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10 Ways to Use Indian Corn for Autumn Learning

Growing up, I remember being obsessed with Indian Corn!  I would look longingly at it and linger my fingers over the kernels.  I loved the colors, the texture, the season, and everything about them.  We never got to bring any home, which might be why I'm still obsessed with them as an adult.  We've done so many things with them over the years that I decided it was time to write a post about them.

1- Pick the Kernels off with Tweezers
Probably one of the most obvious activities with Indian Corn is to take the kernels off the ears.  Using tweezers to accomplish the task helps strengthen kids fingers for better handwriting.  The kernels can also be removed with fingers.  I've found that rubbing your thumb along them or rubbing two ears together can get them off quickly.

To enhance the learning, talk with your children about corn's place in history as food for animals and people.  You can tell them about how children used to de-kernel hundreds of cobs over the winter to help their families.  It would also be a good time to read a book about Squanto.

2- Play with Kernels in Sensory Bin
There are very few kids who don't enjoy a sensory bin.  Whether you have a small amount of kernels or a swimming pool full (buy feed corn), kids will love running their hands through the corn, playing with farm animal toys, and pouring them out of cups.

3- Grow New Corn Plants
Ask your kids, do these kernels look alive or dead?  Do you think anything living can come from these wrinkled, dry things?  Either plant the kernels in dirt or into a shallow container of water.  It can be quite dramatic if you put an entire cob in water and check on it days later to see it's sprouted all over.  This would be a great activity as part of a study on plant life cycles or the seeds we eat.

4- Plant Kernels in Play Dough
Play dough is such a great medium for learning!  Squishing, patting, shaping, kneading, pinching, rolling and more!  All things that build fine motor skills and strengthen fingers for handwriting!  Either the parent or child can pat the dough flat and then the child can begin pushing seeds into the dough in rows.  Alternatively, the adult could incorporate the kernels into the dough and have the child dig to pinch them out.  This might be a good time to read, "The Life and Times of Corn" together.

5- Count the Kernels
Whether it's possible to make math more interesting and seasonal, we homeschoolers (and teachers) will do it!  Use the kernels as counters for your regular school workbook or play a "Gone Game" with them and a dice (learn more here).  Compete to see whose corncob has the most kernels or pass them around the table in a game of Left, Right, Center.  They can also be grouped into fives or tens to practice skip counting.

6- Grind into Cornmeal
My kids tried grinding the corn kernels with a rock and found it to be very difficult.  It might have easier if we had a mortar and pestle.  Educational discussion points for this activity are how people ate corn as a grain.  If you get enough cornmeal, you can mix up some grits or cornbread.

7- String onto a Garland
Why should Christmas get all the pretty decorations?  If you're like me and think that Thanksgiving deserves some of the glory, an Indian Corn garland is a good place to start.  Soak the kernels in water overnight and then they should be pliable enough to be pierced with a needle and thread.  Alternatively, put the seeds on wire to make a wreath.  Hang them outside to be food for squirrels or inside as festive decor.

8- Make a Picture
It's an art project!  Give your kids a pile of kernels and a glue bottle and see what they can create.  Or have them lay out according to color and make a mandala.  Use cardboard for added stability.  Make them on canning lids to create ornaments.

9- Spoon or Pour Them
One of the activities that Montessori method encourages for preschool aged kids is pouring and spooning different objects.  Learning to properly pour a drink or serve yourself with a spoon is an important practical skill.  Your kids can practice these activities with Indian Corn kernels!  Pour from a small pitcher into a shot glass or scoop up a spoonful of corn and dump it into a bowl.

10- Measure Them
Use the kernels to fill up geometric shapes, measure them in cups or spoons, and weigh them against each other in the balance.  To add in some literacy, read "Me and the Measure of Things" and "Millions to Measure."  If you have the tools, measure the size of the kernels and graph them.

Make a Squish Bag
A squish bag is exactly like it sounds, a bag of squishy things to squish with your hands.  Suitable for every age from baby to elderly, the squish bag gives an interesting sensory experience.  You can put whatever you want in the bag (like this Mickey one from summer), but this fun idea comes from Fantastic Fun and Learning!

Make Popcorn
I was so happy and amazed when I ran across this blog post from Mom Endeavors.  The kids had asked me if it was the same type of corn, but I didn't know the answer.  Now we do!  To add another dimension to this activity, make it an experiment.  Have the kids measure out 20 kernels and see how many of the 20 pop.  Or test different containers to see which one pops the corn better.

Make Corn Husk Dolls
Whether you're studying some specific period in history, doing a book study on Little House in the Big Woods, or just wanting to use up your corn husks, these dolls would be a great addition to your learning.  Easy enough for kids to make, biodegradable, and cheap- everything you want in a craft.  This tutorial comes from Gift of Curiosity.

Roll Play Dough
As I've already mentioned, play dough is wonderful.  This idea from Little Learners Lounge uses a whole ear of corn as a textured rolling pin.  Make the dough with cornmeal for even more texture.  This seems like a great way to keep kids busy while you work on Thanksgiving dinner.

Make Corn Dance
This experiment from Little Bins for Little Hands suggests several different chemical reactions that kids can do in the kitchen to make the kernels "dance" in a jar.  What a fun way to add some science to the theme unit!

Make a Bird Feeder
After you've picked all the kernels off the corn cob, slather it with peanut butter.  Then, just roll the cob in bird seed and hang up in your yard.  If you have extra Indian Corn cobs with the kernels still attached, you can put them outside for the squirrels to eat.  Picture from Wikihow.

Are you feeling inspired?  I am!  Putting together this project has made me want to go to the grocery store and buy some more Indian Corn!  Do you have more ideas?  Leave your suggestions in the comment section below!

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If you're looking for a great Thanksgiving unit study, I highly recommend this bundle from Every Star is Different.  The printable includes a section on Native American history, another on Explorers, and a third one on Thanksgiving traditions around the world.  These Montessori-inspired pages cover math, literacy, culture, history, and more.

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