four kids playing with jumbo water beads in a blue baby pool

Ready to try water beads? We finally took the plunge and tried them out and they were a HIT!

We’ve played with water beads on a small scale before, but we decided to go big and bring out the kiddie pool and get some JUMBO water beads and go ALL IN. Water bead play is the best!

This is a sensory bin that dreams are made of. Water beads are so much fun to play with- especially giant sized ones!

Inside this post I share how we set up our giant outdoor sensory bin (aka the kiddie pool) filled with water beads, how we played with them, and tips for water bead clean up and storage!

Here’s what water beads look like when you get started. So small!

water beads in a ziploc bag before growing

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What are water beads and how do they work?

Water beads are non-toxic (and non-edible) gel beads that can be used for sensory play and can also be used for home decorations, as vase fillers, and in floral arrangements.

These Small and Jumbo Water Beads are our favorite type. They come with 300 jumbo beads and 20,000 small water beads.

Water beads are biodegradable and environmentally friendly and come as small little beads. Once hydrated, they grow 10 times in size after soaking in water for 12-24 hours.

They are so cool to watch and play with!

RELATED: Need some more outdoor water activity ideas? We have a lot!

three kids sitting by a baby pool with water beads

Get Started with Water Beads:

In order to get started using water beads, you need some beads and you need a place to put them. You might also want some fun tools to use while you play.

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Are water beads safe for toddlers?

Water beads are best for kids who are out of the stage where they put everything in their mouth or try and taste everything! The bags say that they are for kids ages 3+. I have some kids who stop putting things in their mouth before they are two and some I am still reminding when they are four. Each child will be different.

Use common sense. Make sure kids are always supervised around water beads. They are not safe to eat or taste.

water beads in a baby pool

How do water beads work?

  • Add water
  • Wait overnight
  • Play

We started off by adding our bags of water beads to our giant baby pool and filling the pool a few inches deep. We used a mix of small water beads and jumbo water beads.

two kids playing with water beads in a kiddie pool

Then we waited for about 4 hours and checked on them. Then we waited overnight. After about 12 hours, the small beads were done and most of the Jumbo beads were finished growing. By 18-24 hours, all of the Jumbo beads were done growing.

By that point, a large amount of the water had been absorbed and there was just a little bit left in the pool.

hand holding jumbo water beads

How do you play with water beads?

You can play with water beads however you want!

Once the water beads were at full size, it was time to play!

There are no rules for how to play with water beads. The kids picked them up, sifted them in colanders, dropped them into jars, sorted them by size, and just had fun exploring their texture!

little girl using a scissor scoop with water beads

How do you contain the mess?

Water beads are a sensory activity, which means that kids will want to touch and feel the beads and they may also want to pick them up, drop them, dump them, or even crush them.

We handle water beads like we do any sensory materials.  

  1. Start by setting the expectations for how to play with the sensory play material. Tell kids what’s ok and what’s not ok to do. For example, we have a rule that we keep the beads in the pool and we don’t throw them.
  2. Explain what happens if they don’t follow the expectations you’ve set. For example, we keep the beads IN the pool. If kids start dumping the beads out of the pool, I redirect them to play and keep the beads in the pool. If they keep dumping, the beads go away.
  3. Follow through with any expectations that you set. If you said the beads would go away if they were thrown, put them away.

If kids are having a hard time with a material, even after redirection, I just say, “It looks like we’re having a hard time remembering the rules today. Let’s try again another day” and the materials go away.

Jumbo water beads can pop if they get too full of water or you squish them too much.

If that happens for you, just crush them up and put them in the flower beds.

water beads in a red colander

What do you do with water beads after you use them?

  • Drain them
  • Crush them up
  • Dry them out
  • Throw them away

We like to keep water beads outside for play for about a week. Each night we loosely cover up our kiddie pool with a tarp so that we don’t have any visitors to the pool overnight.

After about a week, we drain the water beads and set them onto flat trays to dry them. The small water beads take from a few days to a week to dry out and the jumbo water beads can take from one to four weeks depending on your climate and how fast things dry.

We also crush up any broken water beads and put them into our flower beds. Crushed up water beads will eventually break down into the soil.

If you want to see the whole process of how we dried our water beads, you can go to our Water Beads Instagram highlight.

If you don’t want to store your water beads or put them in your flower beds, then put them in the trash. Do NOT put them down your drain as they can cause damage.

How do you store water beads?

  • Ziploc bags

Once the water beads have dehydrated back to look like tiny beads, we put them into ziploc bags and store them in our sensory storage area until we want to play with them again!

RELATED: Looking for more simple play ideas? There are so many easy ones.

kids playing with jumbo water beads

What are some other ways to play with water beads?

Here are a few water bead play ideas:

Do you have any other fun ways to play with water beads? Tell us in the comments!

water bead play in a kiddie pool