Mamaishness, Teacherishness

Rainy day fun with water beads.

Last summer, I happened to be in the right place to see some kiddos playing with these strange smooshy marbles in a tub of water. It turns out, they’re called water beads, and they’re AWESOME.

We used them – very successfully – at VBS, and again at a toddler class for our homeschool co-op this fall. Now, my girls want to have a tub of them available constantly.

water beads, rainy day play

Here’s an aerial view. Basically, the beads were originally intended as filler for vases. They start as tiny little dots, and you soak them in water for six-ish hours (or, more realistically, overnight) to expand them to be the size of marbles. They are NOT the sort of thing you give kids to play with unattended, nor are they appropriate for kiddos who still put things in their mouths. They are, however, terrific for times when you’ve been stuck inside for days on end thanks to endless rain. Ahem.

water beads for rainy days

You can get water beads in the floral section of your local big box emporium, or order them online. [amazon text=Here&asin=B008W9IGP2] is a packet with a large selection of colors, or you can order [amazon text=a single color in great bulk&asin=B0050ZNWYG]. I am partial to the clear ones, because they tend to ‘disappear’ in a tub of water, and my girls have a lot of fun trying to fish them out.

To begin, you dump however many beads you’d like to use into a bin or bucket of water to hydrate. It will take fewer beads than you think to fill the bottom of a tub in a single layer, which is my preference for ease of use. We use a flat storage tub that is tall enough to keep them in, but not so tall that the two year old can’t sit to play. Then, I throw in some thrifted bowls, cups, and tiny pitchers. The beads do behave somewhat like water: you can pour them from a pitcher or your hands, you can get a good many in a container, and they bounce when spilled on the floor.

I usually let the tub live on the kitchen counter for a few weeks. While some sources I’ve seen online say you can somehow dry out the beads and reuse them, I find that the get smashed more quickly than they seem to lose any moisture. This is part of the reason I try to use just a single layer of beads – more than that, and the smashing seems to accelerate, and then you’re trying to fish partial beads out of the tub. It’s just not that fun.

When the beads are no longer a big draw, or too many of them are destroyed, they go in the trash. You should NOT put these down the drain. Obviously, this is not the most environmentally-friendly activity, but to me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Rainy day activity

Let me give you some old-fashioned manipulative advice: let the little ones ‘explore’ the water bead tub with free play before attempting any kind of formal activity. I will be the first to say that I don’t really use these for anything but sensory exploration. However, if you did have something structured in mind, you would definitely need to let the children get some sensory time in first!

Today, Clara made a ‘polar bear’ house in the water bead tub after reading a [amazon text=book about polar bears&asin=B0043RTD6I]. As you may have noticed from the picture above, she has some bear identification issues. Nonetheless, she used the beads to make a den of sorts, and then she made a hole in the beads so the bear could go fishing. I was really impressed, and it’s the sort of thing that’s great to encounter when you’re having a day week month where you wonder if you’re doing enough.

If you look around online, you’ll find a million things to do with these. Some of them are quite fancy, and some are quite messy. This simple method of just putting them in a tub is working for us right now, so I haven’t invested in a light table just yet.

{The items and book linked above will result in a small commission for Read It, Make It! if you make a purchase. Thank you!}