Growing Beans on Cotton Balls

We have been doing lots of indoor growing recently and planted some beans at the same time that we grew our cress letters last month. This is a really easy, visual way to teach children about root systems and is something I used to do with my school children each Spring time.
Plus it’s very exciting to watch how FAST the plants grow!
All you need for this easy activity is a glass jar or bottle, some cotton wool balls/ wads and a bean!
First of all Cakie stuffed cotton wool balls into a glass jam jar. Then she simply stuck one bean on either side of the jar so that we could watch 2 growing at once. We used butter beans straight out of the packet that we bought in the dried beans and pulses section in the supermarket. (We used these same beans in our Baking Sensory tub!) 
Next, she watered it until the cotton wool was damp but not too wet, and placed the jar in the window.
Within 2-3 days the bean started to sprout a small root, and 2-3 days later it grew these little tendrils.
Another 4-5 days and the bean developed a large network of shoots coming off the main root, and a sturdy stem grew straight upwards and above the top of the cotton wool. It dropped the shrivelled husk of the bean skin and looked ready to open up!
Just a day or so later and 2 big, dark green leaves began to unfurl. Cakie was very excited by this development!
And finally, 4-5 days later the beans were growing very steadily, tall and spindly with large leaves seeking out more sunlight. 
We carefully removed them from the jar and examined the complex network of roots that had, by this time, entangled themselves around the cotton wool balls at the bottom. We teased the roots off the cotton wool and replanted the beans into soil in pots in the garden. The girls watered them and are now watching their rapid growth outside with much excitement!
Extension Activities:

Older children could measure the beans each day and record their growth progress in a “bean diary.” They can draw a picture of what the plant looks like every 3-4 days, add a measurement and label the diagram with the parts of the plant as they develop. Alternatively, they could record using a digital camera and printing and sticking in their own photos.
Learning Links:
  • knowledge and understanding of the world/ science: talk about what plants need to grow, examine roots and discuss how plants absorb water, talk about leaves and what they are for, discuss life-cycles and growth
  • phse: talk about growing and life-cycles in relation to growing from a baby to a toddler to a child, look at photos over time and note changes
  • maths: measure the growth of the bean and make comparisons, create a growth chart to track progress
  • literacy: make a bean diary and chart the appearance of the bean on each day with diagrams and labels

Cakie: 3 years 6 months
Pop: 2 years
Do you remember doing this at school or at home when you were little?


  1. says

    I don’t think I realized how fast they grow! This would be something that I could do with my toddler where we’d have a growing plant before he lost interest! :)

  2. says

    Wow this is impressive! I remember this from my primary school days, we used toilet tissue I think, sadly my tree never sprouted that well, lol.

  3. says

    Fantastic post, I’m going to do this tomorrow with The Boy as we’ve been growing seeds but I’d like him to understand the root system and how the plant comes out of the seed.

  4. says

    Can you use any bean? Like, for exampel.. uh.. macadamias? peanuts?
    or do they have to be really dry and all?
    (I live in sweden so it’s kinda hard for me to find those kind of beans..)

    • Anonymous says

      Macadamias and Peanuts are not beans, they are nuts. You can use most dried beans though.

    • joanna says

      Actually, a peanut isn’t a nut, it is a legume. You can do this with a raw peanut. Just remove from the shell.

  5. says

    Well done! I love that you list “Learning Links” explicitly at the end of your post! We are currently watching corn seeds germinate. We live in the midwest with corn around us everywhere. So we planted ours the same day the farmer planted his in the field. We are watching and comparing ours to the field next to our house. Then we’ll pick randomly select, and mark 5 field stalks to measure and observe throughout the summer and fall. I’ll be posting about his project soon. I’m a new follower of your blog, I LOVE it! :)

  6. Anonymous says

    thank you so much for posting this idea, the method in planting the beans, the pictures, and the “Extension Activities”!!!! magnificent!! 😀

  7. says

    First of all, thank you so much for making this wonderful blog with many different interesting activities. Please could you let me know what kind of bean you used in this picture? was it Mung Bean? but it is white and quite bigger than Mung Bean. Thank you once again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

    • says

      It’s a butter bean. I did write it in the post but I should edit and make it more obvious as a few people have asked!
      Thanks for sweet words about the blog!

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  20. says

    I had a question about the cotton you used. Does it have to be cotton wool or could you use plain old cotton balls? Thank you!