The wonderful world of water bead play

by Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. on May 26, 2012

in All About Water Beads, Powered by Play, Science and Nature

I have had several folks ask me what water beads are so I decided to write this post to share what they are, how we use them, and where you can get them…

What are water beads?

Water beads are actually meant for use in flower arrangements to add color, water, shine, and texture to the water in a jar.  Having said this, it is important to note that water beads are not designed for child’s play as a rule.  Although water beads are non-toxic and environmentally safe, they should not be eaten by young children.  My class of children ages 3 through 5 understood this and they did a wonderful job playing with the water beads but we talked with our students about the do’s and don’ts of playing with waterbeads when we introduced them to the class…

What do water beads look like?

Water beads can come in different forms.   At the Dollar Tree, they come in a bottle and they only come in clear.  The clear water beads have been our standing favorite because when you add them to water, they disappear into the water and can only be found by touch.

If you order water beads online, they will come to you in little packets that almost look like seed packets.  You have to let the “dehydrated” water beads sit in water for up to 12 hours so they will reach their full growth potential. When water beads sit out of the water for several days, they will shrink back up into small seed-like shapes…

When you let the water beads sit in water again, they will expand into marble shapes once again.  However, after my student’s played with ours for several days, we squashed them up and disposed of them…

What do water beads feel like?

Water beads feel like soft, squishy, smooth marbles.  If one drops to the floor, it will have a little bounce and it will definitely roll.  If you add water beads to a water table, they are relaxing and gentle and wonderful to touch. They are not slimy and they do not dissolve…

Ways can waterbeads be explored in the classroom

Of course the number one way we enjoyed playing with water beads was by adding them to our water table along with different types of strainers and cups. As I mentioned earlier, because the clear water beads seem to disappear in water, my class would spend long periods of time using their hands to search for the beads and gather them up. The children loved to search for them, scoop them, pour them, feel them, and gather them in cups….

We also explored the water beads on our DIY light box. Because my DIY light box has a plastic lid for the top, it was fine if the top of the light box got wet. The light shines beautifully through the water beads and the children enjoyed the combination of how the water beads felt and looked on the light box…

We also added water beads to our shave cream play.  The added feel of water beads creates a marvelous sensory experience…

All Content Areas

Water beads promote learning and development in all content areas of the classroom.  From fine motor exploration to science, color, sensory, and creative art – the ideas of how water beads can be used is endless.  I feel like we only tapped into just the beginning of what the possibilities are in my classroom this year and look forward to making new discoveries with my students next year…

Where can you get water beads?

Water beads are available in many stores like the Dollar Tree, Michael’s, and Walmart. They are considered a seasonal item so if your Dollar Tree doesn’t have them when you stop by, just check back again at a time when planting and gardening is more in season.  Stores like Micheal’s carry them in different colors.

You can also purchase them online. I purchased my colored water bead packets (shown above) from the Crystal Water Bead and in Canada you can find them online at Water Beads but if you just Google the key word “water beads” I am sure you will find many other places where water beads are available.

What should you expect?

I have found that some water beads are more squishy than others.  It seems that the water beads I bought online were easier for the children to squish and break apart than the ones I bought from the Dollar Tree. You do need to expect that your preschoolers may very well want to squish and break the water beads up.  What we learned to do to help with this is have a squishing day.  I asked the children to play with the water beads and not squish them up until squishing day. Before I was ready to throw a batch of water beads out, I would invite the children who really wanted to squish them up to have at it.

UPDATE 

There has been one reported incident in which an 8 month old infant swallowed a Water Balz. To read more about this story click here on the CPSC – Dunecraft Recall of Water Balz.  It is important to note that Water Balz and Waterbeads are not the same. WaterBalz are no longer available for purchase.

WaterBalzInHandLARGE

Description of the recalled Water Balz from CPSC

According to the CPSC: ”This recall involves marble-sized toys that absorb water and grow up to 400 times their original size. They were sold as Water Balz (round-shape), Growing Skulls (skull-shape), H2O Orbs “Despicable Me” (round-shape) and Fabulous Flowers (flower-shape). They were sold in packages of six in green, yellow, red, blue and black colors. “Dunecraft,” the name of the toy and the model number are printed on the toy’s packaging.”

Use of Water Beads

Although waterbeads and Water Balz are different products, it is still important to stay informed and use good judgement as to what will be in the best interest of your students or children. DO NOT let children who are still at an age where they want to put things in their mouth or are unable to distinguish the difference between a product meant for play versus a product meant to be eaten play with water beads.

Available on Amazon

 

Links to Grow

Observing shrinking and growing beads from The Chocolate Muffin Tree

Water beads in the Dark from Preschool Projects

Water beads from Preschool Play

Water bead exploration from Tinkerlab

Hidden diamonds water bead play from Play Create Explore

Water beads from Happy Hooligans

This article is being shared with you by Deborah Stewart of Teach Preschool - Promoting excellence in early childhood education at home and in the preschool classroom!

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1 Debby Matassa May 26, 2012 at 2:15 pm

We mixed our water beads with that powdered snow. It was along the same lines as mixing them with shaving cream, but better :) I also will say that I ate 3 of them (at home, not in front of the children) and suffered no obvious issues. My husband was horrified, but that is because he saw me do it. I would never have told him!

2 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 26, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Haha! I can’t believe you ate them!! I would be worried they would grow in your tummy!!

3 Toby June 19, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Deborah, I really liked your post! Would you be interested in writing weekly or monthly guest blog posts about water beads for our site, http://www.crystalwaterbeads.com? Thanks, Toby

4 Sara June 27, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I laughed so hard when I read you ate three of them! Totally sounds like something I would do to make sure they would not hurt my girls if they ate any. Luckily for me, they don’t even eat their food so the chances of them eating these is slim to none.

5 jackie May 26, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Thanks for sharing our link, Deborah! What an informative post this it! Great idea giving your readers the finer details. I love how you’ve described how they feel, how they bounce etc. It will be more tempting than ever for people to give them a try. :)

6 Kierna Corr (@CiarnaC) May 26, 2012 at 2:31 pm

What a brilliant & informative post Deborah, I’m so glad I caught the ‘water bead craze’ this year & can’t wait to explore them again with a whole new class next year!

7 Anna @ The Imagination Tree May 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm

what a fabulously informative post! I am going to share on my FB wall!

8 Heather@McKendree May 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I love these! To use them with a large group toddlers I put them in a gallon size baggie. The water beads slip around inside and the children l0ve making them move.

9 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Great way to adapt for younger children Heather!

10 Cat May 26, 2012 at 10:08 pm

Thank you so much! I thought that was what you meant, but when I’ve purchased them (for plants) in the past, they were much smaller)

11 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm

Yes, if you look around they do come in a variety of sizes. Our clear ones are actually our smallest but the ones we play with the most.

12 Victoria @ Denschool May 26, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Water play is a big plus for us to beat the heat and this will help us change that up a little from time to time.

Thank you for the additional links to further our water bead activities! Greatly appreciated =)

13 Jan May 26, 2012 at 11:02 pm

One of our local “Sensory” Stores carries the water beads.

14 Km May 26, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Thank you so much for all the water beads details… I have always wondered what they were!

15 LeAnne May 26, 2012 at 11:08 pm

We put them in the bathtub and my 3 year old had a blast, they are a pain to get out of the tub unless you use a butterfly net or something similar to get them out before you drain the tub. You can also add food coloring to the clear ones and after a while the coloring will wash away leaving them clear again. I’ve also seen scent added to them like the kind you add to soap that’s very lightly scented then they add the sense of smell as well as touch.

16 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Great idea to add the sense of smell! I haven’t every thought of that!

17 LeAnne May 26, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Also I got mine from Hobby Lobby’s wedding area they are used to add to table center pieces

18 Katie West May 27, 2012 at 6:41 am

I discovered water beads this year, and have managed to use them in a variety of ways with my Nursery (Kindergarden) class. We put them in the water tray (obvious choice) when we were learning about seed, and we watched them expand, and used them with spades, buckets, planting pots, etc. Some of the children moved them over to the sand tray and it got a little messy, but they wanted to discover what would happen. I’ve also popped tubing into the water tray at times. The children love running the beads through the tubes. I’ve caught one particular child snacking on them though! No damage done, but ick!

19 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Ick is right! I haven’t had any snackers yet but definitely need to keep an eye on those kids:) I love the tubing idea – my class would have a hay day with that idea!

20 Kathy Davis May 27, 2012 at 9:35 am

Great ideas, but one of the containers of water beads that I bought at Wal Mart said, in very tiny print… may cause cancer to children in California. Why just California I don’t know , but I threw them away because my student, autistic and mentally handicapped puts everything in his mouth. How do you know they are safe for children? I would love to use them but am concerned. Thanks,

21 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Hmmm, not sure but as I stated from the beginning – water beads are not intended for child’s play so supervision is important. But perhaps you could try to order those from the education center which is intended for child’s play.

22 barbara June 18, 2012 at 5:41 pm

just a quick note, it may be that the warning label was for California laws, as they tend to be more strick about labelling here.

23 Jen@Plain Vanilla Mom May 27, 2012 at 10:30 am

Fantastic post! Shared and pinned ;) The babe is obviously not ready for water beads but I can not wait until he is! Love water beads. Fun Fun

24 Doreen May 27, 2012 at 11:17 am

I love using water beads, I had one child in my class who only wanted to squish them, instead of being frustrated with him, I put out a smaller container for squishing only. The others went over to that one but did not stay, they preferred to play with the whole ones. He happily squished until he was done, then joined them in the whole bucket and didn’t squish any. These beads are so cheap and reusable too.

25 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Great idea to have a squishing bowl. I hadn’t thought of trying that!

26 Susan Delaney May 27, 2012 at 11:49 am

Love this, but I have a big concern. When you say you throw the “seed-like” beads out on the grass won’t the birds eat them? I would think they would expand in the bird’s stomach. Straining the beads in a colander before throwing out the water would be a safer way to dispose of the water beads.

27 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 2:54 pm

They are actually considered very healthy for plant life and so far, we haven’t had any birds seem all that interested in picking them up. Perhaps because they can’t see them. You concern is fair to have so straining is a good idea.

28 Jen May 27, 2012 at 12:10 pm

We did water beads this past week during our water unit. The children loved predicting what would happen when we added the little beads to water. We had predictions such as, “They will glow. They will sink. They will float.” We then put them in water and went about our day. About an hour later, the children looked at them and said, “THEY ARE GROWING.” However, they hadn’t grown a whole lot. At the end of our class period, one of the children glanced over at the tubs and said, “HOLY COW! They’re huge!” This got all of the children excited. We decided to put them in the sensory table and the children (and adults) enjoyed them all week.

I love the idea of mixing them with shaving cream. Thank you for the wonderful ideas of how else we can explore them in the future!!!

29 Carrie-Anne May 27, 2012 at 2:56 pm

I teach a self-contained special education class and my kiddos love playing with water beads. I order some online and they enjoyed watching the beads grow when added to the water. We even experimented with the clear beads by adding them to colored water. They did not change colors like I thought they might. We used them in various ways including sorting by colors, pouring and scooping, dropping them into water bottles, and just feeling them. My para-pro and I found it very therapeutic.

School ended Friday and I brought the last batch home for my little girl. I thought she would love the colored ones, but she went though the whole bucket to find the clear ones. She is 3 and loves them. We set the broken ones aside and squished them. I will be using these a lot with my students and daughter.

30 Amber May 27, 2012 at 8:53 pm

We love our water beads! :-) We’ve only used the ones from Meijer and Dollar Tree, clear and in the bottle but have had a lot of fun with them. We have not tried them with shaving cream yet though…going to slip that in next week before school’s out. My oldest student enjoyed dying the water beads to make the colors of the rainbow. Then we explored with what happens when we but the colored beads in a different color of water. It was pretty cool when we had blue beads and put them in yellow water, it immediately turned green…until you seperated the beads from the water and you could see that the beads were still blue and the water was still yellow. Over the course of time the water and beads turned green but it took awhile. :-) http://preschoollearning.blogspot.com/2012/04/rainbows.html

31 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 9:18 pm

I love these ideas Amber! I can’t wait until we get back to school so we can try them out too!

32 Jen B. May 27, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Clear Waterbeads can be used in a fun eye spy alphabet game. My preschooler was so excited to notice that the waterbeads magnify letters on newspaper, which led to a great game of eye spy. I would call out a letter and he would roll the waterbead until he found it. We LOVE waterbeads!

33 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. May 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm

That’s a super cute idea Jen!

34 Cat May 28, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I couldn’t find any at my Dollar Tree here in SE Alabama, nor did the clerk have a clue what I was talking about. I *did* find them today at Wal-mart, though. They were near the artificial flowers/vases. A bit more expensive than online, but not horrible. ($4/pack for either clear, black, or tri-packs with red/orange/yellow or purple/blue/pink)

35 Nora Parkmam May 29, 2012 at 2:46 pm

We were shocked that our purple water beads turned clear overnight in the water. This led to an experiment to find out if you could color water beads, if they would become colored if soaked in colored water (they do), if they would keep the color if put in the water (some colors did, some did not), if they would keep the color if the water evaporated (they did). It was very interesting to explore them with a scientific experiment. Later I bought water beads that were the little balls and colored, they kept their color no matter what.

36 Kristen Stehli May 29, 2012 at 8:45 pm

http://pinterest.com/twinsrock/water-bead-play/
My twins adn I use water beads a lot!! see the link!

37 Kristen Stehli May 29, 2012 at 8:46 pm

sorry for the typo!

38 Lori May 29, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Hello,
I would like to feature this post on the T.E.A.C.H. Awards at Cachey Mama’s Classroom for May. If you allow me permission to use one image from the post and link back to your post, please e-mail me at cacheymama@gmail.com as soon as possible. Thanks!
Lori @ Cachey Mama’s Classroom
PS. If you would like to see past T.E.A.C.H. Awards, click HERE

39 Liz Hallberg June 3, 2012 at 11:31 am

We love water beads at the Clubhouse and have used them is so many ways we started a water bead link party. A lot of great ideas are already linked up and this post would be great if you would like to link up as well: http://fitkidsclub.blogspot.com/p/clubhouse-adventures-in-water-beads.html
Thanks for such a thorough post on these little bouncy sensory wonders :)

40 Krista August 3, 2012 at 12:42 am

Oh this looks so amazing! I have been seeing these things all over pinterest lately and when I googled to find out what they are your site popped up. I am going to look for some this weekend to use with my son!

41 Lisa August 16, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I just discovered water beads through my girlfriend. My daughter absolutely LOVES them! However, I had them in a plastic tub, sitting on our counter while we weren’t playing with them, and some of them grew mold/mildew whatever spots after we played with them 3-4 times? Was it is because of the water or sunlight? I had some in a plastic bag in the cupboard and I only found 1-2 with some mold/mildew spots. They weren’t sitting in water a bed of water. Feel like this is a stupid question but I’m kind of stumped. Any suggestions/ideas?

42 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 16, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Hi Lisa,
I wish I knew the answer to that. I heard that some types of water beads can get moldy after sitting for some time. What might help is to make sure you rinse the waterbeads off really good with cold water after play, keep them in a cool place, and let the water drain fully before putting them back in your sealed container.

I have not experienced any mold but I think it is because I don’t try to save them for all that long. However, 2 to 3 days does seem kind of quick for molding – I sure wish I knew why that happened.

Deborah

43 Lisa August 16, 2012 at 9:42 pm

Thanks for the reply! I try my best to rinse them each time we use them. I made a spot in the hallway closet for the other batch I had. Thank you again!

44 allison August 29, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Just a quick question – I bought Waterbeads in February from Michaels – pink & red. We put the red ones in a big tub of water first thing in the morning. We watched them grow all day. After nap time I let the kids in the big tub and immediately everyones hands turned RED. I had the kids stop right away because the red dye was getting on the floor, staining their hands and on their clothes. Parents were a little concerned when they picked up their kids with red hands! Has anyone else had this problem. I have them still sitting in storage as they were fun and I really want to use them, but hated the staining aspect.

45 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 29, 2012 at 8:53 pm

I think it all depends on where you buy them from. I pretty much just use the clear waterbeads from the Dollar Tree and add a little food color to the water if I want color but the ones I have used that are already colored have not had that problem. I purchased mine online from the location shown in the post and haven’t had a problem.

46 Joan Orr September 25, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Hi
Like you, I’m involved in training in ECD and always looking for novel ideas. In 2010, water beads were the sensory discovery of the year. I love them. Now I’m banning their use with children under the age of 5 years in the schools where I train and work. (Sob, sob!)
Read the latest medical articles – there have been quite a few situations with under 5′s (especiall under 2′s) swallowing them & causing intestinal obstruction (they continue to expand in the gut) and requiring surgical removal. Also one death of 6 month old.
See latest Pediatrics (Vol 130, No4) for another reported case.

47 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 25, 2012 at 11:52 pm

I have been reading up on some of the latest articles regarding the DuneCraft WaterBalz which are similar to the waterbeads I have shared here only they are quite a bit larger – not to be dismissive of your concerns at all. I have also been keeping abreast of the latest articles in the news. The articles I have read are here: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/expanding-ball-toy-poses-hazard-to-children-and-pets/ and here: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Wellness/baby-surgery-swallowing-expanding-polymer-ball/story?id=17237047#.UGJ3WI1mRnS.

I know that making that decision was a huge disappointment for you but I can tell that you considered what you believe to be in the best interest of your students and that is exactly what you should do! Thank you for stopping by to bring the concerns for safety regarding the playful use of any kind of waterbead to my attention and the attention of my readers!

48 Sarah September 27, 2012 at 10:50 pm

Thank you so much for all the wonderful ideas. Wow!! My boys just love water beads and we can’t wait to explore them even more. I blogged about our experience and linked to you here: http://www.mommade.org/2012/09/fun-with-water-beads.html

Sarah

49 Trudy October 21, 2012 at 12:51 am

Deborah,
Just a courtesy note to let you know I have pinned your “All about water beads” post to a pinterest board with a collection of learning resources to complement the “Bubble Mania” app. You will find lesson ideas, learning activities and reviews for a range of apps on my boards. If you have other posts suitable for this or other boards I am compiling, you are welcome to email me. You can view my boards at http://pinterest.com/fingerpprojects/.
Warm regards
Trudy

50 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 21, 2012 at 1:12 am

Thank you Trudy for including my post! What a pleasure to be included in your list of resources!

51 Faith October 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I had a problem with my water beads that no one else seems to be commenting about. I found the water beads at Dollar Tree and within minutes of my boys playing with them, many were destroyed. I played with them for a little and they broke apart very easily. After an hour with my boys, nearly every single bead was crushed or broken. I see everyone commenting saying they saved the beads for later, so obviously they weren’t broken. Are my kids abnormally rough with them? I mean, they even broke when I played with them.

52 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 24, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Hi Faith,
I am thinking either you got a really bad batch of waterbeads or your boys are playing differently with them than the kids in my classroom do. My kids scoop, pour, strain, hold, dump, and pick them up without a problem of them falling apart. It is only when they intentionally pinch or squeeze them that they fall apart. I often find the beads rolling across the floor and still, they are not squished. So perhaps you got a bad batch? Or perhaps you are using them in something besides plain cold water. I just really don’t know but your experience sounds most unusual to me! Goodness! I usually gave my best results from the dollar tree water beads and poor results from those I order online!

53 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Please excuse my typos – I was typing from my iPhone!

54 Rachel November 7, 2012 at 7:54 pm

I’m really glad to have found your site, Deborah. I am a craft-phobic mom who is trying to get more adventurous with my play ideas for my toddler. Anyway, I really like the idea of shaving cream play, but I’ve looked at the ingredient list on shaving cream cans and it says things like propane and parabans, etc. Do you have a concern about this and, if so, do you have a brand of shaving cream that you buy? I would appreciate your thoughts.

55 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 9, 2012 at 9:14 pm

All I can tell you Rachel is that we have been playing with shave cream in my classroom for as long as I have been teaching and haven’t had any concerns raised by the children, teachers or parents. My students play with it often and I don’t have a specific brand that I buy. I try to go with something non-scented or for sensitive skin if possible but usually I just buy the cheapest dollar store brand.

56 Stacy November 13, 2012 at 10:48 pm

I’ve tried water beads from Michaels and the colored ones dye the kids hands. Is it just that brand do you think? Any suggestions?

57 Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. November 14, 2012 at 6:39 am

Hi Stacy,
I have had some folks tell me that if you soak clear waterbeads in food color it will change their color. I haven’t tried the waterbeads from Michaels but the one’s I purchased online did not dye the children’s hands.

58 Carey McMaster November 14, 2012 at 10:30 am

Good Morning, just wanted introduce myself, I was on your website and loved it. I’ve added a link on my website to your The Wonderful World of Water Beads page, hope you don’t mind.

I sell the water beads and thought you might be interested in a special offer I have for the month of December 2012.

Receive DOUBLE your Aquaflora Bead order in December 2012 by mentioning Teach Preschool in the “Special Instructions” portion of the PayPal transaction.

Please feel free to TWEET to friends so they can take advantage of our special offer, or add link to your website. If you would like to post on your facebook page that would be fine as well.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

Carey McMaster
http://www.aquaflorafantasy.com

Please feel free to contact me at aquaflorafantasy@hughes.net

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