Water Bead Seaside Sensory Tub

We created an under-water sensory tub filled with water beads for some imaginative, exploratory, sensory play!
Pin ItWe have FINALLY jumped on the water bead band wagon and they really are as fun and wonderful for little children as everyone says they are! Water beads are a substance made from polymers used by florists in place of water in flower displays. They are completely safe and non-toxic (although I wouldn’t advise letting young toddlers who still eat everything near them yet!)
They begin as teeny, tiny seed-like beads and transform their appearance over 6 hours into juicy, plump, squidgy balls by soaking up water. This part of the process alone was wonderful to watch and a great learning experience which created some fabulous descriptive language and predictions. These were the words that Cakie used as she played and marvelled over the beads! 
They really do bounce wonderfully (but also pick up any dust or dirt you may have lingering on the floor if your home is anything like mine!) They feel like they are full of water, but when squashed they become a jelly-like substance and can’t regain their original shape. You’ve got to try them!
(Note, in a nursery/preschool/reception classroom annotating photos with children’s scientific language or predictions about an experiment can be a fabulous pre and post assessment tool and makes great contributions to children’s learning journals!)

After some initial play with the beads we created an under water play scene.

In our tub went some green, clear and blue water beads, some real sea shells, fish and seaweed cut from craft foam and a little Playmobil diver figure!

They loved using the large shells to scoop and pour the slippery beads and C. made up all sorts of wonderful stories involving the fish and some imaginary mermaids! Wonderful imaginative play.

We have kept this out all week now and by placing the lid on the tub each evening it seems to keep the beads fresh overnight. Apparently they can be left to dry out and shrivel down again, and can later be restored with more water. I’ll let you know if that’s true!

 I love how the girls later started to stick the foam shapes onto the sides of the plastic tub (using the moistness from the beads) as it made it appear like peering through a fish tank window!

There are SO many other creative ways to play and explore with these beads and I can’t wait! These are being added to my top 5 favourite play materials for this age group and more will be coming soon!

Learning Links:
  • science/ knowledge & understanding of the world: explore new materials using all of the senses, ask questions about who/why/where/when/what?, seek to find answers to questions through hands-on exploration, discuss how and why materials change shape and size through absorption
  • literacy: use new and expanding vocabulary, describe new experiences with descriptive and imaginative language, tell stories through imaginative play, create characters and remain in role in play
  • maths: explore filling and emptying, compare quantities, observe growth

You can buy these on Amazon for only 95p!

Cakie: 3 years 5 months
Pop: 22 months


  1. says

    Brilliant – our post goes out next Tuesday about them and it’s very different to yours and Nurturestores posts – it’s amazing to see what can be done with the same substance but different children leading the play.

  2. says

    Oooh so pretty and looks like so much fun! My kids have been FASCINATED by the water beads you gave us – thank you again so much!! I love how made yours into a aquarium scene. Beautiful!

  3. says

    oooooo now those look fantastic and not too messy- right up my street! Will wait until payday (or birthday amazon vouchers!!) and be on the case!

  4. Anonymous says

    I have been using these beads for three years now in scientific investigations and play. They were not well received at the start by adults, but it looks like people have finally got their heads around them. I now buy them by the kilo!

  5. says

    Ooooh, I have been wanting to do something like this for ages! I keep hoping water beads are going to crop up in our local pound shop, but they resolutely are not there. So thanks particularly for the Amazon link. Did you buy several, or was one enough?

  6. Laura says

    Thanks for your blog – I love it and get so much inspiration from it. I discovered water beads a few months ago and my three year old loves them. I can assure you that they do shrink down to their original size if you leave them out to dry for a couple of weeks.

  7. says

    Thanks for the tip on these! I’m in the USA, and I bought them at the local craft store that frequently has 50% off coupons in the mail. After using them as a pool for my daughter’s plastic people, I buried letter tiles in them and she had fun fishing them out and matching them to a paper that had our family’s names on them. She keeps asking to play with them!

  8. says

    My kids are playing with these as I type- I’m online getting ideas for props to give them along with the beads. I found them at Michael’s in the “floral” section, pretty cheap, I think maybe $3 or so for a pack. I’ve only used less than 1/4 of the pack for today’s activity and that made more than enough for two creative girls. They are loving them, though. Great ideas!

  9. Natalie says

    Where can I get water beads or something similar here in the States? Will be doing a “fish themed” sensory table.

  10. Sarah Ridley says

    I’ve just purchased some of these to use in the nursery i work at, my only concern is if the children put them in their mouths? are they harmful at all ? i feel this is the only concern my manager will have about using them. thanks for such wonderful ideas!