Water beads are a fun, simple and inexpensive activity for younger children and there are so many ways to play with them!
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Have you ever played with water beads? Water beads are hard little colored beads that expand to many times their size when you add them to water. They are a great indoor and outdoor activity for kids of all ages. We first started playing with them when my older two kids were 2 and 4. Now I have 4 kids and all of them (ages 20 months to 10 years) still love to play with water beads. I can’t blame them. They are a lot of fun!
You can see how small they are from the photo above. My kids were so excited when we got them that I immediately grabbed some bins I already had from the dollar store that I purchased when I did my post on 3 ways to paint with toddlers and preschoolers (another great way to keep kids entertained!). Then grabbed about 15 or so beads from 4 of the bags and put them in one bin and did the same with 4 different colors in the second bin. I added some warm water to each bin, filling it about halfway and left them to do their thing.
Another option is a small water table that doubles as a sensory bin. It could be used for so many different things!
I was totally amazed when I looked at the beads about 10 minutes later and they were already growing. Rather than feeling hard, they had started to soften a bit around the outside and they looked a little bit blurry. (No, that’s not your vision playing tricks on you. This picture is what they actually look like.)
10 minutes after that, they were even bigger and looking a little bumpy. I showed my kids and they were equally impressed. Both of them wanted to start playing with the beads right away, so I let them for a little bit.
Since I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the beads to grow to their full size, I left them in the bins overnight. The next morning, the water was halfway gone and the beads were each about 1/2″ in diameter.
How to Set Up Water Bead Play
A word of caution for those of you with small children: watch them carefully and if they are prone to putting things in their mouths, this might not be the right activity for them. We got these about a year ago when my kids were 4 and 2 and now they are almost 5 and 3. You know your kids best.
To set up for our activity, I got some extra bath towels and folded them in half, draping some off the edge of the table. Then I put the bins of beads in front of my kids and let them go to town! I gave them some measuring cups and bowls to play with as well. They loved it! They measured and poured and bounced the beads for a good 45 minutes. Their clothes got a little wet but the towels did soak up most of the water. And I have to admit that I had fun putting my hands in the bins and rolling the beads around. They are so soft and slippery and squishy!
One of the great things about water beads is that you can keep using them. We had ours out for about a week and I just added a little bit of water to keep them plump. After that long, the kids lost interest and the bins were just taking up space on my counter. When you’re done with them, grab a towel and pour the beads onto it. The towels will slowly start to soak up the water from the beads and after a couple days they will have shrunk down and dried out.
As they dry out and become smaller, I like to separate them into piles by color. (I am a little OCD and just putting all the beads together in one bag would drive me nuts!) I kept the original bags they came in and just put them back in there when I was confident they were completely dry.
And that’s it! Water beads are perfect for sensory bins. Because there are so many colors, you could customize them for all different seasons and holidays. Add in water safe toys and let your kids imagination go wild.