My childhood was full of beans.

Posted on December 14, 2007. Filed under: Musings |

When I was seven years old I found some white navy beans on the street–probably dribbled by a torn shopping bag belonging to one of my neighbors.  I wouldn’t do this now, but then I picked them up!–right off the “dirty” street.  I put them in my pocket and I took them home.  Later that afternoon, I decided to put them on a plate, wrapped in a wet paper towel.  Why did I do this?  I knew nothing about sprouting seeds or planting beans.  It just seemed like the right thing to do.  I kept the paper towel very wet over the next couple of days, and I noticed the outer skin of the beans start to swell and change shape.  The beans became wrinkled, like my skin when I had been in the bathtub too long.

    Soon, I saw little tiny green points sticking out of some of the beans.  My goodness, they were growing!  I thought they were just dead beans, I didn’t know supermarket beans could be seeds!  (But, again, why did I keep them wet for a few days?  I swear I didn’t know, and to this day don’t know, why I did this).

    Then, the little points got longer and longer, and, after another few days, a tiny “ear” appeared on one.  This was a leaf or a sprout or something–I didn’t know what.  But at that point, it didn’t seem like a good idea to keep the beans in a wet paper towel for much longer.

    I found an old plastic pot under the sink.  I think it had contained a flowering plant that had been given to my mother–a plant that had long since withered away.  I took the pot into the back yard, and–this is interesting–I filled it half full of crumbled leaves.  For some reason, I did not use garden soil, although there was an abundance of it available.  I gathered dead leaves from the apple and peach trees, and the rhododendron bush, and crushed them into the pot.  I then carefully put in the bean sprouts, keeping them as far apart from each other as possible, and put another layer of leaves on top.


    I took it back inside and plunked the pot on the same plate I had been using with the paper towels, and thoroughly watered it.

    I had to wait several days this time, but I always kept the leaves, now rapidly turning into mulch, moist, and soon, the little “ears” began to emerge from the soil!  I was elated.  By the way, I had not told anyone I was doing this.  Not my parents, not anyone.  I had my own room, and I’d put the pot on my nightstand which was near a window, and just made sure to keep the mulch moist, but not soggy.

    I finally showed my pot of strong green bean plants to my mother, and she was amazed I’d grown these from seed all by myself.  I took my pot to school for “show and tell”, and all were duly impressed.  Soon the bean plants were tall and strong, and needed to be replanted.  They lived in the sunny school window for a long time.

So, why am I telling you this story?  The memory came up for me recently when I was discussing childhood with a friend.  A teacher I respect believes the best thing to do is leave children alone, most of the time.  By that, I don’t mean to ignore them, but to let them explore and learn as they will.  When the situation warrants, give them a new book or learning aid, or help them design and complete a project–but only if they are experiencing fun and joy.  “Don’t ‘try to get them to do stuff'” my teacher says.  We do that in the home, and particularly in the schools, way too much.  “Experts” design curricula, which are then foisted upon the unsuspecting child.  Is it any wonder so many children dislike school?  There are learning theories which allow education to be self-directed by the child, almost from day one.  Critics of these often say that such experiences will result in a child not choosing to learn a particular skill, like science, or math, or pre-Victorian architecture.  Critics of those critics say “So what!”  The items which are considered essential in a child’s education are determined by “authorities” based on what they imagine is “well-rounded” or “useful” to society.  I think this approach stifles creativity.


I did a little research to find theories that support mine.  While there are plenty of papers, most give instructions on “how to encourage curiosity in your child” — or some such thing.  To me, this is still trying to get the child to do something.  Children are naturally curious; all they need is an environment rich with things to be curious about!  This article is pretty good.  I also turn to a book I read a long time ago.  It’s quite dated, now, but Summerhill is a fascinating saga of an alternative school where the students, along with the teachers, determine the curriculum.  Summerhill School still exists today in the UK.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

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10 Responses to “My childhood was full of beans.”

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summerhill school sounds like a dream come true for any kid!

my parents have never been concerned about my studies at all. they let me do as i please; i take tuition only because i asked to, i failed subjects and hardly got a reprimand. i study only when i force myself to. my parents don’t know anything unless i choose to tell them or need to sign forms. i guess in that way, i’m left to decide what i want to do for myself and this has made me someone who knows what she wants to do early on in life. i knew i wanted to do a course like what i’m doing now, and i know what kind of job i’d like to have after i graduate.

and while my parents bought plenty of secondhand books when i was a kid, they didn’t exactly make me read. i read because i wanted to, and i guess that in a way make me grew to love reading.

on the other hand, i was forced to take up piano, even when i knew early on that i didn’t like it nor was i good at it. i completed grade 8, and quit class after that. i hardly ever play the piano now. i learnt about classical music, and liked some, but i will always remember the dreary piano-playing days, and that just turns me off!

I completely agree with the freedom to let children or even everyone explore freely..Well, I have explored freely all my life..I believe that the ”conservative” education system is not adequate in a way not encouraging ”creation” all the way….Exploring inner abilities is not their ‘’motto’’, you are dictated what to learn and plus u have to think and act like everybody else or like the society wants u to ..It is a shame though because not everyone can succeed within this particular framework..It is one of the reasons I never really liked school, sitting there and just listening to stuff that I wasn’t interested about wasn’t my cup of tea..Actually, I was known by the teachers being very absent-minded.. It’s not surprising, I was so bored that I was exploring within my ‘’mind’’….loll!!

The stuff I did when I was a kid would make the PC brigade hope off a cliff in fear – but is that a bad thing? 🙂

Except for the piano lessons, it all sounds wonderful, sulz! I was stifled by the school system, and I’m still working on getting over it. You are a person who demonstrates the wisdom of the Summerhill philosophy. You study because you want to, and you choose for yourself the best way you can contribute.

I wonder what it is about parents and piano playing. Most of the kids I grew up with were “strongly encouraged” to take lessons by their parents, even if said parents didn’t know a note of music. I guess it makes them look culturally sophisticated or something. I would have no problem with introducing a child to many forms of art, and if s/he fancied one or more, discuss how to best use family resources to support that. I had years of piano lessons, too, and hated recitals or being asked to play for relatives. I’m amazed I retained any love for music at all! It was singing in choirs that did it. I was naturally good at that, and wanted to learn vocal music. From there I slowly began to pick up other instruments again.

CV, I agree. Even when I was in college, there was a philosophy that a student had to have a well-rounded education, called “Liberal Arts” in these parts. “Adults” would say to me as “proof” of this point of view that I probably would not have taken any art classes if I hadn’t had to take basic classes in “Humanities”. (They were right). And, they’d tell me, “NOW you love Impressionism, don’t you? You wouldn’t even know it existed.”

I find this a backwards way of looking at things. If a student’s natural curiosity were left alone, but provided with the opportunity to explore many subjects, I believe they would naturally come across many interests they didn’t know they had. It’s the instructors job to observe the student, and suggest areas of study that might interest each individual (IMO).

Well, you’ve frightened me, Will, with that comment, 😀 but I’m not on PC patrol, I only encourage personal congruency. I think we all have to learn our own “stuff” our own way, and manage to do a great deal of that in spite of the education we’re offered.

parents who force their kids to music lesson usually use this godawful excuse – it’s an alternative career if things don’t work out. like as if i’d want to teach something i’m not good at should things ‘not work out’!! i take pride in what i do, and if i’m going to teach anything at all it would only be something i’m good at and interested in. hogwash!

i wished my parents were more open-minded in exposing me to different types of education. i mean, if given the choice, i’d like to have tried the violin, or the flute, or even the drums. and it’s only recently that i discovered i love romance languages; fortunately my college has electives for that. i would definitely plan to take up some more after i graduate!

sulz, this is fascinating. I’m glad you will have the opportunity to learn other instruments and languages when you want to. So, your parents thought teaching music was something to “fall back on”? Mine were not like that, they thought music was a “nice, cultured accomplishment”. But, I was discouraged from pursuing it as a career. “You can’t make money at music”, they said. Hmmm. I support your right to NOT teach piano and ONLY teach what gives you joy! I’ll make a picket sign if need be 😉

Thank You, your post is both tender and sweet…

Thank YOU, Poetman. Your comment warms my heart.

This post takes me back a bit! All through school I was torn between becoming a teacher or a journalist. Journalism was a natural fit with my writing, but I loved the idea of being able to help guide young minds and I still think teaching is an undervalued profession. I was considering it very seriously in my last few years and my teachers were very supportive. Ironically I had the marks to do either, but in the end chose neither! I guess that’s the way of life. 😉

I did learn to appreciate the curriculum, though. It was flawed but it prepared me for later life more than I realized. I needed the guidelines and I think most people need to know English for grammar, maths and commerce for handling money, history to know about the world… but when it came to creative subjects like music, the curriculum was a nightmare, destroying any individuality… I think that’s why I was attracted to teaching, the idea that maybe I could do it differently.

The Summerhill School sounds amazing! Just the kind of environment where children can flourish. In the end it’s all about the environment, at school or at home… you can’t go wrong in letting children explore their world. And they might discover something that will stay with them the rest of their lives. I liked your story about the beans, btw. Thought it might be going like Jack and the Beanstalk for a while! 😀

Thanks for liking my story, cj. Every word is true! Or, at least, that’s how I remember it. Memories can be tricky things. I did think of Jack and the Beanstalk while I was writing this. Oddly enough, I had not read or had read to me that story as yet. Might have been a source of inspiration, but my parents didn’t think stories with monsters and giants were age-appropriate until I was 8! I agree teaching is a WAY undervalued profession. Whooee! I’m sure you would be an excellent and respectful instructor, cj. The students would be lucky to have you, if you ever decided to go that way.

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