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Curriculum Matrix

Lesson Plan

Storing Winter Squash

Grade Level
K - 2

Students explore a variety of vegetables that can be stored through the colder months, including roots, alliums, cole crops, and winter squash and compare and contrast how families store food now with how they stored food long ago. Grades K-2

Estimated Time
45 minutes
Materials Needed


  • Variety of storage vegetables (choose 1-2 from each category):
    • Alliums—onion, shallots, garlic, leek
    • Roots—carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, beets, potatoes
    • Cole crops—cabbage, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts
    • Winter squash—any variety

Activity 1: Growing and Storing

Activity 2: Squash Art

  • Squash Drawings Labeled or Unlabeled, 1 copy per student
  • Winter squash examples
    • Option 1 (preferred): Four squash varieties (Recommended varieties: Carnival, Delicata, Red Kurl, Kabocha)
    • Option 2: Winter Squash Varieties
  • Art supplies
    • Option 1: Watercolor (watercolor paints, paintbrush for each student, small cups of water, paper towel)
    • Option 2: Colored pencils for each student

Optional Enriching Activity:

  • Bookcase or shelf (does not need to be empty)
  • Large bag or box for holding vegetables
  • Variety of storage vegetables (Choose 2-3 from each category; different from what was used in the Interest Approach—Engagement)
    • Alliums—onion, shallot, garlic, leek
    • Roots—carrots, rutabaga, parsnips, beets, potatoes
    • Cole crops—cabbage, kale, cauliflower, brussels sprouts
    • Winter squash—any varieties

alliums: vegetables that include onions, garlic, shallots, and leaks

cole crops: vegetables in the Brassica family, including cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi

root cellar: a structure, traditionally underground or partially underground, that is used to store vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other foods without refrigeration

root vegetables: vegetables in which the edible portion grows underground

storage crops: vegetables that can be kept in a somewhat controlled environment and used weeks or months after harvest

Background Agricultural Connections

Before refrigeration, people stored food for the winter when they could not grow fresh vegetables outside in gardens or farms. Storage crops are fruits and vegetables that can be stored for long periods of time after harvest. Storage crops include alliums, root vegetables, cole crops, and winter squash.

Alliums consist of garlic-scented herbs like onions, shallots, garlic, and leeks. Root vegetables are starchy vegetables that grow underground, including potatoes, carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, radishes, and sweet potatoes. Cole crops are cool season vegetables belonging to the Brassica family such as cabbage, kale, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. Winter squash come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors and are packed full of fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients that our bodies need.

Prior to the invention of refrigeration, root cellars were used to store storage crops. A root cellar is a structure, traditionally underground or partially underground, that is used to store vegetables, fruits, nuts, and other foods without refrigeration.

  1. Display the selection of vegetables at the front of the room for the students to see.
  2. Ask the students if they can guess what you will be talking about today. After soliciting responses (students should easily come up with "vegetables"), ask if they know what these vegetables have in common.
  3. Explain that these are winter vegetables.
    • Winter vegetables store well after harvesting so that they can be eaten throughout the cold months.
    • Winter vegetables are nutrient dense and can provide us with essential nutrition during the winter months when we are more likely to get sick with colds and the flu.
Explore and Explain

Activity 1: Growing and Storing

  1. With a partner, have the students discuss what the season of winter is like where they live. (If you live in a warm climate, ask the students to discuss what winter is like in a state that has snow and very cold temperatures in the winter.) Prompt students to consider:
    • Weather
    • Activities
    • Food
    • Holidays and special events
  2. Ask the students to think about their grandparents, great-grandparents, and even great-great-grandparents or people that lived over 150 years ago. Ask the students to consider the following questions:
    • How do you think these people spent their time in the spring, summer, fall, and winter? (Many may have grown crops and had large gardens.) Compare the students' ideas with what they shared about what winter is like where they live.
    • Did people living 150 years ago have refrigerators to keep their vegetables fresh all winter long? (Maybe. Refrigeration was invented in the late 1800s and was not widely used until the early 1940s.)
    • Do you think they were able to buy fruits and vegetables that were grown in other parts of the United States or the world at their local grocery store? (Probably not. Transportation and refrigerated trucks were not available until after 1935.)
    • What did these people do long ago before fresh foods started coming here from warmer places and before we had refrigerators? Where did people get vegetables and fruit to eat when it was too cold for them to be growing outside in gardens or farms? (In many places, people long ago would have to store their vegetables and fruit from their gardens in the fall to use throughout the winter.)
  3. Show the students the Root Cellar Images and explain that many people would have had root cellars in their homes. Root cellars are usually underground or partially underground, which kept them a steady temperature year-round. Root cellars were used for storing vegetables so that people could eat fresh vegetables even in the wintertime. Today, we don't all need to have root cellars because we have grocery stores where we can get fresh food all year, and we have refrigerators that can keep food fresh. Still, many people grow vegetables themselves, or get them from farms, and store them to eat throughout the winter.
  4. Ask the students to think about the challenges of using a root cellar. (They could be a lot of work to build. They might be too hot, cold, or wet and this could cause the food to rot. The food might not taste good after being stored in the root cellar for weeks or months.)
  5. Ask the students to think about the advantages of using a root cellar. (They allow you to eat locally-grown food longer into the winter. They have low electricity costs. The food in the root cellar doesn't take up space in the refrigerator. Storing food in a root cellar can save money since food is usually less expensive during the season that it is grown.)
  6. Challenge the students to design a root cellar for their family or friends. Have them draw a picture of the root cellar that includes answers to the following:
    • Where will it be located so it could be at least partially underground?
    • How will you design and build shelving and storage structures for food to be kept during the winter?
    • What winter vegetables will you store? Will these vegetables be stored raw or will you use a preservation method such as dehydrating or canning? (Consider allowing students to taste samples of canned and dehydrated foods.)

Activity 2: Squash Art

Before beginning this activity, prepare the watercolor paints (if using). Watercolor works particularly well for this activity, but colored pencils work well too. If you use squash varieties different from the four varieties on the labeled drawing sheet (Carnival, Delicata, Red Kuri, Kabocha), use the unlabeled sheet instead.

  1. Explain to the students that winter squash is a particularly interesting group of vegetables:
    • Some winter squash (like Hubbard and butternut) can be stored and eaten for over six months. That's much longer than many other storage vegetables
    • Winter squash also comes in many, many varieties of different sizes, shapes, and colors.
    • Pumpkins are a type of winter squash.
    • The flesh of winter squash can be yellow to bright orange and is often sweet.
    • Winter squash is high in fiber and vitamins A and C and many other important nutrients.
    • Winter squash is cooked before eating and can be roasted or made into soups, stews, sauces, and desserts like pie.
  2. Show the students the varieties of winter squash. (If you do not have winter squash examples, show some of the Winter Squash Varieties pictures.) Discuss the names of the squash and ask the students to describe the differences between them. Tell them to pay particular attention to the details because they will be painting or coloring some of the squashes.  Ask, "What do you notice about the size, shape, and color?"
  3. Distribute the Squash Drawing Sheet Labeled or Unlabeled and art supplies to each student.
  4. Encourage the students to come to the front of the room to look closely at the squash before beginning to paint, or plan to pass the squashes around the room so they can see them up close.
  5. Give the students time to paint the squash varieties, encouraging them to add as much detail and color as they can.
  • Root Cellar Role Play

    Before class starts and ideally when students are not in the room or are engaged in another activity, prepare the "rootcellar." Choose an out of the way shelving unit in the classroom to be the root cellar. Distribute 4-5 storage vegetables on the shelves, making sure that there is at least one vegetable from each group (allium, roots, cole crops, and winter squash). Keep the remaining vegetables in the box or bag at the front of the room.

    1. Tell the students that they are going to pretend to be someone from 150 years ago getting ready to make soup for dinner and will need to gather the ingredients from the root cellar.
    2. With students remaining in their seats, walk to the shelf with the vegetables, narrating as you go, "I'm heading to my root cellar. I wonder what vegetables I'm going to find there." Act out walking down a flight of stairs and opening the root cellar door as you approach the vegetable shelf.
    3. Select one vegetable. Hold it up for students to see. Tell them what it is then walk it back to the front of the room where you are gathering supplies for dinner. Be sure to close the door and walk back up the steps.
    4. Ask for 3-4 volunteers to go to the root cellar one at a time to select a vegetable. They should use the stairs and be sure to open and close the door too. Gather the vegetables at the front of the room.
    5. Begin to make separate piles for the vegetables—alliums, roots, cole crops, and winter squash.
    6. Once all of the vegetables are gathered from the shelf, sort the vegetables into their appropriate group.
    7. Point out the different groups to students to discuss some of the qualities from each and how they are different from the other groups, saving the winter squash for last. For example, point out the dry paper skin of the alliums, the thick leaves of the cole crops, and the hard, hollow sound of the squash when it's knocked.
  • Seedy Squash

    Read the book How Many Seeds in a Pumpkin? by Margaret McNamara and use winter squash to complete Activities 1 and 2 from the lesson Pumpkins...Not Just for Halloween.

  • Squash Recipes

    Provide an opportunity for students to make and taste a winter squash dish in the classroom with the Sweet Slow Cooker Squash and Skillet Toasted Squash Seeds recipes.


After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Many vegetables that we grow can be stored for long periods of time and eaten during the cold months, even when we cannot grow fresh vegetables outside in gardens or farms.
  • These storage vegetables are also nutrient dense and can help keep us healthy in the winter time.
  • Root cellars were used to store vegetables before the invention of refrigeration. They were often underground.
  • Winter squash can be stored for very long periods of time and come in many different shapes, sizes, and colors.
  • Winter squash is packed full of fiber, vitamins, and other nutrients that our bodies need.
Bonnie Lohman
Midwest Food Connection
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