Unlock your child’s creativity from the comfort of home with our engaging and personalized private online art lessons for kids!  Designed for kids 5-16 to gain skills and confidence.

What to Do with Water Beads

by Jean Van't Hul
June 5, 2022
water beads featured image

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.

This post contains affiliate links.

Updated July 2023

We love water beads. LOVE them!

But if you are new to the sensory play world, you might not know about this fun material.

So, we thought we’d share

  • 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:

Are Water Beads Dangerous?

A Quick Note About Safety

They are safe for touching and playing with but NEVER for eating. If you have a little one who still puts things in his or her mouth, then supervise very closely (as we are sure you would anyway) or save this sensory activity for when your child is older.

Ingestion of water beads has serious health risks!

We will also link to edible options at the end of this post that might be safer alternatives for children who still put things in their mouths.

water beads pin graphic

Where to Buy Water Beads?

We have bought them from a variety of places over time. We’ve found them in the toy section of a local drugstore for very inexpensive, at the dollar store, or you can buy them online.

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 beads.
  • We purchased this fun kit that came with scoops and spoons, as well as tons of water beads.
  • You can also purchase giant ones, which are so fun to play with!
tiny water beads
Photo by Andrea Martelle

How do you Activate Water Beads?

They start out as super tiny hard beads. To get them to their squishy glory, empty the tiny, dehydrated beads into a container (we used a clear storage bin), then add LOTS of water.

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

If they absorb all the water in your bin, 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)! And our kids like to play with them during every step of the process.

But wait! There’s more!

What to do with Water Beads?

hands in sensory bin
Photo by Andrea Martelle

1.  Sensory Play Material

Sensory play is what water beads are best at. Kids of all ages (we’re including ourselves 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.

Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

2.  Try them on the light table

Water beads are awesome on their own, but they really shine on the light table. The light glows through the beads and makes the sensory play even more fun.

Be sure to check out how to make this DIY light table and lots of activities to do with it.

toys in sensory bin
Photo by Andrea Martelle

3.  Pretend play with small toys.

Our kids take any opportunity to turn sensory play into pretend play with their little animals (or dinos!) and toy figures. Toss a few into the bin and see what they come up with!

Photo by Jean Van’t Hul

4.  Sort them!

Our kids sort them 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 and scoops.

water beads in shaving cream
Photo by Andrea Martelle

5.  Mix with shaving cream

Add shaving cream for double the sensory fun! Shaving cream is an awesome sensory material on its own but also contrasts wonderfully with water beads. After a few days of playing with the beads on their own, we added shaving cream and it reinvigorated our kids’ play in a whole new way!

orbs in water
Photo by Andrea Martelle

6.  Learn the science behind them.

These polymers grow as they absorb water and shrink as water evaporates from them. It is interesting to observe them shrinking when left out of water and growing again when put in water. You can add more water to the bin as you go and see how they grow.

big beads in child's hands
Photo by Andrea Martelle

7.  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.

sensory bin for kids
Photo by Andrea Martelle

8.  Relax

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

edible alternatives
Photo by Rachel Withers

Safer Water Beads for Babies and Toddlers

People Also Ask

  • What are the dangers of water beads? They are a choking hazard and can cause serious health risk if ingested. Never allow a child to use unsupervised.
  • Do water beads need to stay in water? Yes. Once removed from water, they begin to shrink back to their original size. If they are clean, you can store them in an airtight container for future use.
  • Do water beads ever dry out? They will shrink up as the water in them evaporates, so you can leave them out for a few days to dry out and shrink.
  • How do you dispose of water beads? Once they have dried out and are back to their original size, you can dispose of them. And if the packaging confirms that they are biodegradable, you can actually bury them in your garden, too.

sensory bin ideas
Photo by Andrea Martelle

More Sensory Play for Kids

Want even more Sensory Exploration fun?

Check out our Sensory Creativity Pack!

This 30-page printable eBook is stuffed full of sensory play fun! An ultimate guide to sensory play, complete with our favorite recipes and tips for success!

Pin It for Later 

water beads pin
What to Do with Water Beads What to Do with Water Beads

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *