All about waterbeads
What are waterbeads?
Water beads a non-edible bead made of a combination of water and a water-absorbing polymer. A polymer is made of of tiny particles that stick together and form long chains. When dry water beads are immersed in water, they fill up and expand like a sponge. They make a great filler for sensory bins, a very relaxing and fun activity for children of all ages.
Are waterbeads safe?
Waterbeads are non-toxic and safe but not edible. Dehydrated waterbeads (before soaking them in water) MUST be totally out of reach of children. It could be very dangerous if a child swallows a dehydrated waterbead (specially the large ones) as it might grow with the liquids inside the body. Supervision is required at all times when playing with waterbeads and they are not safe for children under 3 years. They are not toxic so the only problem when eaten is they can be a chocking hazard. If children chew them or swallow just a bit, the waterbead will pass through the digestive system so that won't be a problem.
How to use waterbeads
Pick a container or a bowl that is large enough and add the waterbeads in it. Fill the container up with water (better to have too much water than too little, otherwise they won’t grow enough). Small waterbeads will be fully grown within a few hours. Large waterbeads can keep growing for up to 3 days. You will know they are fully grown when they reach a perfectly round and smooth shape.
If you are using large waterbeads for the first time, children will probably be very excited about it and squeeze them straight away. Once waterbeads are squeezed they won’t go back to their original shape, they break like jelly. That’s why we recommend to use 10-15 large waterbeads at a time and explore with them. Keep them in a container full of water so “fishing” them is part of the activity. Some of the large waterbeads can’t hold their own weight and they will break up while growing in the water.
Small waterbeads are harder and not so easy to squeeze. They bounce when you throw them and they can look a bit like sweets so supervision is required at all times. If you grow more waterbeads than you intend to use you can keep some in a container for another time.
Can waterbeads be reused?
Yes. If you have full sized waterbeads (round, not squeezed) left after playing, you can drain them after every use to clean them and store them in an airtight container (lunch box, ziplock bag or jar) in a cool place for the next time. They are full of water so you don’t want to keep them for months either as bacteria and mold could start growing in them, but that would take a while! If this happens you will be able to see black spots after probably a few months so you know it is then time to dispose them.
You can also dehydrate the waterbeads and make them dry and small again by placing them into a container on top of a warm surface like a radiator. The water will evaporate and you can store them like band new.
Play ideas with waterbeads
- Keep them in a container with water and “fish” them with spoons, a net, scoops, fine motor tools, etc.
- If you add food colouring into the water all the waterbeads that are the same colour as the water will "disappear". Without any food colouring all the clear waterbeads will desappear. It's like magic!
- Use trucks or tractors to load the waterbeads on them. Doing this on a tuff tray would be a great activity!
- Freeze them. Even when squeezed you could put what’s left on a tray and freeze it. It is a really cool texture to look at!
- Transfer them into smaller containers or an ice-cube tray with fine motor tools. Colour sorting or counting is a great way to learn through play using the waterbeads.
- Put them in a clear bottle with water and glue the top of the bottle. It makes a very nice and relaxing sensory bottle.
- Put some of the small waterbeads into a balloon and tie it. It’s a fun stress ball to squeeze.
- Super messy and sensory activity mixing waterbeads with shaving foam.
- Make or buy slime and add the waterbeads in it. Really cool!
- Cover the bottom of a box with paper. Add a few thick drops of paint. Add a few waterbeads into the box and move the box from side to side to make the waterbeads roll and spread the paint.
Benefits of playing with waterbeads
- Improve fine motor skills as children try to pick them up, hold them, catch them…
- Develop hand-eye coordination
- Great tactile experience feeling the size, temperature, shape and texture of the waterbeads.
- Fun visual experience observing the colours of the waterbeads and their movement (bounce, roll, sink, squeeze…)
- Develop problem-solving skills
- Self-regulating experience as children focus on their own sensations and experience while they play and it can calm anxiety and big feelings down.
- Understanding basic mathematical concepts like weight, colour sorting, size comparison, etc.
- Discovering simple science like change on state and size, mixing materials, gravity, sinking, etc.
How to dispose waterbeads
DO NOT put them down the drain as they could cause a blockage but also end up in the sea where animals would mistake them for food and cause them trouble.
The best place to get rid of them is the bin. Waterbeads are biodegradable so you can also put them in plant pots as the plants will absorb the water and the beads will keep the moisture for longer. You could throw them in the garden too but if you are concerned that pets or wildlife could eat them, they are better off just in the bin or indoor plants.
Other toys to use with waterbeads