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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.
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!
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