Water Beads and Kids | How to Play with Water Beads

Have you ever played with water beads? They’re slippery, squishy, and a surprisingly fun and addictive sensory experience for kids of all ages.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

If you’re even remotely connected to Pinterest or a fan of any of my fave blogs, there’s a really good chance you already know about these spectacular little sensory Water Beads by Aqua Gems. If it hadn’t been for the magic of the internet I never would have known these even existed, let alone tried them as a tool for exploration and discovery.

Supplies for Water Bead Sensory Experience

  • Water Beads: I found ours in the floral section at JoAnn Fabrics, but if you can’t find them near you, you can easily find them on Amazon.
  • Tray with edges
  • Water

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Step 1

I set up our DIY light table and then N filled the top with about 1/2″ of water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Step 2

Pour the tiny aqua gems into a small container for for your child to add to the water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Step 3

Scoop the beads and drop them in. Watch them grow. This is great for teaching patience, and it’s fascinating to watch the beads absorb water.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Our Experience with Water Beads

As my child mixed them up, we marveled at how they grew….slowly….growing….slowly…(good lesson in patience!). N played with them while her sister napped and we set them aside for a couple hours. After snacks and a romp outside, this is what they looked like.

And it turned out that 14 month old Baby Rainbow enjoyed them even more than big sister. I was super cautious at first because little things that look like food go in the mouth, but after a few watchful “not for eating”comments, she was good to go.

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

I tucked the light table under a kitchen cabinet and Baby R has gone back to dig it out at least five times since. I think she’s fascinated by the texture of the beads and can’t seem to get enough of them. I still keep a close eye on her when she uses them, but it’s helpful to know that the gems are non-toxic. In fact, she’s intently playing with them as I type. So maybe this post is really about “how to entertain your little one while you get things done.”

One last thing, the beads look really cool with light shining through them, but it’s not a deal breaker if you don’t have a light table. A clear bowl on a sunny day or in a well-lit room will work well too!

Water beads and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

More Water Beads

For more Water Bead fun, check out Messy Kids’ Creepy Crawly water beads  and The Chocolate Muffin Tree’s Water Bead fun. And related to this, you might also be interested in the FAKE SNOW that we recently made.

Water bead and Kids | A fun sensory Experience | Tinkerlab.com

Have you introduced your kids to Water Beads?

What are your favorite materials for sensory play?

My 14-month old is well-supervised when playing with Aqua Gems. Please use your best judgment when introducing young children to small objects.

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Cloud Dough Recipe

How to Make Cloud Dough| Clough Dough Recipe| TinkerLab.com

How to Make Cloud Dough

Cloud Dough…Have you heard of it?

How to Make Cloud Dough| Clough Dough Recipe| TinkerLab.com

Me either, and I thought I’ve heard of most everything arts+little kids related. Karen at Flight of Whimsy introduced me to the recipe, and as soon as I learned about it I knew my  3 year old would love it. The consistency of the dough is lovely to feel and hold. It can be powdery like flour one moment, and then moldable like damp sand the next. This brought HOURS of fun to my home, and maybe it’ll do the same for yours.

Be sure to scroll down for the printable recipe!

How to Make Cloud Dough| Oil and Flour| TinkerLab.com

We started off with 4 cups of Flour and 1/2 cup of Oil. The original recipe is an 8:1 ratio. I would have enjoyed having the full 8 cups worth, but I didn’t want to deplete my flour reserves, just in case.

Don’t worry about writing all this down. There’s a printable recipe at the end of this post!

Watch the video

How to Make Cloud Dough| Clough Dough Recipe| TinkerLab.com

N took the mountain-making and oil mixing job very seriously. We mixed it with our hands for about 5 minutes until the dough held together when we squeezed it. We could still see some oil lumps in the dough, but it didn’t have an adverse effect on the material. The original recipe called for baby oil, but canola worked beautifully for us. However, Karen did mention the lovely smell of the baby oil, so we added a healthy dose of lavender oil drops (found at our health food store) to scent the dough. Heavenly!

How to Play with Cloud Dough

How to Make Cloud Dough| Clough Dough Recipe| TinkerLab.comI find it fascinating to sit back and observe how my kids explore new-to-them materials. The first thing N made was a wall. A really strong wall.

How to Make Cloud Dough, the funnest, easiest dough recipe around | TinkerLab.comThen she crafted the dough into a bakery and soup cafe. These silicone molds are wondrous for activities like this.

How to Make Cloud Dough, the funnest, easiest dough recipe around | TinkerLab.com

She enjoyed picking up and squeezing small handfuls of dough. The texture was phenomenal.

How to Make Cloud Dough, the funnest, easiest dough recipe around | TinkerLab.com

The next day we brought it back out and shared the dough with some friends. And this is where I wished I had made the full 8-cup recipe. Hoarders!! There was so much scrambling for all the dough scraps, and I found myself patrolling more than I like to. So, if you’re making a batch for more than one child, 8 cups of flour + 1 cup of oil may be the way to go.

Cloud Dough Recipe

5.0 from 4 reviews
Cloud Dough
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dough + Sensory
 
The consistency of this dough is lovely to feel and hold. It can be powdery like flour one moment, and then moldable like damp sand the next. This brought HOURS of fun to my home, and maybe it'll do the same for yours...
Supplies
  • 8 cups flour
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • Essential oil such as lavender or grapefruit (optional)
Steps
  1. Scoop and pour the flour into the center of a large tub.
  2. Create a crater in the middle of the flour.
  3. Pour the oil into the crater.
  4. Gently mix it all together.
  5. Enjoy mixing and learning about the properties of the dough as it is, or add small silicone bowls, spoons, or measuring cups to make small structures, hills, or pretend cupcakes.
Notes
The original recipe is an 8:1 ratio and we started off with half the recipe (4 cups of Flour and ½ cup of oil) because I didn't want to deplete my flour reserves, just in case. Turns out that this was such a hit and a full batch would have been equally wonderful, especially after our neighborhood friends wanted to come over and play with us.

More Playdough and Sensory Activities

Rainbow Play Dough

Gluten-free Cloud Dough

Flubber Gak Slime Exploration

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Flour and Water

Flour and Chalk

Is this your first time here?

  • Join the Tinkerlab network and be the first to know about simple art + science projects for kids, creativity tips, and simple ideas that will make your life more creative. Sign up for our newsletter.

    TinkerLab Newsletter

    In case you blinked and missed it, TinkerLab rounds up all the great stuff on the internets on keeping you and your critters creative and wraps it up for you in a tidy newsletter! (And throws in some secret giveaways for good measure!)  – Yuliya P., San Francisco, CA

    Join our community and you’ll learn:

    • How to simplify your life and make more room for creativity
    • How to make hands-on making a part of your everyday life
    • Easy, actionable ways to raise creative kids

 

How to Build an Easy DIY Light Table

Have you ever wanted a light table, and wondered if there was an easy way to build a DIY light table yourself? Well, this easy DIY light table could be your answer! Once I figured out which materials to use, the whole thing took about 10 minutes to assemble.

Note: This light table is designed to hold salt or sand in the top layer. For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table

How to build an easy DIY light table for kids

*Note: This post contains Amazon affiliate links for your convenience.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

After seeing the beautiful glow that illuminated from the easy light table at Teach Preschool and the pop-out pictures created in salt over at Child Central Station, I’ve been on the hunt for some DIY materials to make my own easy light table.

I had a few rules:  No paint, no saw, and no nails. It also had to be simple to assemble and economical. So when I spotted a large, gently used acrylic box frame — like this — at SCRAP (San Francisco’s reuse center for artists and teachers), I knew I had my answer. If you don’t have any acrylic box frames lying around (who does?!), I’ve found that this can easily be replaced with a basic plastic storage container like this.

Supplies

  • Acrylic box frame or storage container— Try looking in a thrift store, or maybe you already have one at home
  • Large Plastic Storage Container like this one. This Rubbermaid Storage Box is fantastic and this one with a snap top lid also looks great. I’ve also spotted really nice boxes at IKEA, which may be worth hunting down.
  • String of Lights — Make sure that they’re bright enough yet not too hot to be placed in the container. Christmas lights do a great job!
  • Clear Packing Tape
  • Wax paper
  • Two 26 oz. containers of salt
  • Toys and gadgets to create textures

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

How to build your DIY light table

1. Run your string of lights into the bottom container

My husband has a thing for lights so I raided his stash and we came up with these interesting bookcase light strips from IKEA that worked really well. Granted, these lights aren’t cheap, but we already had them so it didn’t really cost me anything. If these didn’t work I would have used Christmas lights. Just be sure that  you use something bright enough for light to pass through the salt, but not too hot for the box. Fluorescent lights are perfect for this. 

Option #2: You could try setting this up with the bottom container’s lid on and off. We’ve set this up both ways with different containers. See what works best with your container.

Option #3: You might also try flipping your bottom container upside down, and then placing the second container on top of it, right side up. Does that make sense?

2. Place the box fame on top of a large under-the-bed plastic container

When not in use as a light table, we use our containers all the time  for messy sensory projects like the Dry Ice Experiment and Vinegar and Baking Soda.

 

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

2. To diffuse the light, cover the bottom of the box frame or top container with wax paper.

3. Then, to keep the frame from wiggling, tape the wax paper in place with clear packing tape.

4. Pour salt into the top container.

Make it as shallow or as deep as you like. I found that 1/4″ is a good place to start.

My friend Aude gave me about five pounds of salt that I’ve been saving for the perfect project, so I pulled it out and poured a healthy amount into the frame. (In case you were wondering, don’t waste your time with flour — I did, and it doesn’t work.) And that’s it.

If you only have one container, if it has a deep groove on the bottom, you could try using JUST the storage container flipped upside down on top of the lights. Then pour sand into the groove of the box bottom. It’s not as deep as our example, but it might work in a pinch.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Play with your DIY Light Table!

We built this while the kids were asleep, so I got to play with it first. Yipee. Initially there was too much salt in the frame, making it difficult for the light pass through, and I tinkered with the salt until I liked the results.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.comPressing different materials into the salt was oddly cathartic, like raking in a zen garden or working with clay, and I couldn’t wait to see how my daughter would investigate the materials the next day.

Easy DIY LIght Table | TinkerLab.com

Kid-tested DIY Light Table

As an invitation to play, I initially made some loopy marks in the salt with my finger and then turned the glowing salt table on. No tools. She was curious, but not intrigued enough to play.

So I placed a few clay tools with various textures next to the table for her to experiment with, but that didn’t come on like gangbusters either. I hoped that N would get into this cool, open-ended textural play, but her lack of interest made me all the happier that I only spent about $2 on the project. I must have known.

And maybe the light table is most successful in the dark of night, which is long after bed time in the middle of summer? So I poured the salt back into the bag, disassembled the whole thing in about five minutes, and we’ll try again one day soon.

Light Table Success

Sometimes projects with kids take a bit of patience. A child’s mood, interests, or developmental readiness can affect how he or she interacts with an invitation to play. I have since brought this back with variations and it’s been more successful! Here are a couple things that we’ve tried:

One more DIY Light Table

For a flat-top light table, see this tutorial: Homemade Easy Low-cost Light Table

Easy Low Cost Homemade Light Table

 

Baby Bean Bowl Exploration

Baby Sensory Play: Bean Bowl.

My little one is almost 9 months old and her curiosity has pushed her to see past the same ol’ toy basket (do you see it there, hidden under the cabinet?), in search of new stimulation.

“Enter stage left: Bean Bowl!”

I created the bean bowl for my older daughter to sort and sift through while I’m busy in the kitchen, and I was only sort of surprised when little baby Rainbow (my older daughter’s nickname for her) scooted over to see what it was all about. She adores the sandbox, isn’t big on on eating sand (do you hear me knocking on wood?), so I thought that with supervision this would be a fun experience for her curious little mind and body.

The level of focus was palpable.

And refining fine motor skills was in full force! In addition to beans, I threw in some beads, sequins, and mini toys to keep the interest high.

Once she got comfortable with this new medium, she tried several things including pulling the bowl toward her, sifting beans through both hands, pushing her fingers deep into the bowl, and eventually tipping part of the bowl over into her lap. This was all so much fun that we decided to try it again the next morning…

The same experience lasted for about three minutes before all the pieces were dumped on the floor! Sigh. As you can imagine, we haven’t done much with the bean bowl since! Now that I see how much she enjoyed this experience, my next plan is to move the beans into our non-tipping sensory tub.

If you try this with your little ones, use common sense, especially if they’re prone to putting small objects in their mouths.

Flour Sifter

We have a make-shift sensory tub that often makes its way into the middle of our kitchen where we conduct experiments, make “cakes and pies,” and mess around with the feel of stuff. Some of the things we’ve filled it with are dry beans, oobleck, jello, vinegar and baking soda, and rice.

I’m always on the lookout for neat-o objects that might challenge and delight my child, and when I saw this flour sifter in the market I had a feeling she’d love it. And she does. Loves it. I’ve used it maybe once (I guess I’m not picky about eating lumpy cake), so if we were to mark ownership based on usage, it’s definitely hers!

I set her up with a couple plastic containers full of flour, a measuring cup, measuring spoons, a soup spoon, and a crank-style sifter. Once she got to work, she poured a few cups of flour into the sifter and started cranking away, making some great crusty ol’ noises.

She dumped out the flour dregs that didn’t spin through.

And then she had a pile of flour ready to mold into a tiny mountain. This process repeated a handful of times, just long enough for me to do some dishes and start dinner.

What other kitchen tools do you play with?

This post was shared with Art for Little Hands