What to do with Water Beads

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What to Do with Water BeadsWe love water beads. LOVE them!

I’ve been sharing some of our water bead play on Instagram and Facebook lately and have been surprised by how many people are either not familiar with them or ask what to do with water beads.

So, I thought I’d put together a post with

  • where to get water beads
  • how to hydrate them
  • and some of the fun things we do with them.

I’ll also link to some other posts around the web at the bottom of this post with even more ideas for what to do with water beads.

A quick note about safety: These water beads are safe for touching and playing with but NOT for eating. If you have a little one who still puts things in his mouth, then supervise very closely (as I’m sure you would anyway) or save the water beads for when he is older. I’ll include a couple of edible water bead ideas at the end of this post that might be better for children who mouth things…

Where to Buy Water Beads

We have bought water beads from a variety of places over time. I’ve found them in the toy section of a local drugstore for $1.99. Most recently, I’ve bought them through Amazon for a little over a dollar (with free shipping!). Those are the ones you see pictured here.

You can also apparently find them at the Dollar Tree (with a more limited color selection) or at a Michael’s craft store in the floral section (water beads are used as a vase filler).

You can buy a color assortment as you see here, single colors, or clear water beads.

You can buy a little packet like ours (plenty for family fun or a small sensory tub) or you can buy a large packet of water beads (if you wanted to fill a kiddie pool or use them at a party, maybe).

Hydrating Water Beads How to Hydrate Water Beads

The water beads we have bought have always been super tiny hard beads, either packed in a plastic bag as in this picture, or in a little plastic test tube.

Empty the tiny dehydrated water beads into a dish, then add water.

Lots of water.

The little beads are made from a water-absorbing polymer and as the beads absorb water, they will grow.

And grow.

And grow.

If they absorb all the water in your dish, add more water.

It can take up to 8 hours or so to grow to full size.

Just watching the water beads grow and observing the changes along the way is fun on its own (there’s an awkward teen stage where they’re all knobbly and funky looking)!

But wait! There’s more!

What to do with Water Beads

What to Do with Water Beads

1.  Sensory Water Beads

Sensory play is what water beads are best at. Kids of all ages (I’m including myself here…) love the feel and look of them. They are so enticing! Colorful, smooth, squishy, cool… Really, there’s not much more you need to do with water beads than have a bowl full of them to plunge your hands into and hold and squish them.

The DIY Light Table

2.  Water beads on the light table

Water beads are awesome on their own, but they really shine on the light table. Since all my photos show water beads on our light table, I’m including a shot of the light table itself here.

As you can see, it is simply a clear plastic storage box with a string of white Christmas lights inside and super easy to make (you might even have the materials in your home already…). Our storage box is from Target but you can get them just about anywhere. The string of lights is skinny enough to slip out under the lid of the box, so no drilling required.

The best part? Much cheaper than the price tag on most light tables! And yet perfectly serviceable for all kinds of light table play, art, and learning.

Water Beads with Water Balloon Babies

3.  Water beads with water balloons (or other pretend play items)

My daughters have been obsessed with water balloon babies this summer. Ever since I once used them to bribe the kids out of the sandbox and into their bedtime bath. So naturally, the water balloon babies (which are just water balloons with a Sharpie marker face) have joined in the water bead sensory fun, adding a pretend play element.

The kids have also used small figurines (princess dolls and animals) in the water beads and even cars once.

4.  Sorting water beads 

My kids sorted the water beads just for fun, but there’s also color recognition and fine motor skill development in practice here (great for the littles!) and even counting. Use your hands…

Sorting Water Beads by Color

…or use spoons (measuring spoons work especially well).

What to Do with Water Beads - Shaving Cream Play

5.  Water beads with shaving cream

Add shaving cream for double the sensory fun! Shaving cream is an awesome sensory material on it’s own but also contrasts wonderfully with water beads. We played with the two together…

What to Do with Water Beads - Shaving Cream Play

…and the kids also made a shaving cream “cake” with water bead decorations.

Shrinking Water Beads

6.  Water bead science

These polymers grow as they absorb water and shrink as water evaporates from them… See the beads that were left out of the water tray and how much smaller some of them are? It is interesting to observe them shrinking when left out of water and growing again when put in water.

Watering the Water Beads

I usually leave a small pitcher of water near the water beads so the kids can add water when they want the water beads to grow more or just want more water in the tub.

For more water bead science, try freezing water beads (as they did on Fit Kids Clubhouse) or soaking them in tonic water instead of regular water (as they did on Caution! Twins at Play).

Water Beads

7.  Water beads in the bathtub or pool

We’ve taken our water beads in the bath on occasion (when they were enlarged and there was no risk of them slipping down the drain) and the kids have had fun scooping them up with the sieve and playing with them…

I’ve also seen others use them in the kiddie pool (as here on Busy Hands Blessed Hearts).

8.  Water beads down the tubes

We haven’t actually tried this idea yet, but I think that they would be great fun with these transparent tubes and funnels that Asia from Fun at Home with Kids set up with her kiddos…

9.  Relax with water beads

This actually belongs up there near, if not with, that first sensory stimuli one. Water beads are soothing to touch and look at. Playing with them can help calm an upset child or soothe a high strung one. They are also a relaxing way to start or end the day.

Bounce water beads

10.  Bounce water beads

Yes, they bounce! Something you quickly learn if you drop some. They bounce and scatter all over. While you don’t want to spill a bowl-full, testing their bounce-ability is fun.

Have you used water beads yet? If not, I recommend giving them a try!

Remember, you can buy them on Amazon for little more than a dollar (I paid $1.22 plus got free shipping!) or look for them at the Dollar Tree or a craft store such as Michael’s… That’s about the cheapest you’ll pay for all the fun you’re sure to have with these!

More ideas for what to do with water beads

Safer Water Beads for Babies and Toddlers

This post contains affiliate links.

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Comments

  1. says

    Geez Jean, this is amazing information. I actually have NEVER bought or gotten into the whole Water Bead insanity before! Mainly, cuz it just screams mess & a speedial call to Poison Control LOL! Now, I have more an understanding (& LOs 5 now)! THANK you for informing me of the many things to do with these creepy things ;)

  2. says

    Thanks for sharing all of these fun ideas! We have been getting a lot of rain in our neck of the woods and could use some new rainy day crafts! I know my boys will love the water beads!

  3. katie says

    I may have posted this before but we love water beads. we did plastic cockroaches with clear at Halloween time in our sensory table. it was disgustingly fun! another time we added color water beads to the clear set and the clear ones ended up absorbing the color! water beads really are therapeutic!!! have you guys tried painting with water beads yet? we haven’t.

  4. Amanda says

    So we love water beads!! But a lot of time my kids end smooshing them into water bead, which is also fun, but is hard to dehydrate. So my question is how do dispose of or dehydrate all those fun beads?

  5. Jennifer says

    When your kids are all done with them, let them mash them in a garlic press. Adds at least another 24 hours of entertainment!

  6. Nicole says

    I’m really excited, I got a 8 Oz bag on amazon and some waterproof tea lights. We are going to play with these on a family camping trip. I am planing on letting them put the beads in mason jars with the waterproof tea light .. should be good night time fun at the campground! I’ve never used these before so can’t wait myself lol.

  7. Amy says

    Great ideas! We have used the water beads in our marble run. They fit perfectly but kind of quietly bounce around and often out and the kids try to catch them. And we always have so many water beads, they can just keeps loading them in. Fun!

  8. Jessica says

    How do you store your water beads? Mine have become slimy and are starting to stink like an aquarium. :( I’d hate to throw them out…

  9. says

    We love water beads, but I struggle with the kids squishing them to pieces! I drain all the excess water and store them in a bottle/jar with a lid. Maybe it’s the brand I bought (Brainbows), but I’ve only had a storage/reuse problem if they weren’t covered (add a few drops of bleach & rinse?). Otherwise, while bottled up, they’re “calm-down” bottles! When we let them dry up, which can take days, they get teeny-tiny again.

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