Things I Love: Water Beads

water bead manipulation

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My recent obsession with Montessori-style play/learning at home has had me reading a lot of different blogs, and there are tons of blogs that mention the fun of using water beads as a play item. I first learned about them from Play at Home Mom (the original post on water beads explains the basics and shows lots of ways to use them), but there are lots of other fans. These beads are basically some kind of gel polymer filled with water (I think you can buy some you have to hydrate yourself, which you do just by soaking them in water, and some prehydrated) and you can find clear ones, multicolored ones or packs of a single color.

I’d been on the lookout for these for a couple of weeks — you can find them in the floral supplies at various retailers, I’m told — and in my tour of the local discount/dollar stores I’ve been doing lately I found some clear ones at Dollar Tree. They’re called Decorator Beads there, and they’re on the floral/craft aisle. (As an aside, if you’ve got a favorite discount store, dollar store or unexpected place to buy craft supplies or fun things to explore with the kiddos, I’d love to hear about it.)

While there I also picked up (among many other things) a round pie pan and some plastic cone-shaped party favors that I didn’t realize at the time are actually kaleidoscopes.

When the Bit announced she wanted to go upstairs last night, I took all this stuff with us. First I dumped some of the beads into the pan, just to get her started.

water beads sensory play
The Bit tries out the water beads.

The beads have a really fun texture, kind of slippery, smooth and cool. They also bounce! A lot. I had read that but was still unprepared for how much they bounce. It’s pretty fun, but they will end up everywhere and they are pretty easy to smash (it’s just water inside so cleanup is no biggie, at least with the clear ones).

It wasn’t long before she decided she needed to play with something else with the beads.

water bead manipulation
The water beads go in easier than they come out!

So she grabbed the little kaleidoscopes and started putting the beads inside. I wasn’t sure they would come back out, but they did, with a little coaxing. But even if they hadn’t, that’s the good thing about dollar store finds!

After a while she decided to explore a little more.

water beads gel bags
Double the sensory fun with water beads and gel bags.

What she’s got there is what I’m calling, for lack of a better term, a “gel bag.” I’ve seen them called sensory bags and squishy bags online, and this is another one I got from Play at Home Moms and other sources. I made the smaller version, though I’d love to do a big one, too, like the Play at Home Moms version.

All you need for the most basic version is zip-top food storage bags, hair gel (get the biggest bottle you can find at the dollar or discount store; I used clear but I hear the yellow also works) food coloring and clear packing tape. You can also throw in some glitter if you want, or little objects to find if you’re doing a bigger bag.

Dump some gel into the bag, squirt in some food coloring and squish around until it’s well mixed. Add more color or more gel to get a color you like.

Then just close the bag up, put tape across the top and you’re ready to play.

gel bags sensory play
My first attempt at gel bags in the basic colors.

Your kid probably will try to open these, so keep an eye on them the first couple of times they use them. I definitely want to make some more of these; the Bit played with them one morning and then asked for them again that afternoon, so it was a big hit. And this whole experience probably cost less than $10, and I had to buy food storage bags. Can’t beat that.


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