Have you ever played with water beads? They’re slippery, squishy, and a surprisingly fun and addictive sensory experience for kids of all ages.
If you’ve been to the craft store, there’s a good chance you know about these spectacular little sensory Water Beads. 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. They’re designed to hydrate plants, but they can also be used in sensory play and I’ll show you how.
What are Water Beads?
Water beads a non-edible bead, about the size of a blueberry, made of a combination of water and a water-absorbing polymer. A polymer is made of of tiny particles that stick together and form long chains. They sometimes come pre-soaked and also come dry, waiting to be soaked in water. When dry water beads are immersed in water, they fill up and expand like a sponge.
Supplies for Water Bead Sensory Experience
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- 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. This set is a great deal: Almost 4000 water beads for under $7.
- Container with edges. We used a clear acrylic tray here and have also used a large under-the-bed storage container.
I set up our DIY light table and then N filled the top with about 1/2″ of water.
Pour the tiny aqua gems into a small container for for your child to add to the water.
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.
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.
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!
Are water beads safe for kids?
Water beads are safe. They’re non-toxic and biodegradable. However, they cannot be eaten! These are best used with older children who aren’t mouthing objects. My 14-month old was well-supervised when playing with these water beads. Please use your best judgment when introducing young children to small objects.
How long do water beads last?
They can last for a couple years, unused! However, once children play with them, they can become magnets for mold and should be tossed after a couple weeks. If you see black spots appear on your water beads, it’s time to pitch them.