The wonderful world of water bead play

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.


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.


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


  1. Cat says

    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)

  2. says

    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.

  3. says

    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!

  4. Lisa says

    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?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. says

      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.


      • Lisa says

        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!

  5. allison says

    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.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. says

      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.

  6. Joan Orr says

    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.

  7. says

    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
    Warm regards

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. says

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

  8. says

    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.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. says

      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!

  9. says

    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.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. says

      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.

  10. Stacy says

    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?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. says

      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.

  11. says

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