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.
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.
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.
- 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).
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.
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.
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…
…or use spoons (measuring spoons work especially well).
…or use these fun kid scoopers.
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…
…and the kids also made a shaving cream “cake” with fun decorations.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
Safer Water Beads for Babies and Toddlers
- Tapioca Pearls as Edible Alternative to Water Beads (from Little Mainer Art Studio)
- Make Rainbow Water Bead Sensory Bags for Babies and Toddlers (on Meri Cherry)
- Safe, Edible Non-Chokable Mini Water Beads (on Fun at Home with Kids)
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