Kid Stuff

Water Beads Make for a Fun Sensory Play Experience

While looking for something different to play with, we ran across these water beads that make for a neat sensory play experience. They can also make a big mess if you have a kid who likes to squish them! But it is still neat to watch them grow and then stick your hands in a big bowl of squishy beads.


Water Beads Sensory Play

All you need to get started is a pack of water beads. There’s a bunch to choose from on Amazon. We just got a small pack of regular size beads, but you can choose everything from bead activity kits to jumbo size beads! Just search “water beads” and a ton of options will pop up.

Then all you need is a big container, a bit of water and a little patience…

This is what we started with:

water beads at the start

What Are Water Beads?

Water beads are little dehydrated non-toxic polymer gel beads that expand when soaked in water. They are often used in centerpieces and floral arrangements. Some types of beads actually hold water and can help keep plants hydrated. In fact, when we are done playing with the water beads I always put them in our potted plants and in the garden.

How Do You Use Water Beads for Sensory Play?

There’s a lot of different fun things to do with water beads, but we usually just put them in a big bowl and squish them around! There’s a TON of different activities on Pinterest! Click here to check out my board of Water Bead Activity Ideas that ranges from glowing beads to frozen beads to filling ballons with beads!

Just Add Water!

water-bead-play (2)

All you need to activate your beads is to add water. Then you wait… In about an hour you will see them swelling up and doubling in size, but also looking a little rough. My son couldn’t wait to play with them and decided to start taking them out and putting them in leaves and calling them boats. Then he added a bunch of leaves to the bowl. Then he started squishing them. Then there was a big gooey mess everywhere….

But it wasn’t too hard to clean up. Also, the little balls go back to their dehydrated size when they don’t have access to more water, so if you wait until then, they are easy to sweep away. It takes about two to four hours before they reach full size. Our beads were marble size when totally full.

water-bead-play (5)

What Can You Do with Water Beads?

The big bowl of them is fun to squish with your hands! But beyond just squishing them, there are several water bead activities you can also do like:

  1. Create a sensory bin and fill it with different objects
  2. Put them in a baggie to create a water bead bag
  3. Put them in a bowl of shaving cream for a different feel
  4. Freeze them
  5. Smash them with a hammer
  6. Put them in a blender and chop them up
  7. Use tweezers and sort them by color
  8. Mix the water beads with slime
  9. Fill the bowl with different object and see if you can find them by touch. This is my son trying to find all the race cars:


…or you could do my son’s favorite water bead sensory activity and my least favorite:

10. Running them over with toy cars and leaving a giant mess


The easiest way to clean this up is to just step back wait. The next morning the mess will almost magically disappear as the water evaporates. Then you just sweep up the little crumbles.

What to Do with Them When You’re Done Playing

We like to make a big bowl and let it sit out for a few days as we find different things to do with them, but after a few days I get tired of finding little squishy balls everywhere. That’s when it’s time to dispose of them or save them. If you don’t want to keep them, you can dispose of them in the trash. Do not try and put them down the drain or disposal! You can also add them to your garden soil or potted plants to help keep them hydrated. This is my preferred method.

If you want to save them, you can either save them as they are or let them dehydrate back to little beads and store them that way. If you want to keep them filled with water, then store in an airtight bag, jar or bottle. They can be used to make a colorful display in pretty jars or glass bottles with lids. If you want them to shrink back to original size, then the quickest way to dehydrate them is to spread them in a single layer on a towel and sit them in the sun. The towel will absorb the water as it leaks out and they will return to their regular size. You should be able to rehydrate them again at a later date for more water bead fun!

Update 4/5/20 – I sat them in the sun for two days and they barely shrank! So I gave up and just set them in a single layer in the house. It took a week for them to shrink down and they were still kind of sticky. So I recommend storing them as-is and them putting them in garden when you are done.

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