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Creative Play

What to do with Water Beads (with Video!)


Wondering what to do with water beads? This post shares where to buy , how to hydrate them, and some of the fun things kids can do with this great sensory material.

Children playing in bin with water beads
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Updated February 2021

We love water beads. LOVE them!

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

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.

But first, here’s a video showing kids playing with this fun sensory material:

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 are 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 this sensory activity 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.

close up of water beads

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. Usually, I buy them on Amazon. Those are the ones you see pictured here.

More ideas:

  • This pack keeps all the colors separate, if you’re interested in that idea for themed sensory bins. Plus it makes a whopping 3 gallons worth of water beads.
  • 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).
  • Buy a color assortment as you see here, single colors, or clear water beads.
  • You can buy a little packet (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 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?

1.  Sensory Play Material

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 them than have a bowl full of them to plunge your hands into and hold and squish them.


2.  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.

sensory play 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 sensory fun, adding a pretend play element.

The kids have also used small figurines (princess dolls and animals), and even cars once, with the sensory play.

4.  Sort them!

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 by Color

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

…or use these fun kid scoopers.

Shaving Cream Play

5.  Mix 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 fun decorations.

Shrinking Water Beads

6.  Learn the science behind them.

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 beads so the kids can add water when they want the beads to grow more or just want more water in the tub.

Water Beads

7.  Add to 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

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 them!

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 a few dollars or look for them at the Dollar Tree or a craft store such as Michael’s… That’s not a lot to pay for all the fun you’re sure to have with these!

edible water bead alternatives

Safer Water Beads for Babies and Toddlers

Pin It for Later 

water beads - pinterest
What to do with Water Beads (with Video!)


  • Reply
    July 24, 2014 at 9:35 am

    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 ;)

  • Reply
    Katie Harding
    July 24, 2014 at 10:14 am

    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!

  • Reply
    July 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    August 10, 2014 at 11:58 am

    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?

  • Reply
    August 16, 2014 at 4:20 pm

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

  • Reply
    August 18, 2014 at 7:21 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    September 16, 2014 at 12:44 am

    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!

  • Reply
    Mrs Shakes
    November 9, 2014 at 11:13 pm

    This is exciting! I had never heard of them. Is it a one time use sort of thing?

  • Reply
    November 12, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    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…

  • Reply
    November 12, 2014 at 7:48 pm

    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.

  • Reply
    November 30, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    These look like great fun must see if i can find them some where in Dunedin New Zwaland.

  • Reply
    January 13, 2015 at 12:50 am

    I am using waterbeads with fine white glitter to make sensory bottles.

  • Reply
    March 8, 2015 at 3:36 am

    Wonderful comment! I use them in my classroom, in small amounts, because cannot have them in Belgium, only through Amazon and for us that is very expensive. But the kids in my group are excited every time I get them out and they keep on playing for weeks with them, just filling pots and pans, with spoons or just their hands,… parents always are amazed about this material. I wished I could find them nearby to have a big tub full of them, but we’re already happy with this amount (parents brought them for me two years ago from America). Now reading this comment, I get a lot more ideas for using them! thanks!

  • Reply
    Tumble Tastics
    March 31, 2015 at 8:48 am

    OK, putting my hand up to this one! I love playing with them as well……my young daughter loves playing with these as a sensory development and.

  • Reply
    June 4, 2015 at 12:11 am

    Hi Jean-
    Because of your lovely posts, I have tried using waterbeads with my 2.5 year old daughter several times over the last year (She LOVES them!). I have purchased some at our dollar store and also a few packages on ebay. Each time, the waterbeads seem quick to break down. At first I thought it was maybe just age, but they just don’t seem durable like your images would suggest. Can you give me any advice on waterbead maintenance? Has this been a problem for you? How long do you usually keep a round of waterbeads? How do you store your waterbeads overnight? Thank you so much!

  • Reply
    Water Beads
    June 7, 2015 at 2:17 am

    You can also use them for painting my son and I always paint with them we put them in paint and than on paper and he just rolls them around. He finds it extremely entertaining.

  • Reply
    July 7, 2015 at 10:28 am

    My daughter had these, a brand called orbeez, and they came with all kinds of warnings on them to be sure to wash hands after, to keep them away from any pet or animal as they can cause serious problems if ingested, etc. It might be worth looking into before you use them in some of the ways mentioned here.

  • Reply
    July 16, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    I just wanted to let you know that I *absolutely* adore this post, and am thrilled I found your blog! I am a new blogger, but have been a homeschooling preschooling mom for a while now. I am actually going to link to this post if that is okay with you! I adore it!

  • Reply
    March 26, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    how long do these last ,i want to used them in vase with air plants

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      March 28, 2018 at 5:07 am

      I think they pretty much last forever. You can just keep adding water whenever they start to shrink.

  • Reply
    April 7, 2018 at 11:25 pm

    Good and interesting information
    Can you please tell me whether should I use warm water or cold one. And secondly should I cover it or leave in air.

    • Reply
      Jean Van't Hul
      April 8, 2018 at 5:05 am

      Either cold or warm water is fine, Wasif. And I never cover our water beads, but you could if you wanted to.

  • Reply
    Robert Patterson
    April 16, 2018 at 6:26 am

    I never bought into the whole Water Bead insanity before. We are going to play with these on a family camping trip. Can you tell me how long do these last? and How do you store your water beads? thanks in advance for clarification.

    • Reply
      Melissa Garrett
      April 16, 2018 at 10:04 am

      Hi Robert. I’m Melissa, the project manager for The Artful Parent. Hope you have so much fun with water beads on your camping trip! The beads will last indefinitely. You can store them in an airtight container (we use a small Rubbermaid bin), or if you’d prefer to dehydrate them, you can leave them out to dry (it may take a few days). They’ll shrink down to their small size and you can store in a ziploc bag until you’re ready to use them again. Just add water and they’ll puff up again. Hope that helps – have fun playing!

  • Reply
    Betty Lintern
    November 23, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Hello!! I’ve just purchased these water balls and love them – Would like to know the ways they can be used in pot plants – I.E on top of soil to prevent weeds etc – any info would be appreciated- I am a 75yo terminally ill woman wanting to pot plants (light work) please help !!!
    Thank you in anticipation 🙏🙏🌸

  • Reply
    January 26, 2019 at 3:49 am

    Once the heads expand, can I just pour out the excess water and use the beads only without the water and put a flower in them

  • Reply
    Rosemarie Watts
    August 30, 2019 at 12:41 pm

    I use them to cool off in the summer or when my menopause kick in, i made a sack that goes around my neck with three hand full of beads than when I need it I put it in water until the beads expand and than i put it around my neck to cool off.

  • Reply
    Peter Keelback
    May 18, 2021 at 5:22 am

    I am stunned that you are promoting water beads. They are incredibly dangerous for small children. You say that parents should supervise small children however how many see it or remember to follow it.

    Please stop promoting them.

    • Reply
      The Artful Parent Editorial Team
      June 2, 2021 at 1:17 pm

      Thanks for your comment. We recognize the health risk regarding water beads and only recommend using with close parent supervision. And you know your child best, if they are at all likely to put water beads in their mouth, hold off on introducing them. We’ve also included some safe water bead alternatives for sensory play.
      the Editorial Team

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