Unlock some of nature’s mysteries for your kids with beans.

How to Grow a Bean Plant With Cotton Balls

by Debra L Turner

An unknown sage at an unknown time noted that “A child can ask questions that a wise man cannot answer.” As a busy mom constantly on the go, you’re intimately familiar with the concept. You’ve also probably come to realize that the old proverb “A picture is worth a thousand words” holds volumes of wisdom when relating to children. Some of the seemingly endless questions about the natural world that kids puzzle over concern plants. For gardening mysteries, you can turn confidently to the plant kingdom to clearly and lovingly explain itself to your youngsters in living pictures. Create a simple, engaging activity with some beans and a few household items to reveal and celebrate some of nature’s most intriguing secrets.

Soak a small handful of dried beans in a bowl of water overnight. This will soften the tough seed coats and reduce the amount of time they’ll need to germinate.

Write your child’s name on a sealable plastic sandwich zipper bag with a permanent marker. Open the bag.

Dip a cotton ball in a bowl of water. Allow some of the excess moisture to drip away, but don’t squeeze the water out of the cotton. The beans require adequate water to sprout successfully. Put the soaked cotton ball in the bottom of the bag. Add more soaked cotton balls side by side to fill the bottom of the bag in a single layer.

Poke shallow depressions in the cotton with your fingertip. Space them about 1 inch apart. Set a bean gently into each depression to allow plenty of room for each to grow. Don’t press on the beans to avoid damaging them.

Seal the plastic bag tightly to keep moisture inside. Take care to not shuffle the beans around or displace them. Tape the bag to a sunny window. A tiny sprout will emerge from each bean within a day or two, and soon thereafter you’ll see fine roots begin to grow.

Check the beans every day to make sure the cotton balls don’t dry out as you watch how quickly the sprouts grow. Use a plastic spray bottle to spritz the cotton balls with water until they’re thoroughly moistened. Don’t allow the sprouts to dry out completely. Seal the bag up tightly.

Leave the seedlings in the bag as long as they look healthy, or until the kids get bored with the activity. Transfer each little plant to an individual paper cup of potting mix. Poke a few holes in the bottoms of the cups for drainage. Set the cups on a bright, sunny windowsill. Water the seedlings enough to keep the soil surface evenly moist but not soggy or wet.

Items you will need

  • Dried beans
  • Bowls
  • Sealable plastic sandwich zipper bag
  • Permanent marker
  • Cotton balls
  • Tape
  • Plastic spray bottle
  • Paper cup
  • Potting mix
  • Rulers (optional)
  • Notebook (optional)


  • Give the kids rulers and ask them to measure the stalk and the roots. Encourage them to record their findings in a notebook, if they’re old enough.
  • Don’t worry about the bean’s position in the bag. Upside down or rightside up, the bean is hardwired to send stem and foliage upward in search of sunshine, and roots downward to seek moisture and nutrients.

About the Author

A full-time writer since 2007, Axl J. Amistaadt is a DMS 2013 Outstanding Contributor Award recipient. He publishes online articles with major focus on pets, wildlife, gardening and fitness. He also covers parenting, juvenile science experiments, cooking and alternative/home remedies. Amistaadt has written book reviews for Work At Home Truth.

Photo Credits

  • BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images