We are huge fans of water beads for both home sensory play and work, at the groups I run with families of young children. They are a reasonably easy to set up and offer a messy/sensory play activity that’s great for children.
Sensory play is very important for children and part of how they learn and develop.
So, what is sensory play?
Sensory play includes any activity that stimulates your young child’s senses: touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight and hearing.
Sensory activities facilitate exploration and naturally encourage children to use scientific processes while they play, create, investigate and explore. The sensory activities allow children to refine their thresholds for different sensory information helping their brain to create stronger connections to process and respond to sensory information.(source)
Some parents and childcare providers may feel a bit squeamish about sensory play as it can be seen as “messy” and hard to control, but actually being allowed to get messy is good for children (and adults) and is something that can be managed and encouraged.
Sensory play can be a great calming activity for children, and a gentle way for them to explore and learn at their own pace. My son loves tactile and sensory play when he’s tired or anxious or just needs an activity he can fully focus on that helps him relax.
Water beads are a perfect tool for basic messy and sensory play.
What are water beads?
Water beads are non-edible beads, made of a combination of water and a water-absorbing polymer. A polymer is made of tiny particles that stick together and form long chains. They sometimes come pre-soaked and also come dry, waiting to be soaked in water. When dry water beads are immersed in water, they fill up and expand like a sponge.
You may recognize them as the beads you might see in plant containers or vases of flours. They absorb a lot of water and slowly release that water. When they are fully “inflated” they are soft and squishy and can be played with and manipulated. They come in many colours and can be dried out and used again.
We simply us a Tuff Tray or wide deep tray or a few bowls, add the number of beads you want and small amounts of water, letting them swell and grow. The more water you add, the more they swell. Once you have them the size you want, you are good to go. They can be spread on a tray to dry out and left to dehydrate and be used again. If you want to, you can use them in plant pots to help with watering your plants.
Not all water beads are fully compostable but we find brands like Orbeez are great and they can be reused or composted.
Whilst children shouldn’t eat them, water beads are not harmful, if you make sure you are buying a reputable brand that doesn’t contain any chemicals or fragrances, and they shouldn’t cause any allergic reactions or skin issues. They can be a little slippy on a hard floor, so you do need to be careful if they get spilled, and if you do spill them, use a vacuum cleaner or scoop them up, not a brush as this will break them up and make them harder to clean up.
We also provide cups, spoons, small scoops and bowls for exploring and playing with the beads.
They are well worth trying out with your kids, and if you are like me, you will probably want to play with them too.
You could also try sensory foam as an alternative for dryer and easy to clean up sensory play.