Water beads are one of my favorite sensory activities. They are relatively cheap and can be used for multiple purposes.
In my post, Sensory Play Ideas For Baby Development, I give a complete tutorial on how to make sensory bags and bottles using water beads.
These were a big hit with my daughter. She tolerated tummy time before I started to incorporate sensory bags with each session. Afterwards she seemed to enjoy tummy time each day.
I like to add different objects in with the water beads to make it a game of eye spy. Googly eyes are great for high contrast sensory bags for tummy time and other small items like fish or pom poms are great for sitting toddlers.
There are many different items you can include in your sensory bins and water beads are a fantastic addition. They can be used for motor skill development with pouring, scoping and sorting.
Unlike rice or noodles, which have to be dyed, water beads come in a variety of different colors. No messy clean up, just add the correct amount of water and wait.
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Scooping & Pouring With Water Beads
If you are a new parent, you may have heard of Montessori style learning. This type of learning incorporates normal everyday activities into your childs play activities.
I was hesitant at first since they recommend using really plates and glass cups. My daughter is a bit of a “bull in a china shop”, but we all start somewhere. I started using a small plastic measuring cup and spoon for her to practice scooping and pouring water beads. I found these in the Target Dollar Spot many years ago.
Easter eggs are also a great scooping and pouring material for small hands.
Sorting & Counting With Water Beads
Along with pouring and scooping, sorting water beads promotes fine motor skill development. Your child can use a small pair of tongs to transfer water beads from the sensory bin to another cup or bowl. My daughter is still learning how to hold tongs correctly, she liked grabbing each water bead with her fingers and transferring them.
Like noodles, water beads have a slippery consistency which makes them difficult to grab. Either way your child prefers, this is developing their pinch grip skill.
For older toddlers, you can use water beads to teach colors and counting. As I mentioned Easter eggs above, they can be used to teach your child to sort by color.
Place a small bowl by each Easter egg and ask your child to help you sort each color by using their tongs. Once they have finished, be sure to encourage them on the great job they did by saying, Great job! or You did it! My daughter personally likes to hear the “riddle time song” from Play Time With Al on BabyFirst when she completes a task correctly.
Another popular activity for toddlers is learning to count. Like above, you can use items you already have or are fairly cheap to purchase.
How many of you have magnetic alphabet and numbers on your fridge? *raises hand*
Using the same idea from the color activity above, place a number by each small bowl. Ask your child to help you sort the water beads into each bowl for the correct number. Like before, encourage and praise your child once the task is completed correctly.
For preschoolers and older children, you can introduce sorting by colors and numbers together. Place an Easter egg and number by each bowl and let your child sort and count the water beads.
(If your magnetic numbers are different colors, feel free to use those for the color and number section.)