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

This list contains affiliate links

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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  1. says

    We just played with water beads this morning and I’m working on the post now! Great minds think alike 😉
    The were really so much fun to play with, I had a hard time wanting to share them with the girls.
    I love you added them to the light table, great idea!

    • rachelle says

      great minds think alike, aleacia 🙂 i found myself dipping my hands in the beads, um, constantly. very addicting!

    • rachelle says

      i wonder too, melissa. I’m letting ours evaporate right now, and hope they’ll dwindle down to their original size for easier storage. thank you again for the idea!!

  2. Christine says

    I put a handful in the bathtub one night and my girls 3 & 18 months spent nearly an hour “chasing” them, they were hard to catch. I also had little fish nets that made it easier to catch the beads. I was careful to make sure that we cleaned them all up before we let the water out because the label warns they may clog drains, but it was truly a lot of fun!

    • rachelle says

      Ha! That’s a great idea, Christine! They’re hard to pick up when they bounce on the floor, and I can only imagine the impossibility of fishing them out of the bath. You’re brave!

    • rachelle says

      I got them in the floral department of a fabric/craft store. They’re made to go in a clear flower vase and I imagine you could find them in craft/hobby/floral shops. Or online…check out the amazon link above.

  3. says

    My children and parents enjoyed ours. Did find they can get slimy, if not rinsed each evening. Find out come in different sizes, so on the look-out for larger ones. Ours were also from JoAnne’s and multicolored.

    • rachelle says

      I should have mentioned this. They naturally have a slimy feel to them, but I didn’t notice that they got any MORE slimy. I didn’t rinse them, but maybe I would if I used them with multiple kids in a school setting.

  4. says

    We have played with these before (keep adding water to see how big they get!) but I just love how you put them over a light table. Just beautiful!

  5. MW says

    Made this my Friday activity today. I couldn’t find the assorted package so I bought a clear, red and blue. A lesson learned – I think i got an old pack of the red ones – when I opened it I noticed a red powder along with the beads and when i dumped some in the water turned beet red and the beads turned clear. Took a few rinses (and extra care to make sure none went down the drain) to get the water clear again. So, if you buy them, avoid any that look like there is powder in them. We ended up with just clear and blue, which was still a lot of fun for my son. And I found it very soothing to pick up handfuls and let them run through my fingers! Thanks for the tip!!!

    • rachelle says

      Yikes, thanks for sharing this cautionary tale. I’m otherwise thrilled that this turned into a fun project for you and your son!

  6. M Wall says

    I have to thank you again for this post. My son has played with them for countless hours. He asks for them quite often, and when I pull them out I can count on him being occupied. We added a funnel (fun to watch them pop out the bottom), and his sand toy cement mixer, along with various other spoons and cars/boats. As a mother who works from home, I really appreciate things that are fun and keep him occupied! And I never would have known about water gems without you. THANK YOU!!!!

    • Rachelle says

      I’m so happy to hear this — thank for making my day!! Because I work a little bit from home too (right now I’m holding a wooden alligator on my lap while catching up online), I totally get where you’re coming from. The water gems give us hours of fun too, and it’s time for me to pick up a new bag. Hello stocking stuffer!

  7. says

    Thanks for mentioning Messy Kids! Our beads went the other way. They came wet and full sized, but I left them out to see what would happen and they shrank! Added some more water and they grew again. Reminded me of those little rubber animals you can buy that grow in water.

  8. Nancy says

    I bought clear ones for my daughters wedding and experimented with them by adding a drop of food coloring. It worked great and now I have blue ones for her blue wedding! I’m not sure how it would work in a water table but if all you can find is clear you might want to try adding different colors of food coloring too!. They immediately turned blue when I added the coloring. Have fun experimenting!  Also, they do shrink down and can be “revived” with just water 🙂

  9. says

    Awesome, I am planning to try this today, I finally got some water beads of ebay for my kiddies! Thanks for the great instructions on how to play w them, I wasnt sure!

  10. says

    Oh, I wanted to ask – as Im about to get mine out to play with for the first time – so, they can be stored and used over and over? Do you just drain the water off and pack them in a container? Ive also seen people mention they can be dryed out and re-wet? Amazing stuff!!!

    • Rachelle says

      Hi Kate! I just drained off the water, put ours in a big plastic box, covered them up, and they lasted a couple weeks before I threw them away. I’ve heard that you can store them for a while, but ours got so much wear (my one year old got in the habit of pinching them to smithereens) that they weren’t worth keeping much longer. There are a lot of good ideas and advice in the comments here, which may help too. Glad to hear that you’re enjoying them. Yay!

      • Amanda says

        When they have outlived their usefulness for decor or playtime, they are great put into your potted plants or even in your flowerbeds outside. The small bits and pieces will hold in water and slowly release the water back into the soil as they dehydrate. And when you water your plants again, they will rehydrate again with water and repeat the cycle 🙂 Eventually they break down over time and just compost into the soil.

  11. Hil says

    i love these things! i have a ton of them. I keep plastic wrap over mine to keep them from drying out. they say on the package to refresh them about once a week, but since mine are covered i don’t need to. On the subject of the kids eating them by accident i wouldn’t worry if it happens, I have surfed many websites on the subject of water beads apparently “they come out the same as they went in” lol. theyre made to water plants so they’re completely nontoxic.
    I buy mine at hobby lobby on the wedding aisle.

  12. says

    I just bought some of these last week, they were already hydrated, but I need to get some that need to be hydrated so she can have the fun of seeing them grow!

    • rachelle says

      That’s a great idea. You can easily get them online, and we were able to find them at the craft store. Enjoy!

  13. Melissa_dcpteacher says

    I have purchased these in the past but noticed the packaging does say KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN.  WIth that warning, i discountinued use but would love to add them to the routine again if I were CERTAIN they were safe!!

    • Susan Wells says

      You can purchase them through Steve Spangler’s website. We also have different sizes and clear Jelly Marbles that you can see through or color yourself. http://www.stevespanglerscience.com/product/colorful-growing-orbs

  14. Maxinux2 says

    We learned you can buy clear water beads and add food coloring to dye the beads. If you put 2 primary colors together, over the course of a day or so the 2 colors will mix and the beads will all be a new color. You can also soak the beads in clean water over night and the color will come back out and you can do it over again with new colors! We LOVE water beads! Fun in the bath too! 

  15. RD says

    I am worried about how clean these are. I know after a day of just plain water play in my classroom, the water smells horrible the very next morning so we replace the water…

    These beads soak in liquid, keep liquid in, and stay wet for an extended amount of time. How would/do you deal with keeping it sanitary for multiple use by multiple children and avoid mold and mildew growth too?

    • rachelle says

      That’s a valid concern. With just two kids, these didn’t get too grimy and we played with the same beads for a couple weeks. As a test, I placed them in a large ziploc bag to see how they would store, and the did develop mold over time. I’m sorry I can’t remember how long that took (maybe a month), but your instinct is spot-on. For multiple children, you might enjoy playing with them for one day and then resetting with new water beads the next. Thanks for the comment!

    • Amanda says

      I have heard of other daycare type settings using these and they have mentioned they can get moldy if not rinsed daily. But apparently all it takes is a quick rinse at the end of each day and they are good to go again.

  16. megan says

    They have them at Joannes for 4.99 a box. Has anyone tried adding water again after they dry?

    • rachelle says

      Ours never got down to the original size, but they did shrink a bit and we had luck reconstituting them with water.

  17. says

    Very cool! Looks like they’re not just for kids to play with. 🙂

    If I had seen the tiny beads in the store I never would have guessed that they could be turned into a magical science experiment.

  18. Linda says

    I played with my grandkids. When we were done I dumped them in a collander and rinsed them off. Then i just put them in a ziplock bag. I feel this got alot of the germs off. Next time I’ll try dish soap in the collander.

    • rachelle says

      Hi Linda,
      That’s a smart idea! I bet you’ll get a lot more use out of them this way. And how lucky are your grandkids to have such a hands-on grandma! Thanks for the comment.

    • rachelle says

      Did you try the link in this post, Alexis? We get ours at Michael’s craft store or JoAnn Fabrics — in the floral aisle.

  19. Julie says

    Consumer Reports is recommending these only be used by children over 5 because they are a choking hazard. I would be afraid to use them in my classroom, although they look so cool. I know they would not pass safety standards of licensing and accreditation for toddlers.

  20. Julie says

    We played with these and my girls noticed that colourless water beads disappear in water. When we put a few of them in a long plastic test tube, the only way we could predict where a clear one was, was that there was a ‘blank’ spot in the column of beads!

  21. says

    Julie, there is a potential choking hazard for younger children, but with correct supervision it should not be a real issue. The great part is you can let them dry and then add water again to bring them back to almost full size beads again.

  22. Stephanie says

    I would love know where you got that tray with sides that you put on top of your light box?! It’s perfect. Most tuperware doesn’t workout too well.

  23. says

    I hope it’s no problem for me to share my site where I sell these. I’m a mom and I just fell in love with these years ago when introduced and began selling them here and there for fun.
    I sell them here:
    I have photos and links to various fun ideas here:

  24. Staysi Jones says

    Water Beads are so fun! Just watch children who are playing with them as if they swallow them they will grow inside their little bodies (same type of thing if they were to be put down the drain. Also be mindful of animals that they don’t eat any as the same thing happens :/ so yes they may be non toxic but the hazard is they can grow larger if swallowed :/

  25. says

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    I certainly didn’t raise an eyebrow; I know how lucky I am.
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    flonking they take the toys out to play with me or offered me a place to set
    things down.

  26. Tammy says

    I am so glad I get your newsletters. Everything helps me. I am worried about the beads. They do look fun.

    • Rachelle says

      I’m so glad to hear that you like the newsletter! I love writing them. I can understand your concern about the beads — best to stay clear of them if you’re unsure 🙂

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