sweet potatoes to the school festival to field trips to see robots. At the end of the year, these pictures are bound into a book and given to the graduating students. This intimacy and level of personal attention will certainly be lacking wherever they end up next year. I’m sure my students will quickly adjust to their new, larger schools this spring. Schools where class sizes of 30 or 40 students make it impossible to do hands-on lessons like pumpkin carving. I’m glad I got this one last opportunity to hang out with these kids as a group, and and take advantage of the school’s small size to do something special for our last lesson, before the students are scattered to the winds. Carving pumpkins together was the perfect way to achieve closure. Best of luck next year, everyone!

4 Responses to “Cheater, Cheater, Pumpkin Eater”

  1. mom Says:

    This is a very sweet blog. I also was able to see the video. I don’t know why the video in the previous blog would not play. The touch of getting pumpkin seeds from your dad to grow was delightful. This is just the kind of thing he thinks of, and you were able to create a perfect lesson with one of them. I agree with you about the value of the small class.

  2. papa Says:

    WOW !!!
    If you ever lose your taste for teaching you can always become a farmer. Grandma Boegeman would say,
    “Yep, that’s my Grandaughter.


  3. papa Says:


    P.S. Don’t forget to save lots of seeds for next year.

    Papa again

  4. Suz Says:

    Halloween oraGamI?!@#! That is hilarious! I do like this year’s real-pumpkin-based result, though.

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