Discuss the peanut plant, its structure (leaf, flower, peg, fruit and roots) and life cycle. Peanut plants can take two months from planting to harvest but are easy to grow. Experiments with photosynthesis are valuable in the following activity.
When the ground is warm and there is not a chance of freezing, students can grow peanut plants outside. If the weather is not appropriate, students can plant inside and transplant later. A good way to start is to soak the raw unshelled nuts for a few days to watch them sprout. Place two to three nuts or sprouts about five to six inches deep about a foot apart. Using different kinds of soil (loam, clay, humus, and sand) and enriching the soil with fertilizer will show students how Dr. Carver worked. Peanuts will need to be dug up and removed from the pegs. Dry the peanuts for two weeks or so before eating, roasting, etc.
Partially submerge a potato of any kind into a jar of water. Use toothpicks to hold the top half of the potato above the water. After vines and roots appear, transplant to a pot of soil or outside. This is also another good area to discuss and experiment with different kinds of soil.
Students in younger grades can learn to sort foods into the food groups by a show of hands or through drawing or cutting out pictures. The food groups include Breads, Cereals and Grains, Fruits and Vegetables, Dairy products, Meats and Proteins, and Fats, Oils and Sweets.
Older students can research the structure of a peanut plant and a peanut. They can start by dissecting a peanut and/or peanut plant. Working in groups or alone, they can draw a diagram and explain what parts of the plants create what products. Research can also reveal what percentages of the plant are protein, fat, vitamins, etc.
Using recipes and labels, students can learn about the amount of fat, protein, etc. in a particular item. Discussions can follow about making wise dietary choices.
Taking a nature walk is both relaxing and informative. This can be a tremendous step in teaching children how to handle stress. Finding items to use for an art project is one goal. Another might be to find berries to crush and use for painting and other materials to use for brushes, etc. Remind students not to ingest the things they find on the nature walk. Poisonous plants can hurt or even kill a student.
Drawing, painting or in some way recreating the plants and animals found on a nature walk is a fun activity. Older students can learn to identify the types of plants by their common and Latin names.
Another field trip could be to go to the grocery store. How many different kinds of nuts are on display? How are they different in texture, smell and taste? How many products are made from peanuts other than peanut butter? How many types of peanut butter can be found?
Dr. George Washington Carver believed in using all of a plant and not wasting any of it. What can students do with a peanut? What can they do with the shell and the seed? Students can use the scientific method: identify a problem, form a hypothesis, gather data by observance, experimenting and researching, and test an hypothesis over and over. Working in groups, students must determine what they want to know, experiment, keep a log and be able to explain whether their results support or disprove their theories.
A simple experiment uses mathematics. Put a teaspoon of shelled raw peanuts into a jar, and add ten teaspoons of water. Leave it overnight. The next day students can observe that the peanuts are larger. Measurement will indicate how much water is left and how much was absorbed. Group discussion following this experiment reveals how and why a seed needs water to germinate or stimulate growth. Finally, the softening of the nut provides a pantry of food for the growing plant until it can use photosynthesis and grow roots to sustain itself. Younger students can use peanuts in counting games. Eat the right answers, but compost the wrong ones.
Accuracy in this same experiment can reinforce the scientific method for older students.
Dr. Carver loved music. He sang soprano and played the organ, piano, accordion and violin. Students can listen to music and draw pictures to illustrate what they hear. They might also use magazines to cut and paste pictures of instruments.
Older students might identify the instruments they hear in the music. Writing a poem or a short story to accompany the music is another idea. Students should be encouraged to draw and label a peanut plant.
Using sponges or items found on a nature walk, students can create their own artwork. Encourage using ALL of the items and not wasting anything. Remember that Dr. Carver was a great recycler.
Take a look at the garbage. What is in there now that can be recycled? Have students bring a small bag of garbage from home without discussing how it will be used. As a group or in pairs, students can identify what can be recycled and document the ratio of recyclable material to that which they must throw away. Using a map, trace Dr. Carver's life journey from Diamond, Missouri to Tuskegee, Alabama. Use the chronology in this book. Use another map to follow Booker T. Washington's journeys.
Dr. Carver kept himself alive by doing other people's domestic chores, including running a laundry. A group discussion about practical jobs can lead to discussion of why Booker T. Washington created Tuskegee Institute. Have students learn how to properly starch and iron shirts to appreciate hard labor and pride in a job well done.
Students can interview a farmer to learn how crops are grown, rotated and harvested. A written, oral, or videotaped report should follow.