Sensory bins offer an exciting and engaging way to explore, create, and experiment while combining a fun play activity with learning intentions for your children. With these innovative sensory bin ideas, you can easily make a sensory bin that your children will love playing and learning with!

Water Beads: 9 Creative Sensory Bin Ideas

1. Place water beads in the sensory bin and watch them grow

Water beads are a distinctive and fun addition to any sensory bin. Add a science element to your play by showing the children the beads before and after you add water to them. Make observations and talk about how the beads change over time in the water and what they look and feel like at each stage. Encourage the children to make their own observations on how the water beads gradually change shape, consistency and texture. Take photos of each stage for the children to look back on.

A child's hand in a plastic tub full of water and coloured water beads.

2. Compare the size of small and large water beads

The water beads will give you lots of opportunities to talk about colours, textures and cause and effect with your children. Mix up some standard and extra large beads for some interesting comparisons on size too.

3. Add tools for fun exploratory play in water

Add some fun scoops, shakers, buckets, jugs and other toys to explore the unique and fascinating texture of the water beads. Free play with the different tools is great for letting the children follow their own interests and explore and play to meet their own needs.

A child pours water and water beads from a scoop into a plastic marble run.

The addition of toys such as a marble run can extend play and lets children learn about gravity and friction in a really fun practical way (just watch out for the beads bouncing all around the room).

4. Identify different colours

Name the different colours of the water beads in your sensory bin. Can the children count out so many beads? Can they ‘fish’ for different colours and catch certain coloured beads uses small nets, scoops and spoons?

Perhaps explore individual or mixed colours of water beads in a treasure bottle. This allows the children to get up close to the beads but without the mess. It’s also a useful way to introduce younger children to water beads without the fear of them putting them in their mouths (just ensure the lid is glued shut).

Two treasure bottles are held up, one bottle contaons ble water beads and one bottle conatins water, glitter and blue objects.

5. Use clear water beads in your water tray

Why not try adding clear water beads to a bin full of water (the beads appear to be invisible)? Watch the children’s surprise as they put their hands in the water and feel the beads. This works especially well with the extra large water beads.

This activity creates lots of discussion about how the beads feel in the water and is great for introducing new words to describe the experience. It also appeals to the children’s sense of wonder and awe as the beads appear invisible at first. The look on the children’s faces when they first make their discovery is priceless.

6. Explore the water beads in different temperatures of water

Set up a tray with warm water and a second tray with cold water. Add water beads to both trays and allow children to play with both and compare how the beads feel in the water. Do they feel the same? Do they feel different? It might be useful to add a third empty tray to allow the children to mix the warm and cold water together with the water beads, to see what happens.

If the weather in your area allows, another fun activity is to fill a sensory bin with snow and add some water beads. Ask questions to get children to explore the two sensory elements together. Do the beads stick to the snow? 

7. Add beads to a tray of shaving foam

For something a little bit different add some ready-made water beads to a bin of shaving foam. Compare the texture to the bin full of water and introduce the children to language to describe it, such as slippery, smooth, bouncy, etc. Perhaps add some drops of paint or food colouring for the children to mix into the water bead and shaving foam mixture. This will really encourage them to get their hands stuck in and fully experience what the shaving foam and beads feel like.

8. Investigate capacity

Alongside your sensory bin, add in some jugs and measuring cylinders. The sensory bin then becomes a measuring activity. The coloured beads allow the children to easily see where the top of the water line is inside the jugs.

They can explore pouring and scooping and explore terms like full, empty, half full, more than or less than. It can be interesting to explore the different quantities that different-shaped containers can hold too.

9. Freeze the beads

Make up a large bowl of water beads and pop them in the freezer overnight. Take them out and put some in your sensory tub with some water and place some in a bowl for the children to see. Get the children to touch the beads and explore how they feel. As the children play with the beads, talk about the changes we can see and feel.

Frozen water beads can be good to add to sensory bins filled with different substances. Why not try adding them to gloop (cornflower and water mixed together), shaving foam or milk? Alternatively, add them to sensory bins with dry ingredients and see how that changes the beads. Do they shrink or stay the same?

These different sensory bin ideas are a great way to broaden children’s sensory experiences, especially their sense of touch and sight. It is a really fun element to add to your wet or dry sensory bins and it can be easily used to help the children’s learning in so many different areas. Why not give it a try today?