The hands-on, sensorial nature of Montessori botany, specifically gardening, was designed to get kids curious about life. Kids love to experiment and ask questions and this lesson about seeds and the life cycle of a bean plant invites them to do just that. Moreover, as an extra-added bonus, they’re able to get a little dirty and have a lot of fun doing so.
In our experience, with all the wonderful activities out there, there is no better way to witness life at work than by observing the process from the very beginning. The parts of the seed and the life cycle of a bean plant lesson offers just such an opportunity.
This lesson is designed for ages five and up. For the preschoolers, there are many fun activities, which I will cover in the article.
Seeds are the embryos of plants and the reproduction of life begins within them. There are millions of different types of seeds and several fit within different divisions. But most seeds we come into contact with are used in gardens for growing grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Others are produced to feed livestock and birds.
I like taking a variety of seeds and have the kids play with them, noting their shape, color and texture (for all ages). Some have a housing (peanuts), some are large (lima beans), and some are tiny (Chia). Get several of them in order to give the kiddos a wide variety. Here is a list of seeds you could include:
- Kidney beans
- Garbanzo beans
- Coffee beans
- Lima beans
There are many fun activities you can do with the seeds to get the kids touching, comparing and contrasting them. You can do counting and drawing with them by arranging them into numbers or letters. Make sensorial bins for pouring or create beautiful collages with glue and post board. Anything creative to get the kids excited about working with them in the lesson ahead.
The seed sprouting jar
A great place to start this lesson begins with some preparation several days beforehand with some seeds placed in a glass jar. I prefer lima beans, as they are large enough for kids to handle and to dissect in a small experiment on the day of the lesson.
This article by Cultures for Health goes over the preparation of the seeds step by step and covers everything you need to know about the process. If you’re looking to actually use the seeds to eat or grow, it’s a helpful complement to the lesson.
Depending on the seed, it should take around two to three days for them to sprout. Once you see they have visible tails, you can begin the dissection. Having a variety of seeds will ensure that, once broken open, the different parts of the seed will be visible to compare with the nomenclature cards.
The Parts of a Seed
The seed: This is the whole system indicating all internal and external parts.
The testa: This is the waterproof coat of the seed that protects it during germination.
The cotyledon: This is the part that feeds the embryo. (usually in two parts though there are seeds with one)
The embryo: This is the part that will become a plant.
The radicle: This is the part of the embryo that will form into the roots of the plant. (In more developed seeds you’ll also see smaller parts of the radicle, called plumules, which become the shoots)
Place the sprout on a towel and explain the two halves. The cotyledon is the food for the embryo, like the yoke of an egg. It sustains the embryo until it germinates and matures into a plant. If you have a needle to point with, it will be easier for you to see the internal parts.
Then, point out the different internal parts. From this point in the experiment, we can break out the nomenclature cards. Once the kiddos understand the biology part of the lesson the 3-part cards will be more effective.
Either as a follow-up lesson or an alternative to the lima bean dissection, we have the parts of the seed felt board in our Etsy shop. Simply follow the same instructions as mentioned above and below with the 3-part cards. It’s a fun and tactile puzzle the kids can enjoy with a lot less preparation.
Using the 3-part cards
Now that we have our seeds sprouted, split and discussed, we can begin implementing the nomenclature cards with the parts of the seed. If the kids can’t see very clearly the internal parts of the seeds, then the cards will help illustrate their structure with good graphics and colors.
From here you can follow the procedures indicated in the How to use Montessori 3-part cards article. This will walk you through the process and is an essential part of the lesson.
The life cycle of a bean plant
To continue through our Montessori botany lesson, from the parts of the seed we move on to the life cycle of a plant. The bean plant is used specifically in many materials and will be the protagonist of this lesson as well. This lesson focuses on the nomenclature cards and can be supplemented with the bean plant figures from Safari Tubes.
The Four Stages of Life
The seed is the housing for the entire internal parts of the seed. This is the stage it is in when it’s ready to be planted in the soil.
At this stage, the embryo, or baby plant, is ready to sprout from its external coating and seek water and nutrients from the soil with its roots.
After penetrating the surface of the soil with its stem, the seeds adolescent leaf structures begin to mature. This is when it has reached the seedling stage. At the same time, the roots develop and penetrate ever deeper within its soil abode.
Once the leaves have matured into an adult plant, it begins the flowering stage and is ready to reproduce. The moment a plant is ready to reproduce is the end of the life cycle and the process repeats itself.
To give the kids a first-hand look into the formation of a plant from a seed here is a nice video:
Felt boards and 3-part cards
This is the stage where the real learning begins. With the Montessori botany nomenclature cards, the felt boards and the Safari tubes, you can enjoy a full and entertaining lesson with your plant-lovers.
Normally, I would start a nature based lesson outside, to give the kids a sensorial experience with the subject their going to be learning. But in this case, it’s the opposite.
“I finish the lesson by going outdoors and planting real seeds”
Either in a garden or in a special part of nature close to your residence, take a little hike and mark the spot with some unobtrusive sign. Be sure to care for them daily. Have the kids water them, keep the weeds away and watch them grow into mature plants and flowers ready to reproduce themselves.
Observing the cycle of life for children will give them a great understanding and appreciation of it. This will inevitably lead to more empathetic and caring adults, which is what our environment needs to sustain and protect it.
As a complimentary guide to the seed lesson we recommend using books to illustrate the topic and reinforce some of the information they have just learned. The following is a great book we think does a great job at this: The cycle of a bean plant.