Have you ever played with water beads? They’re slippery, squishy, and a surprisingly fun and addictive sensory experience.
First: an important message. Water beads are not a toy. While I’ll show you how you could use them as a sensory material, keep in mind that these should not be used with babies, toddlers, or unsupervised children. There are serious health consequences if a child swallows water beads. Please read some of the comments on this post for perspectives on this.
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 are non-edible beads, made of a combination of water and a water-absorbing polymer. A polymer is made 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.
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 to play with and they’re non-toxic and biodegradable. However, they cannot be eaten! These are best used with older children who aren’t mouthing objects. Please use your best judgment when introducing young children to small objects, and again, read some of the comments on this post for insight into the safety of water beads.
How long do water beads last?
They can last for a couple years, unused! However, once children play with them, they become magnets for dirt and should be tossed at the first signs of mold. If you see black spots appear on your water beads, it’s time to pitch them.