The wonderful world of water bead play

Your children will love playing and exploring with water beads!

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.

Here’s a glimpse at what your water bead play could look like!


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 to Explore Water Beads 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.

Promoting Development in 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 you can Purchase 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 you should 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.”

Key Considerations when using 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

Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

Subscribe to My Newsletter

Latest Blog Posts

P is for Pizza!

While learning about the letter “P” we decided to explore with pizza! Pizza is an all-time favorite food for many preschoolers, and activities involving pizza

Read More »