The kids at work make for great family shots, according to master carver Sheryl Shermak, who stages her 12th-annual Pumpkin Yard featuring hundreds of carved pumpkins plus ghosties and ghoulies at her Victoria home.
The camera is important, but even more so is the right pumpkin and where the family carves, she says.
A round table covered with a vinyl cloth – yes, it's going to be messy – is best. This allows parents to supervise and jump in when any cutting looks risky for little fingers.
Leave kitchen knives in the drawer. There are pumpkin-carving tool kits available. So are kids' pumpkin carving saws. Choose tools with chunky blades and chunky handles for little hands to grasp, Shermak says.
She is reluctant to say at what age a child should be allowed to carve. Parents know their child's motor skills best, says Shermak, who has a master's degree in clinical social work.
Generally, older children prefer – and can handle – the more intricate designs of stencils. Younger children have more fun creating jack o' lantern faces, says Shermak, who has taught school kids her craft.
The pumpkin should be firm and mould-free. The best shape depends on whether a stencil is to be used or a freehand jack o' lantern design. Rounder is better for the latter, while a slightly flatter side is preferred for stencils.
Stencils can be found in craft stores or on the Internet. Once a stencil has been chosen, attach it – push pins work best – to the flatter side of the pumpkin. Using a poker from the carving kit – or even a nail – punch holes to outline the pattern.
Parents should do the next step – cutting the lid. A keyhole saw is ideal, Shermak says. Use the saw at a 60- to 65-degree angle to cut the lid, remembering it has to be large enough for hands to reach inside.
Even the youngest child can then help scoop out the seeds with a large kitchen spoon.
"This is fun, if they're not squeamish," Shermak says. Once the cavity is clean, connect the dots (holes outlining the design) with a kid's pumpkin saw. Use an up-and-down or sewing machine-like motion. Once you are done, push the cut-out pieces inside. Bigger ones might need to be broken into parts, she says.
Drop a candle or LED light inside. Replace the lid and wait for Halloween.
The Internet is a good source of inspiration for jack o' lantern faces, according to Shermak. Draw a face on the pumpkin with an erasable marker.
Kids might want to do their own freehand interpretation. It doesn't matter if this results in a three-eyed monster with a misplaced mouth. It's Halloween. It's supposed to be fun.
Once again, parents create the lid, seeds are spooned out, and then the design is cut out using a kid's pumpkin saw. Parents should decide if their child can do this safely.
"The younger the child the more imperfections," Shermak warns, but again, mistakes don't matter. Use them to spark young imaginations. "Make up a story for what happened, maybe it fell off a fence."
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