Written by I-Yatah Keisha, Early Childhood Educator and owner of Kidtabulous.
Why Water Beads?
Water Bead play is a great way for children to explore sensory play and science while having fun! Children love that squishy feeling! They are easy to make, and you can play with them for hours!
Water beads are one of the coolest little phenomenons to explore. When you first get them, they are just tinyballs of plastic. After sitting in water for a while, they grow and get about the size of a marble. If you take them out of the water and let them dry out, they shrink back to their original size. Water beads are a great way to observe water hydration and dehydration. They also offer children quite a unique sensory experience as they squeeze, squish and watch them move and bounce.
I recommend using loose waterbeads with children aged 4 and up who will not put them in their mouth. Water beads are non-toxic, but a child might choke if they try to swallow one. If you have a younger child (or even an older child who still puts things in their mouth) you can still use them, but you may want to seal them in a Ziploc bag (see activity #2).
Check out these fun ways to explore waterbeads:
1. Water Bead Bin
This is super simple to set up and you can use whatever you have in your kitchen or your child’s toybox.
Pour the waterbeads into a large bin with a little bit of water. Add some objects to play with. Some suggestions: measuring cups, spoons, buckets, bowls, smaller containers, shovels, scoops, dump trucks, tongs, balance scale, etc. Have fun scooping, pouring, measuring, weighing, and squishing!
2. Water Bead Sensory Bag
For toddlers, you can make a waterbead sensory bag, like these rainbow bags at Meri Cherry.
Simply fill a large Ziploc bag with waterbeads and some water (or baby oil or gel for more squishy fun) and seal them with duct tape.
3. Incredible Water Bead Slime
Another really fun way to play with waterbeads is to make Incredible Water Bead Slimelike this slime at Parenting Chaos
With this slime, the children can explore squishing, pulling, stretching and whatever else they can come up with as they play.
Promoting Scientific Inquiry Through Water Bead Play:
Here are some questions you can ask your children while they are playing with the water beads. As parents and early childhood educators, we can provide guidance, in part, by questioning to help promote scientific inquiry later on in school. Click this link to read an article that provides full details on promoting scientific inquiry in children.
What happened to the beads when we left them in the water? Why?
What happened to the glue when we added the liquid starch?
What do you notice that is different about the beads after they have absorbed the water? (feel, look, bounce, etc.)
What do the beads look like after we let them dry out for a few days? Why?