How To Carve Cool Pumpkins Fast and Easy

Carving pumpkins into jack-0-lanterns is a quintessential childhood experience. However, for too many parents and kids, carving pumpkins turns into a long drawn out project that isn’t even fun anymore by the end. To avoid that, all you have to do is follow some simple tips to create fun, easy, jack-0-lanterns.

jack-o-lanterns pumpkins
This year’s jack-o-lanterns.

Pumpkin Carving Time

Let’s start from the beginning. Like most childhood activities, carving a pumpkin is fun for a certain amount of time. Then, it turns into work for the kid, and stress for the parent. Just how much time you have depends upon your child’s temperament and their age. Either way, if you follow this pumpkin carving for kids guide, you should have nothing but fun.

Cleaning the Pumpkins

Cleaning out the pumpkin guts is where the whole project falls apart for many families. The problem is that while cleaning out the pumpkin is part of the experience, it can take way too long, especially if you have little hands trying to pull out slippery strands one at a time. Instead, let the kid start cleaning the insides out, then offer to help. Most kids will allow help after a few minutes once the fun wears off.

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For kids that have done jack-o-lanterns before, they may be willing to have you just do the cleaning for them. Don’t resist that notion. Cleaning the pumpkin is not the fun part, no matter what your “can do spirit” keeps trying to tell you.

To easily clean out a pumpkin, get a large metal spoon with a long handle. Yes, it needs to be metal. A metal spoon will not only scrape off the pumpkin threads, it will dig into the pumpkin flesh a little bit. This is a good thing. Rather than fighting where the strings are attached, power through a 1/4″ of pumpkin flesh. The strings will still be attached to the flesh, but the flesh they are attached to will no longer be attached to the pumpkin. I can clean out a full-size pumpkin in less than 5 minutes with this technique. It will take you much longer if you pull with your hand or use a plastic spoon that won’t dig into the flesh.

When it comes to the top, don’t try and clean it at all. Hold it over the trash, and use your knife to cut off the bottom of the lid. Strings gone, clean lid left behind. Voila!

Pumpkin Patterns

There are two ways to carve a pumpkin. One way is the old fashioned triangles, squares, and jagged mouth. Don’t dismiss this right way. Big blocky shapes let the most light through, and it’s what everyone means when they say jack-o-lantern anyway. You don’t see any movies with the Headless Horseman riding through the forest with a carefully detailed Hello Kitty pumpkin on his head do you?

Every year, I carve a pumpkin too. Daddy’s pumpkin, they call it. Mine is triangle eyes and jagged mouth. Everyone loves it just as much as the more “picture” pumpkins.

That being said, your kids will probably want to do something of their own. Resist the urge to let them draw it. There is a very big difference between a drawing and what you can actually cut out of a pumpkin with a 1 inch thick rind. Unless they are drawing big blocky shapes, this is another area of frustration and time wasting. For my money, there is nothing better than a pre-made pumpkin pattern to avoid frustration.

If you have older, artistic kids, who understand the need for wide pattern slits, you can try letting them draw it. Even then, consider drawing on paper instead of on the pumpkin itself. You get more tries and better chances to get it right without any drama.

Choosing a Jack-0-Lantern Design for Your Pumpkin

Here is where some parenting comes in. Yes, you want your kiddo to get to make what they want from their pumpkin, however, you also need to make them understand some reality. A detailed horsey with flowing main is not possible on a pumpkin without dedicated effort. Be sure to reinforce the notion that pumpkins are not drawings or paintings. You want fun, flickering light coming through them in the darkness of Halloween night, not something you can mount on the wall.

The best move here is to get generic ideas. For example, I want to do a cat, or a horse, or a bat, are good ideas. I want to do the Kitty from a specific children’s show, is less desirable. I want to do Bumblebee from the Transformers movies is a NO. (Note, Hello Kitty is fine and easy thanks to her simplistic expression.)

Once you have an idea, it’s time to find a jack-o-lantern template for your pumpkins.

Where to Get Pumpkin Patterns for Jack-o-Lanterns

There are books with pumpkin patterns you can buy at the store. Some libraries even have some. If you buy the book, make sure your kids are already on board with a pattern in the book BEFORE you buy it. Otherwise, you’ll be upset you paid $6 for something they won’t use, and they’ll be upset they can’t make what they want to make. You can get them cheaper online, but this will take some planning ahead. If you want to get a pumpkin pattern book at the last minute, go to Michael’s or Jo-Ann Fabrics website (or get their app) and get a 40 percent off coupon, or whatever they have before you head to the store.

Of course, you can get lots of free pumpkin templates for free. Free jack-o-lantern templates are easily available online. Just search for cat pumpkin pattern or cat pumpkin template, or whatever you are looking for. Now, instead of wading through the moron-town of websites setup to make you view as many ads as possible before actually showing you a pattern, click the IMAGES button at the top of Google to get pictures. Now, let your kid sit on your lap and pick out a pattern.

Click the IMAGES button at the top of Google to get pictures of the patterns.
Click the IMAGES button at the top of Google to get pictures of the patterns.

Remember, simple is better for pumpkins. Remember that fine details do not let through as much light and won’t look as cool in the light.

The success of your pumpkin carving event requires you to get the pattern selection right. So, use your persuasion skills here. Gentle guidance while choosing will pay off in spades.

Now, print your template (black and white is fine).

Carving the Pumpkin

Depending upon the age of your child, they might not be able to actually use the knife to cut through the pumpkin. That doesn’t mean they can’t do anything.

Tape the pattern to the pumpkin. Then, have your child poke holes along the pattern through the paper into the pumpkin. This will create a pattern to cut along. If they are old enough, they can do the cutting, if not you can “help” with the cutting. Emphasize that getting the pattern on there is the real work and that you are just doing the easy, mindless, end part of cutting it out. That way, they feel like they did the pumpkin. Be sure to tell them was a good job they did and minimize your involvement with the knife.

punched out pumpkin pattern
This is a Minion face holes punched into pumpkin ready to be carved.

Now, turn off the lights and put a candle, or fake light candle inside.

Voila! Joyous Halloween experience without tears or frustration.

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