Water beads designed for gardening and floral arranging can be a really fun sensory experience for kids. And for adults, too! 🙂

Made from super-absorbent polymers (the same stuff used in disposable diapers), the beads come in many different colours, shapes and sizes. In dehydrated form, they resemble small, plastic seeds.

Water beads - before soaking.

Water beads – before soaking.

After being soaked in water for several hours, they grow into what could best be described as gelatinous marbles (or cubes, in some cases).

Water beads - after soaking.

Water beads – after soaking.

Water beads can be found at most gardening and craft stores, or purchased online. I found a large selection at the new downtown Michael’s store, which happens to be located just a few blocks from our apartment! The package cost about $9.00 and makes more than seven litres of beads.

I soaked our beads in a large cleaning bucket for several hours, adding more water whenever the water level fell below the top of the beads.

Beads in a bucket.

Beads in a bucket.

J and I had loads of fun sticking our hands in the bucket and playing with the beads, swishing them around, picking them up and letting them run through our fingers, kneading them… it’s quite a mesmerizing sensation. Oliver was curious about the contents of the bucket, but would only briefly stick his hands inside, giggle, and quickly pull them out.

In the evening, we poured the beads into the bathtub and let Oliver play.

First a hand...

First a hand…

...and then an arm.

…then an arm.

Falling beads.

Trying to touch the falling beads.


Beads in a measuring cup.


Trying to squish one.


His best battle cry as he dumps them out of the cup 🙂

He wouldn't actually go as far as to sit in them.

He wouldn’t actually go as far as to sit in them.

The tub full of beads.

Trying to avoid touching them with anything other than his hands and feet 🙂

There are tons of fun ways to play with water beads. A quick Google or Pinterest search turns up such innovative ideas as putting them into a bin with shaving cream, burying small plastic toys underneath them, immersing them in water (the clear ones virtually disappear and can only be found by touch), putting waterproof LED lights or small glow sticks under them, “finger” painting with them, and soaking them in coloured water to watch how they absorb colours.

A few important safety notes:

While water beads are non-toxic and environmentally-friendly, they are not a toy and should only ever be used under direct parental supervision.

Water beads, if ingested, can become a bowel obstruction hazard — particularly the large sized beads. The danger occurs when a child swallows a dehydrated bead, which begins to grow inside the child. If a child swallows one unseen, the obstruction is very difficult to diagnose, as polymers do not show up on x-rays. To prevent accidents, keep dehydrated beads locked out of reach of children (and pets!).

Hydrated water beads — due to their shape, size and texture — are a choking hazard.

Water beads can clog your plumbing. They should not be washed down a drain or flushed down a toilet, but should be disposed of in the trash, or re-used for gardening.


  1. And, if you need to get rid of them, just add a bit of water, and salt – totally breaks them down into nothingness.

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