Pinned on Pinterest, Tested in Therapy: Test Pin #12 Water Beads

Water Beads in Occupational TherapyTo see all Pinterest test pins, click here.

Water beads: have you tried them? You probably have, seeing as though they are all the rage on Pinterest these days. This was one of those instances when I pinned a hundred different pictures of them before actually deciding to give them a whirl. Honestly, before I investigated them further, I just assumed that water beads were a sensory product that you had to order from a therapy catalog for a ridiculous price. Oh, how little did I know.

Water beads can be found in the floral section of any major store. Technically, these are made to be vase fillers, because the beads expand and absorb water. One thing they don’t advertise on the package: hours of sensory fun.

When you purchase water beads, they come in a small package and look  a lot like regular beads. They are offered in several different colors, so of course I opted for the most fun “Multi Color” pack. These puppies only set me back 99 cents, so even if they were a total bust, I wasn’t going to be mad.

You soak the beads for 4-6 hours and they grow quite a bit as they absorb the water. Thankfully, I only used about 1/4 of the package, since they probably would have exploded out of the bag had I used them all.

Water Beads in Occupational Therapy 2

Lessons Learned from Water Bead Play

They are “messy”.

Not messy in the sense of paint or shaving cream, but these little guys bounced, jumped, and rolled everywhere. Especially when the children were overly excited to get their hands in the bin! (Although, what a great opportunity for fine motor practice to find them and pick them all up!)

Also, if children get overly aggressive with their play, the beads squish and turn into a jelly. This unexpected and quick change in consistency was slightly aversive to some of my clients that have difficulty tolerating tactile input.

They are tempting.

No, those aren’t delicious gourmet jelly beans, small child! Be careful, just like when children see a dry bean container for the first time, sometimes they just have to try to pop one in their mouth. You had better have quick reflexes for some children to keep this from happening.

They should be kept wet.

I definitely recommend keeping these in a resealable container to keep the moisture in. I felt like as the week went on, the beads shrank a bit as the water evaporated. If they do dry out, it just takes a while to get them back to full power by adding more water.

Incorporating Water Beads in Sensory and Fine Motor Play

For some children, I just put the water beads in a clear plastic bin and set them on the DIY light box for sensory play. (I have found so many uses for that thing. Score!)  This turned into a very calming task. A few of my friends just buried their little hands in the water beads and smiled in contentment.

Of course, you can incorporate fine motor tasks with these water beads so that the children get the benefit of skill building with a sensory component. Here are some of the activities I tried:

-Spoon the water beads into cups or bowls as a way to address utensil use.

-Sort the beads by color into different containers (i.e. ice cube trays or the suction cups on the bottom of a bath mat toy) using pincer fingers or tongs. This was a great way to work on force modulation because if the child squeezed too hard, the beads were either crushed or shot across the room!

-Some children just wanted to try to crush the beads one at a time with their fingers, which was a fun way to work on strengthening.

-We got tooth picks out and tried to spear as many water beads as we could. This task required bilateral coordination to hold the tooth pick with one hand while attempting to stick the water bead on with the other.

There seem to be many websites out there with unique ideas for water bead play, because apparently I am VERY late in the game to try these things out. The pin that got me going on this venture was this one here: How to Use Water Beads in Play Therapy. This post also has several links to other websites.

If you haven’t tried water beads out yet, you won’t be disappointed. If you have, please feel free to share your favorite activities!

 Have a Pinterest pin you want to see tested? Contact me and let me know!


About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
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3 Responses to Pinned on Pinterest, Tested in Therapy: Test Pin #12 Water Beads

  1. Margaret says:

    I too tried them after seeing them all over Pinterest. Agreed they are a lot of bang for the buck. The big drawback is the bouncing. We tried to solve this problem by putting a large tray down when we play with them but they bounce right off. The best thing was to put them in a very large container that way you can play with them and most of them stay inside the container.

    Squishing them all was a favorite past time of the children who played with them. Almost everybody just loves to run them through their fingers.

    One thing to keep in mind – once they have been around even sealed I did get mold on mine rather quickly so I threw them out.

    The Orbeez brand of water beads was meant for children to play with and they are more money. Plus I found they did not get as big as the dollar store ones. The bonus was the Orbeez ones came with this great tray that children could place the Orbeez in one water bead at a time.

    I plan on trying a few packs in a month or two dumped in a kiddie pool with water outdoors. The kids can squish and play all they want then.

    • I LOVE the idea of putting the beads in a kiddie pool! That would be fantastic! And yes, about midway through week 2 with my water beads, they began to get a funky smell, even in the sealed container. I also had an issue with the bouncing, and I felt like some children were limited in their play because I was too worried about them getting everywhere I might have to check out the Orbeez brand just to compare. Thanks Margaret!

  2. Amanda says:

    Imagine…a giant bowl of water beads…I think it was about 8,000….having a horrible day, transport the bowl from one counter to the next and OOOOPS! I dropped it. Those bouncy little things went pinging all over my kitchen, bouncing off the walls, the counters, the ceiling, as my husband stared at me waiting for my reaction. I couldn’t help but laugh. That was one huge mess to clean up. Luckily the bowl was plastic, so that was helpful.


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