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How to Add Water Beads to Play Time

Angela Tague
June 1, 2017

Have you tried this super sensory activity? Even though they didn't start out as a toy, water beads can lead to hours of fun.



Craving a new play time activity? Think beyond the toy chest. Though their intended use is in floral arrangements, water beads can provide hours of entertainment for kids. The small squishy balls provoke a sense of curiosity and intrigue among toddlers ages 3 to 5, and beyond. Learn how to play with them (and even how to make them) below.

What Are Water Beads?
These gel-like balls are made of water-absorbing polymer and are similar to marbles in size. You can often buy them in small pellets -- soak them in water according to the package's directions and they will become squishy, smooth beads that are perfect for playing with. The small round orbs feel like soft marbles. They roll and have a little bounciness to them.

Look for water beads in the floral supply section of your favorite craft store. Choose non-toxic beads in a variety of colors to coordinate with your project. As a safety tip, never leave a child of any age alone with beads. Though they are non-toxic, they should not be eaten, and a bead could become a choking hazard.

How to Play With Water Beads
With a touch of imagination and a few household items, there are limitless ways to play and learn with these squishy beads.

Here are a few ideas to get you and your child started:

  1. Use Your Hands
    To play this game, you'll need a package of clear beads. Carefully count the number of beads aloud as you drop them one by one into a bowl of warm, clean water. As they drop, the clear beads seem to disappear. Next, ask your kid how many beads are in the bowl and have them use only touch (not sight, since the beads are clear and camouflaged by the water) to feel for the beads. This activity challenges your child's fine motor skills against the slippery water. If you have two children, set up two bowls of beads and make it a race.
  2. Scoop and Sort
    During the summer, does your child spend hours splashing, scooping and exploring outside? Beads are the perfect addition to the fun. Fill a variety of plastic bins with water and sprinkle colorful beads into the containers. Then, arm your child with tools like ladles, colanders and cups to scoop, strain and sort the beads. These movements offer the perfect opportunity to work on counting skills, color identification and moving objects fluidly between the right and left hands.
  3. Grow Your Own
    For older children, watching the beads magically grow can be exciting. In the morning, have your kid place the dehydrated seeds into a tall, clear container. Have him measure water into the container as instructed on the package and mark the level of the dehydrated beads with a piece of tape. By evening the child will notice the seeds have magically transformed into beads and grown exponentially! This experiment can easily turn into a discussion about hydration. Preteens in the household can participate by offering to weigh the seeds using a food scale before and after hydration to calculate how much water was absorbed.

Make or Buy Beads
Add another layer of excitement to working with beads and make them yourself.


  • Use Tapioca Pearls
    Teaching Mama likes to use tapioca pearls and gel food coloring to make her own version of water beads. The smaller beads are edible and safe for children of all ages.
  • Soak Seeds
    Fun at Home With Kid soaks basil or chia seeds to make her own miniature water beads for her family. These can easily be colored, and due to the small size, are safe for the smallest of tots to handle.

If you'd rather buy beads, look for them in the crafts, wedding decor and floral supply sections of large retailers including Walmart, Target, Michael's and Hobby Lobby. During summer you can also find them at Dollar Tree and Dollar General. If you prefer to shop online, you can find beads at Teacher Supply Source, Oriental Trading Company and Amazon.

Sensory play, science instruction, color identification: You can't ask for much more from such a simple toy.

And check out these 10 Wild Water Balloon Games.

Angela Tague volunteers with children who use sensory play activities while they ride therapy horses at the Special Troopers Adaptive Riding School in NW Iowa. She also writes about parenting and lifestyle topics for Fit Pregnancy and Parenting. See what Angela's been up to recently on Twitter and Facebook.

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