When I heard about using water beads in sensory play, I ran right out to the nearest Dollar Tree to buy some. Roo and I came up with 6 ways to use them in play and learning. Water beads are such a fun sensory exploration activity for any age.
*Just be sure you supervise littles because the ones from the Dollar Tree are not edible. These are!*
1. Just play
Easiest way to enjoy water beads during sensory play is to dump them into a bin (or bowl, or tupperware, or any container with enough volume to contain those bouncy water beads) and stick your hand in. Pick up just one and notice how slippery and squirmy they feel. Squish one in your index finger and thumb and see what happens. Roll them around in your fist. Stick in both hands and roll them around in the water beads.
Oh yeah, and let your kids have a turn too!
2. Color them
Add just a few drops of food coloring and stir them around. The clear water beads take on whatever color you choose beautifully! Now hold them up to a lighted window or on a light table. Do batches of them in different colors and have the kids sort them by color.
Fine motor, color recognition, counting, and sensory play all in one?! Yes, please!
*Note: Let them dry separately overnight before mixing them or the colors will run together. Even after this, our colors still ran together and created a mucky brownish black color after sitting together for a day. You can buy pre-colored beads that won’t run like this.*
3. Freeze them
This is the perfect way to start a conversation about temperature and the way it changes things around us. Particularly water! Freezing the beads turns them a totally different but fun texture. And it’s a great way to cool off and chill out on a hot summer day. (We didn’t do this one yet because it is 30 degrees Fahrenheit here!)
4. Bottle them
Take the label off a clear bottle and funnel the water beads into it. Kiddos can help with this but the beads will bounce EVERYWHERE so watch out. You fill to the top, layer the different colors, fill part way and shake them around, or fill part way and add water or oil. Experiment and let your older kids experiment. This is a great project for cause and effect! Younger kids, especially babies and mouthing toddlers, can enjoy the sensory bottles after they’re made. Just be sure to glue on the lid!
5. Bag them
Similarly, you can put the water beads into a sandwich bag. Tape it shut and you have a baby safe way for the littles to explore water beads. Tape it to a window or light box for even more visual effect!
6. Add Shaving Cream
Shaving cream is a favorite sensory play item for Roo. She gets to play with it in her bath on special occasions and loves it far more than bubbles. (Although maybe not more than playdough in the bath)
Just provide a small but deep container and spray in the shaving cream. Then add the water beads or provide them in a separate container and let your child add them. They can make designs, build cupcakes, or just smear everything around.
This one does get messy, so I like to set the kiddo and the containers all in the bathtub. When she’s done, just fill up the tub and let her be a part of the washing up.
*Note: Water Beads are safe for the bathtub and child, but not the drain. Make sure to scoop them out (or use my husband’s brilliant idea) before pulling the plug.
7. Add essential oil
Adding your favorite essential oil to the water beads can make them a perfect way to de-stress kids after school or wind preschoolers down for nap time. I’m not crazy into the essential oil craze and have no pyra— I mean products to offer you. But I do believe certain smells can have relaxing or invigorating effects. These are my favorite on Amazon.
Plus, sensory play is all about incorporating as many senses as possible!
Mix a few drops into the beads before setting them up in the way you choose.
Why Sensory Play?
Although many of us millennial moms have heard the term “Sensory Play” and try to incorporate it into our kids play time, many of the older generation just don’t get it. What is it important? What is it for? Why didn’t we have it when we were younger?
Let me, a homeschooling mom, not a professional (unless you count my daily hours of researching everything I can about everything to do with my child), try to break it down concisely.
What is Sensory Play?
It is a type of play that stimulate one or more senses. Most popular is different textures, but smells, colors, sounds, and even tastes can become a part of a good sensory play time.
Why is it important? What is it for?
Developing the senses. Being mindful of each sense being used. Bringing focus to kids that are having difficulty with the sensory input of their day. It was especially useful in play therapy and occupational therapy with kids who have sensory disorders such as autism, but many parents are finding that even neurotypical kids can benefit from sensory play.
Why didn’t we have it when we were younger?
Two reasons jump to the forefront of my mind.
1. Research has made leaps and bounds in the pediatric department. We know so much more now than we did even 5 years ago about the development of children. Their psychological and and physical developmental needs and the differences each child can have. And how to treat non neurotypical children.
2. We HAVE to be more deliberate about these things now because we are deliberately removing these things. When I was a kid, I made my own “sensory bins” out of rocks, dirt, and leaves. I’d pile them into a box I found and played pretend. I’d squish mud in my hands, roll in the grass, dig in the sandbox. Now, we hover over our kids constantly worrying them with our fears.
Don’t pick up those leaves! They could have bugs!
Don’t get yourself all muddy! That’s gross!
Stop rolling in the grass, you’ll stain your dress and start sneezing!
And when was the last time you saw a sandbox at a park? (Ok THAT one I still would worry about because to a neighborhood cat, that looks like a giant litter box…)
Because we have deliberately taken these sensory experiences from our children during everyday play, we need to be deliberately replacing them with something else. So in my opinion, sensory play is a fantastic way to make sure your child is getting exposed to the sensory stimulation they need in a controlled and safe way. But I’m also not going into hysterics if my little girl wants to dig in her “garden” and get mud under her finger nails.
For more sensory bin ideas, check out my previous posts