Fruit Pit Math Manipulatives & Much More!
By Diane Flynn Keith
I ate a nectarine the other day, and when I was through -- out of old habit -- I started to wash the seed. I laughed out loud at myself. I haven't done that since my sons were very young...
You see, when my kids were little, they were fascinated with the pits and seeds from fruit. During the summer, when fresh fruit was plentiful, we saved pits and seeds from fruit that we ate such as nectarines, peaches, apricots, plums, cherries, mangoes, watermelons, olives, and avocadoes. We washed them and set them on a rack or paper towels to dry. (As they dry, you can pick off any stubborn bits of fruit that remain.)
Once the pits were completely fruit-free, we kept them in a large wooden bowl on the table. They looked interesting and inviting. Just about everyone who came into the house stopped, picked up a few, examined them, and set them back in the bowl. The texture of the pits made them pleasing to touch as some were rough with deep gooves and others were smooth and shiny. They sparked conversations and triggered memories. One elderly neighbor reminisced about "cherry pit spits" he used to partake in as a kid. He and his friends would spit cherry pits to see who could spit one the farthest!
Fruit Pit Math Manipulatives!
My kids liked to sort the fruit pits while trying to remember which fruit each pit came from. We ate a variety of different kinds of peaches and plums and the kids liked to compare one peach or plum pit to another. Inevitably they would sort the pits according to sameness, size, or color. They would line up the pits of different fruit from end to end and compare one line of pits to another. They put them all in one big line and used a tape measure to find out how long it was. We counted how many we had of each kind. I used them as math manipulatives to demonstrate simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts -- as well as skip-counting by two's, five's, etc.
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Fruit Pit Toys!
The boys took the bowl of pits from room to room as they played. They used them as obstacles when playing with toy cars. They filled the back of their toy dump-trucks with pits. Some of the pits even substituted as characters or scenery in imaginary games with action figures, dolls, and stuffed animals. They used the pits as decorative tops on towers they built with blocks.
Fruit Pit Toss!
Sometimes the kids would dump the bowl of pits out on the floor, set the bowl a distance away from them, and try and toss the pits into the bowl.
Fruit Pit Games!
We substituted fruit pits for board game pieces in tic-tac-toe, Candyland, checkers, and eventually games like monopoly.
Speaking of Board Games...
Have you played the cooperative board game called Harvest Time? It's for ages 3-7. In the game you plant and harvest gardens. The goal is to harvest your garden before Winter comes with the help of other players. My husband and I spent hours playing this game with our kids -- it's great fun! It's made by Family Pastimes - a company that makes all kinds of cooperative, educational board games for children of all ages. Here's a direct link to their games for ages 3-7.
Fruit Pit Marbles
As the kids got older and had the manual dexterity to do it, they used fruit pits as marbles too (just as ancient Egyptians did). Here's how:
- A different color marker pen for each player.
- 5-6 cherry pits (or reasonably round fruit pits that will sort of roll) for each player.
- 1 large, round-ish peach pit to use as a "shooter."
Each player selects a different color marker and marks their playing pieces (fruit pits) by drawing a line around the circumference of the pit. (This helps players to tell their game pieces or pits apart from another's.) Form a circle on the ground with chalk. Each player puts five cherry pits in the circle and uses a peach pit as a shooter. Players take turns "shooting" or rolling...or sort-of-skimming their "shooters" along the ground...into the circle (from outside the circle) to knock the cherry pits out of the circle. If a cherry pit is knocked out of the circle, the player that knocked it out gets another shot. A player's turn continues until they miss. When a player's turn is over, he/she picks up the pits they knocked out of the circle and keeps them until the game is over. The winner is the player with the most pits after all of the pits have been hit out of the circle.
Preschooler Variation: Preschool age children may not have the dexterity or temperament to play this game. They may enjoy watching older siblings play. For little ones, you can make it non-competitive and more open-ended. Just draw a circle on the ground with chalk. Set lots of cherry or plum pits in the center (you want lots of pits there so they can hit one easily). Show them how to skim a peach pit across the ground to try and hit a plum or cherry pit. See how many they can knock out of the circle. Have fun!
Fruit Pit and Seed Reads!
There are a number of children's books about seeds. Here are a few your family may enjoy:
- Cherry Tree by Ruskin Bond is the story of a little girl in India who shares some cherries with her grandfather. At his suggestion, she plants a cherry seed. The girl and the tree grow up together, experiencing changes with each season. On the last page she is a grown woman, sitting beneath the cherry tree with her grandfather. Ages 4-8.
- One Watermelon Seed by Celia Barker Lottridge follows two children as they plant seeds in a garden counting from 1 watermelon seed to 10 seeds of corn -- and then to 100 at harvest time. Ages 4-8.
- The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss has been a children's favorite for over 60 years. It's the story of a little boy's faith that the carrot seed he plants will grow. In the face of opposition and doubt by everyone who tells him it will not grow, he tends it with conviction that it will. It does -- and his carrot becomes a grand prize winner at the state fair. Ages 4-8.
- Anno's Magic Seeds by Mitsumasa Anno seamlessly integrates math into a wonderful storyline kids ages 3-8 will enjoy.
- The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle tells the story of a flower that is really a lesson in the life cycle of plants for ages 4-8.
- Planting A Rainbow by Lois Ehlert follows a mother and child as they select flower seeds from a catalog, plant them, tend them, and enjoy the rainbow of colors when the flowers bloom. Ages 4-8.
- Jack's Garden by Henry Cole is a story (and subtle science lesson) told in rhyme about a child who plants a flower garden. Ages baby-preschool.
Fruit Pit Percussion!
Make a percussive musical instrument -- a shaker!
- Cardboard Paper Towel or Toilet Paper Roll
- Tissue Paper
- Duct Tape
- Cherry Pits, Watermelon Seeds, Olive Pits, Date Pits, Apricot Pits, or small Plum Pits.
Take the cardboard toilet paper or paper towel roll and cover one end with some tissue paper. Use duct tape to fasten the tissue paper onto the tube end. Then, cover the tissue paper that has been placed over the end of the tube with duct tape to reinforce it. Put some seeds inside the open end of the tube. Then, cover that end with tissue paper and duct tape. You can cover the whole tube with duct tape for uniformity or decorate it with markers or stickers. Now, give it a shake and see how it works. Sounds will vary depending on length of cardboard tube and what kinds of seeds and how many you use.
Fruit Seed Paper Plate Art!
You will need a variety of fruit seeds and pits. Spread some glue on a paper plate. Then, set the fruit pits on the glue in any kind of design. Children can make random patterns using seeds of different colors and shapes. Or try to make a geometric shape like a triangle or a star, or design a face, or make a stick-figure person. Let dry and display.
Watermelon Variation: Use markers to color about 1 inch of the outside rim of the paper plate green. Color the center of the paper plate red. Glue watermelon seeds randomly over the red portion of the plate to make it look like a slice of watermelon!
Online Fruit Pit Art Gallery!
- It seems we aren't the only people fascinated by fruit pits. At this website you can see the work of an artist who carves faces on pits!
- You'll find more pictures of carved pits, along with detailed explanations on how it's done here: Peach Pit Carving Please remind children that carving is an activity for teens and grown-ups -- and not for little kids!
Planting Fruit Trees from Seeds & Pits
You can try growing fruit trees from saved pits. Sometimes you'll have success, sometimes not. In some cases, trees may grow, but not bear fruit. If you want to give it a try....here's how...
How To Plant A Peach, Nectarine, Apricot or Plum Tree
- After eating a piece of fruit, clean the pit and put it in a plastic bag. Place it in the refrigerator and store it until September or October.
- Pick a good, sunny spot in your yard where there is room for a tree to grow. Place the pit about five inches beneath the soil surface. (You might want to mark the spot with a craft stick so you won't forget where you planted it.)
- Wait for spring, and you should see a shoot poke above the ground indicating your tree is growing. It should continue to grow and be quite visible by mid-summer. Water your tree and fertilize it with fruit tree spikes that you can purchase at a garden center. If you take good care of your tree, you may have fruit in 2-3 years!
Note: Fruit trees can be difficult to grow from seed. Plant several to have a better chance of one germinating. You can always remove seedlings that you don't want, should more than one sprout.
How To Plant Oranges, Lemons, Tangerines, & Grapefruits
To grow oranges, lemons, tangerines, or grapefruits just fill a planting pot with dampened soilless potting mix. Plant the seed about half an inch deep. Cover the top of the pot with plastic wrap, and place it in a warm, bright location out of direct sun. It may take up to 6 weeks before it starts to sprout. When it does, move it to where it will get bright light. Plants grown in this way rarely bear fruit but they make decorative house plants for a time.
How To Plant Avocado Seeds
Avocados are relatively easy to grow although it may take 3-8 weeks for roots and shoots to emerge. Take an avocado pit and wash it off. Let it dry for a couple of days. Peel away the skin as much as you can. Stick 3 or 4 toothpicks into the seed and then set it (broad end down) in a jar of water -- so that just the bottom portion of the seed touches the water. Replenish water as needed. Once roots start to grow, plant the pit in potting mix leaving just a little of the pit sticking above soil level. Place your avocado plant in a sunny window, water it making sure it has good drainage, and spray it with a light mist of water occasionally. You can transplant it outdoors when it gets big.
If you really want to have fruit-bearing trees go to your local nursery or garden supply store. You can purchase seedlings and get good advice on where to plant them and how to care for them.
Have fun learning with fruit pits and seeds, and give your little ones a hug for me,
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Copyright 2006, Diane Flynn Keith, All Rights Reserved