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Harvest the Fun 

Whether you've got an October birthday to celebrate or want to host a fun, Halloween-y activity, pumpkins provide a perfect party theme. Young kids can paint them; older kids will enjoy designing and carving them into characters. The seeds — roasted and salted — double as a healthy snack and an agricultural lesson. Party favors don't get much less expensive than 49 cents per pound. A freshly baked spice cake rounds out this "gourd-met" gathering.

Ages 3-7

For younger partygoers, pumpkin painting is a fun and safe alternative to carving. If weather permits, take the pumpkins outside and cover a table with newspaper. Get washable paints, paintbrushes and paper towels ready and let the kids have at it.

Continue the theme by face painting your guests. I recommend Snazaroo brand paints — they go on smoothly and come off easily.

Ages 8-13

For this crowd, carving is key. While younger kids should not handle sharp implements, you can pick up inexpensive kits at any local craft or grocery store for older kids. Set out the utensils on a newspaper-covered table and place trash cans nearby for easy cleanup.

Parents may want to cut out the top of the pumpkin. Slicing inward, at a 40-degree angle, helps keep the jack-o-lantern's "lid" secure. Kids can scrape out the pulp and seeds, setting the latter aside in a bowl to be washed, tossed with melted butter and salt, and roasted. Forty-five minutes in a 300-degree oven turns pumpkin seeds into a crunchy treat.

Sketch a design on the pumpkin with permanent marker or use toothpicks and a paper template to poke holes through the outline. You can easily find great carving designs online. Once the jack-o-lanterns are complete, insert and light the candles for a group photo. With the kids, of course.

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