Gardening with Children: with Dr. Carver
In the story he visits a local garden with the children and encourages them to observe the importance of the interactions of plants and insects and their dependence on one another.
I like this book because it illustrates to children the importance of being close observers of plants and animals and encourages them to be good stewards of the natural world. There are many good lessons to be gleamed from this book that apply to student and adult gardeners alike.
"Listen to the plants, and they'll tell you what they need "
Activity: Go outside to the school garden and have each student find a place to sit for 15 to 20 minutes. Ask them to observe the plot in front of them and then have them sketch the leaves, stems or flowers they see. Ask them to also write down the sounds they hear, the scents they smell and the activities they witness.
Discussion: What do you think Dr. Carver meant when he said that we should listen to the plants to find out what they need? How did Sally know what the rosebush needed? What clues did she observe to figure this out?
"Before you change or destroy something, you need to understand why it exists and its relationship with the rest of nature"
Activity: Brainstorm with students to create a list of plants, trees, creatures and other elements such as water features, etc. in their classroom garden. Divide the list among the students and ask them to answer research questions about their topic and to draw it. Using a large wall, hang the students' art work and connect the pages with yarn, creating the strings of the web.
Discussion: What goes in the center of the web? Which lines are food chains? Is everything connected? What happens if one link is removed?
"Plants, like people, need nutritious food to help them grow"
Activity: Explain to the students how to make a good compost pile applying the concepts of balancing brown for carbon and green for nitrogen. Build a compost bin (using wooden pallets, cinder blocks, plastic bin with holes drilled to bottom, etc.).
Discussion: What do plants need to be healthy? What do people need to be healthy? Which needs are shared and which are different? Where do plants get the things they need? What happens if they can't get those things? What might cause one of these things to not be available?
"So much of what people waste can be put to good use"
Activity: (reduce, reuse, recycle...find your own treasures) Have the students identify plants in the garden. Then create garden labels using items such as old paint sticks, plastic knives, Popsicle sticks, clothes pins, and rocks. Be creative and think outside the box!
Discussion: What does it mean to recycle? What items that get sent to the dump/landfill could be reused? How could these things be used in a different way?
These are just a few possible lessons to be pulled from this book. There are many more activities and discussions related to social studies, math, poetry and gardening. I definitely recommend this book as a jumping off point for introducing gardening and the natural world to children.
Carver was a frail and sickly child and unable to work in the fields so he helped his aunt in her garden. He spent his free hours wandering the nearby woods collecting rocks and flowers which sparked his lifelong love with nature. He became known as the "plant doctor" because he helped friends and neighbors nurture sick plants back to health.
He studied music and art at Simpson College (Iowa). He was an accomplished painter and his work was displayed at the 1893 World's Fair. His interest in horticulture took him to what is today Iowa State University where he graduated and became the school's first African-American faculty member. Booker T. Washington persuaded Carver to join the faculty at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial School (Alabama) to conduct agricultural research. he remained at this institution conducting research that gained him much worldwide acclaim.
During this time, Southern agriculture was in serious decline as the result of many decades of single-crop cotton cultivation that left the soil depleted of nitrogen. Carver discovered that the soil could be revitalized by planting peanuts and soybeans. And so he began advocating crop rotation. This increased the cotton yield but farmers were left with a surplus of peanuts in alternate years which sold at lower prices. Carver began to experiment with peanuts and developed more than 300 uses for this humble legume from cooking oil to peanut butter. After a while the demand for peanuts had increased and it was no longer a financial sacrifice for farmers.
Carver was a man well before his time. Upon his death Carver contributed his entire life savings to establishing a research institute at Tuskegee.
An excellent site for elementary plant science is The Missouri Botanical Garden's Biology of Plants
Find information about Dr. Carves and his work as an inventor, researcher and humanitarian here and here