Have you used water beads for sensory play yet? If not, your child is missing out on fun opportunities to improve developmental skills. Sensory play helps any child with development skills, especially children with developmental conditions that result in extra sensory needs like down syndrome and autism.
Water beads were originally developed for conserving water for plants, fresh flowers, and artificial flowers for decor purposes. While they can be used for decor purposes, parents everywhere (like myself) are discovering the amazing benefits water beads provide children in need of sensory-based activities.
The beads start out as small polymer pellets. But once introduced to water, the pellets begin to expand absorbing the surrounding water. These gel balls come in a range of colours and even different sizes that can expand over three times their initial size.
They are environmentally-friendly and non-toxic. But, they should not be ingested by children. For some children with oral sensory needs, water beads are tempting to taste and chew due to their colour and texture. However, water beads provide neurotypical and children with sensory needs with a variety of benefits to their development.
Benefits Of Water Beads For Sensory Play:
- Provide a tactile (touch) sensory experience with a rubbery, squishy, and soft texture
- Give children visual sensory play with their bright colors and ability to bounce
- Improves fine motor skills because of their small size
- Helps improve coordination
- Increases exploration and creativity
- Helps children understand scientific concepts like absorption
- Fosters critical thinking skills like planning, prediction, observations, and reasoning
- Increases focus and concentration (especially for children with special needs)
- Introduces new textures to children with sensory needs
- Teaches cause and effect
- Helps hand-eye coordination and control
- Improves spatial awareness
- Teaches mathematical concepts like capacity and measurement
- Helps children learn colors and numbers
Water beads can be found at any craft store and online and for reasonable prices as well! For water beads sensory play you can add some of the following items for sensory play:
- Measuring cups
- A Ladle
- Small bowls
- Plastic sandwich or gallon-sized bags
- Small plastic sand shovels
- Ice cube trays
Water Bead Sensory Play Activities To Try
1. Shaving Cream
This activity is perfect for children who like to make a mess or for special needs children who do not like to get their hands dirty due to sensory issues. All you have to do is combine water beads and shaving cream!
Please be warned this sensory activity is extremely messy! The best way to contain any mess is by combining the ingredients in a plastic storage bin.
2. Popcorn Balloons
Take a balloon and fill it with water beads, then blow up the balloon and tie it off. It’s that easy!
Popcorn balloon activates three senses for your child- touch, hearing, and visual.
A sense of touch by feeling the water beads move, bounce, and “pop” inside the balloon. A sense of sight is activated by visually seeing the water beads “pop.” Finally, the hearing sense is activated because the water beads inside the balloon produce an echoing “popping” sound.
3. Water Bead Golf Tees
Water bead golf tees are a sensory activity promoting an extensive amount of hand-eye coordination, focus, concentration, and fine motor skills. To do this activity you will need golf tees, a Styrofoam block, and of course water beads. Stand and evenly space golf tees in the Styrofoam block.
Now, all your child has to do is use a pincer grasp to pick up one water bead at a time and place it on top of the golf tees. This is a challenging activity and it requires a lot of patience for your child.
4. Water Bead Sensory Walk
Instead of your child using his/her hands for sensory play, create a walking path for a new sensory experience. Simply take 3 to 4 large plastic containers and fill each with different colored water beads. For instance, blue beads in one container and pink in another.
This activity does pose the risk of slipping and falling. I suggest you hold your child’s hand while stepping through the containers. You can experiment with the ratio of water beads and water to create a different sensory feel experience. Also, be aware that stepping on water beads will cause them to smash. The smashed water beads will stick to your child’s feet and will need to be washed off.
But don’t worry, all those smashed water beads won’t go to waste! Keep them for the next sensory activity!
5. Smash Em’ Sensory Bags
Take any broken and smashed water beads and place them in a Ziploc bag. This creates a fun tactile sensory experience without the mess. With these sensory bags, your child can use his/her finger to trace letters and numbers. Plus, smashed water beads still activate your child’s visual, sight, touch, and hearing senses.
Water beads are an amazing medium for sensory activities to help children improve their developmental skills. This specific sensory activity is all the rage in my house for my 3-year-old with autism. My son is obsessed with anything circular, so water beads are the perfect activity for sensory play.
I’ve noticed a dramatic improvement in my son’s attention, focus, patience, and the ability to calm him during meltdowns. He is able to sit down at a table for an extended period of time to play with water beads. Plus, we have been working on counting and color recognition!
This can be done by counting each water bead as your child puts it into a bowl. Your child can also separate the different colors into color matching bowls with spoons, tongs, and measuring cups to help with fine motor skills.
About the author
Liz Talton is the contributing author for the Speech Blubs blog. After her son received an Autism Spectrum Disorder evaluation, she decided to do all she can to help her little one. She is a full-time blogger and a creator of Pitter Patter of Baby Feet, a website dedicated to trying to conceive; fertility, pregnancy, mental health, and anything related to motherhood. Before starting a family, she received a master’s degree in forensic psychology and mental health.
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