Starting Seeds with the Kids

Looking for a project to keep your kids engaged for a few weeks? How about sprouting beans?

By Sara Kendall


With nothing more high-tech than water and the heat from the sun, your kids can watch as beans, such as lima, pinto, black, or mung, literally grow roots. The experiment allows Mother Nature to put on a wondrous display right before your children’s eyes.

It takes seven to 10 days for the roots to appear, which are white or gray, skinny and wavy. Some of the beans will sprout stems and leaves from the other end of the bean, as well. At this point, the sprouted beans can be eaten, tossed in salads and stir-frys, or the seeds can be planted in dirt and eventually transferred outside to the vegetable garden.

You can grow the beans in a large glass jar or a sealable plastic bag. Here’s how.

You need:

  • Dried beans (you can buy these at the food market)
  • A clean, clear glass jar with a lid, or sealable plastic bag
  • Paper towels
  • Water

Glass Jar Method

It’s best to start with a good-sized glass jar, like one you might use to can peaches or tomatoes. Line the jar with damp paper towels. Insert the beans between the paper towels and the side of the jar so that you can easily see them. Leave some space around each bean so that the roots, when they show up, are clearly visible.

Press the paper towel against the beans to hold them in place. Fill the space in the middle of the jar with more paper towels, if needed to hold everything in suspension. Drizzle a little more water on the paper towels so that they are saturated, but not soaking wet.

Screw the lid on the jar. If it does not have a lid, cover it tightly with plastic wrap or wax paper held in place with a rubber band.

Put the jar on a sunny windowsill that is easy to access. The kids will want to monitor it daily, if not more often. As the paper towels dry out, add more water to the jar and replace the lid.

Plastic Bag Method

Use a large (not giant!) sealable plastic bag. Line it with damp paper towels, folded to fit inside the bag.

Put the beans in the bag so that they are between the towel and the sides of the bag. This way, they are easy to see and have room to sprout.

Gently squeeze as much air as you can from the bag and seal it. The beans should be suspended between the sides of the bag and the paper towels. Hang the plastic bag in a window or put it on a sunny windowsill where it can be accessed easily but won’t get jostled. As the paper towels dry out, add more water so that they are always moist.

Watch Them Grow!

Either the glass jar or plastic bag method is easy enough for kids to master. Depending on their age, they will need some supervision. Once they sprout their first batch of beans, they may want to sprout more — and decide they don’t really need Mom’s help.

The beans will grow at different rates, with some sprouting stems soon after their roots appear, and others taking longer to develop stems, if at all.

The kids can plant the sprouted beans in a pot, root ends pointing down. Explain this to them and watch them revel in getting their hands dirty and making sure the seeds are right side up. If there are tiny stems, make sure they are exposed above the pot's soil. The pot needs a sunny window and regular watering, although the soil should not be drenched. Once the plants are a sturdy size, they can be transplanted outdoors if the weather is cooperative (is consistently warmer than 60°F.). There, the kids can watch their crop grow into healthy, leafy bean plants.

Your children are sure to gain a sense of accomplishment as they watch the plants grow to maturity. Participating in the full circle of a plant's growth cycle gives them hands-on knowledge of a how a plant becomes….well, a plant!