What To Do With Water Beads - 21 Ideas For Fun Sensory Play!

Child holding water beads before beginning sensory play
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Water beads or Orbeez have become popular as a sensory toy for children. For those who are wondering 'What are Orbeez?' we take a closer look at this play material and list 21 fun activities for kids to do with these beads...

The non-edible balls are made of just two ingredients: Water and a water-absorbing polymer, and they were originally used by florists and gardeners to control the water levels and water absorption of plants and flowers. These beads are environmentally safe and non-toxic, and they are often delivered to the buyer dehydrated, so they look very, very small. However, add water and they will begin to grow and expand to the size of a marble, becoming slippery, squishy and bouncy - perfect for sensory play!

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Kidadl answers what to do with water beads like these

How And When To Dispose Of Water Beads

Water beads can be purchased from many garden centres and florists, or there are several places online to buy water beads. Water beads will last for a couple of years if unused, but once you have added water, they tend to attract mould after a couple of weeks. If this happens, dispose of them immediately. To dispose of water beads simply crumble them up and add them to any potted plants you have, or to your compost or potting soil.

Do not dispose of them down the sink as they may clog the drain or continue to expand in the pipes - for this reason, they are not suitable in the bath.

It is worth knowing that smaller beads, around half an inch in diameter, last longer as they are more durable, whereas the larger ones absorb more water, getting heavier and more likely to fall apart.

Are Water Beads Reusable?

Water beads can be reused several times before they are disposed of, and there are a couple of different ways to store them. Either leave them on a tray to dehydrate, then, once completely dry they can be stored in a bag. Or, whilst still full of water you can store your water marbles in a Ziploc bag, a plastic container or a clear bottle (which make great sensory bottles for kids to play with).

What Happens If Your Child Ingests Water Beads?

Water beads are recommended for children aged 5+.

Although kids love playing with water beads and they are considered non-toxic, parents are advised to closely supervise their kids whilst they play with them as they can pose a choking hazard. They can also cause gastrointestinal issues if swallowed (especially in large numbers). Because they are small and colourful, kids are often tempted to put the beads in their mouths, so it is worth being extra cautious during playtime with these.

21 Fun Sensory Play Ideas

1. The first sensory experience with water beads for kids is to watch them grow and expand in the water. This requires a little patience, but kids are fascinated to see the small, hard balls become large, soft and squishy - and you can set up the container leaving it to one side, returning regularly over a couple of hours.

2. Shining light through the water beads makes them glow, so why not create an amazing and easy sensory experience for your kids by taping the beads to a window? Place the beads into a clear Ziploc bag and seal it. Next, use strong tape to stick the bag on a window that is accessible to your child or onto a patio door. As the daylight shines through the colourful beads they will glow and sparkle! This is a great sensory play set up, as kids can safely push the beads around in the bag.

3. Create a sensory bin for your children by mixing shaving cream and water beads in a container, and letting them discover the different textures and feelings. You can also mix water beads with mud in a container, then let the kids get messy - this one is best for a sunny day in the garden.

4. To engage another of the five senses, why not add a few drops of your favourite essential oil into the water bead mix? Adding scents that have a calming or relaxing effect may turn this activity into a moment of quiet play.

5. Develop your child's fine motor skills by getting them to feed water beads into a balloon. Once the balloon has a few handfuls of beads inside, simply top up with water and knot the end before putting in the freezer. Once fully frozen, cut the balloon away, and place the frozen water bead balls into their sensory bin, or a container with water and see what happens when the ice starts to melt away...

Clear water beads ready to play with

6. Water bead sensory painting is another great activity. Simply put some paints into pots or onto paper plates, lay some paper into a plastic tray and put some water beads into a container. Kids can use tools like tweezers or tongs, or they can use their hands for a more sensory play activity, moving the paint-covered water beads by tipping and turning the plastic tray, and watching as a painting appears on the paper at the bottom.

7. If your children enjoy making slime, then they will love water bead slime! Just add them into the slime mixture and get playing.

8. Why not use the beads as counters? The fun texture is sure to make maths more interesting for your young ones.

9. Try adding glow sticks to your container and let your kids play with water beads as they change colours and begin to glow.

10. Mix glass marbles with the water beads - this is a great way to explore the different textures, densities and properties of the two materials.

11. Make sensory bottles using dehydrated beads, simply adding water and food colouring and watching as the beads grow. Start with a small number of beads, as they often expand more than you'd imagine, and watch as the mixture changes, bubbles and becomes full of bright,  colourful beads.

12. Make a sensory bin that is perfect for a hot summer's day. Combine different sizes and shapes of ice cubes with lots of water beads and let the kids explore. You could even freeze coconut water, or add herbs, like mint, into the ice cubes to engage their sense of smell.

13. If you're ready to dispose of your water beads, kids will have fun getting involved with this sensory game: Simply lay the beads on a sheet of plastic or a bin bag, and let them hammer the beads, crushing them with a child-friendly wooden mallet, or trying to squeeze and squash them until they break.

Ideas For Older Children

14. Try to thread the water beads onto a wooden skewer or metal kebab sticks without breaking them. Children who are comfortable using a needle and thread can also try to string beads together, designing different patterns and combining colours.

15. Make water bead seed-beds, by filling a jar with beads and placing a seed, such as a pumpkin seed or a bean, just under the surface. Place the jar in a sunny spot on the windowsill and wait to see if the seed will sprout and grow.

16. Make a stress ball by filling a drinking bottle with water beads, then placing a balloon over the bottle top and turning upside down so that the beads move from the bottle into the balloon. Simply tie the balloon off, and kids can get playing with the stress ball.

Ideas For Children with SEN

17. In a darkened room, shine a torch through the container of coloured beads. This looks beautiful and often has a calming effect on children.

18. Try separating the coloured beads into different buckets for a quick and easy sensory activity.

19. Fill a container with water beads, and lay out a selection of tools and toys, such as a bucket and spade, different sized spoons, salad servers, an ice cream scoop, a sieve or colander.

Potential Hazards

Water beads have the potential to cause serious damage if swallowed, particularly as they could continue to expand in the airways or along the gastrointestinal tract. Several children have required hospital treatment to remove water beads that they had swallowed.

As a rule, children under three should not play with any toy that has any part small enough to fit into a 35mm film canister - and so, water beads are not recommended for children under the age of 5.

For these reasons, water beads need to be treated with caution. However, if you would like to try them but are feeling concerned about the potential hazards, why not try making the safe, edible version? Simply cook tapioca pearls with water and gel food colouring - in a ratio of 10:1 water to tapioca pearls!

Disclaimer

Disclaimer

At Kidadl we pride ourselves on offering families original ideas to make the most of time spent together at home or out and about, wherever you are in the world. We strive to recommend the very best things, that are suggested by our community and are things we would do ourselves - our aim is to be the trusted friend to parents. 

We try our very best, but cannot guarantee perfection. We will always aim to give you accurate information at the date of publication - however, information does change, so it's important you do your own research, double-check and make the decision that is right for your family.  

Kidadl provides inspiration for everything from family days out to online classes, arts, crafts and science experiments. We recognise that not all activities and ideas are appropriate and suitable for all children and families or in all circumstances. Our recommended activities are based on age but these are a guide. We recommend that these ideas are used as inspiration, that ideas are undertaken with appropriate adult supervision, and that each adult uses their own discretion and knowledge of their children to consider the safety and suitability.

Kidadl cannot accept liability for the execution of these ideas, and parental supervision is advised at all times, as safety is paramount. Anyone using the information provided by Kidadl does so at their own risk and we can not accept liability if things go wrong. 

We also link to other websites, but are not responsible for their content.

Rosanna Robertson
Godmother to two little girls

Godmother to two little girls, Rosanna enjoys finding ways to entertain her goddaughters with games, cooking and – best of all - arts and crafts. Having studied Fine Art, Rosanna uses her creativity to make colourful, fun and educational art and craft projects that are perfect for kids of all ages. Full of ideas for homemade cards and handcrafted gifts, toys and decorations – Rosanna also has a knack for finding child-friendly cultural activities and fun places for kids to blow off steam.