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At home: sensory water beads

Joey playing with water beads
Joey getting stuck in exploring the water beads

I've long been interested in trying sensory water beads with Joey, mostly because I was curious as to what they'd feel like myself! But if you haven't come across them before, they are tiny little beads that once you immerse in water, grow into much bigger marble-like balls. They're soft and squidgy, and really quite unexpected! Joey has traditionally been a bit hit and miss with new textures; once he was old enough to move his hands away when it came to certain activities that he didn't like, then he would do so really quite quickly! He's not one to go full steam ahead into activities like painting or messy play, so I was skeptical as to how whether he might enjoy sensory water beads!

Joey playing with water beads with spoon and bowl
Joey playing with water beads with a spoon and bowl

I started off by soaking some overnight in a washing up bowl that I now realise was FAR TOO MANY. I ended up with a washing up bowl FULL to the brim with these beads. (So... any ideas with what to do with the rest.. let me know!) But it's reassuring that they do grow a considerable amount so they are more than big enough for little ones to explore.

Joey is 19 months old now, and he probably could have been playing these from age 1. However, lots of people end up concerned about whether they're little ones will try and eat them... Joey tried a grand total of once. Once I told him 'no', he got the message and carried on exploring them with his hands and tools only.

Once he got the hang of touching them and picking them up (they are surprisingly slippy!) and was smiling and giggling playing with them, I decided to introduce a spoon and another bowl as he seemed to like moving the beads from inside the bowl, to outside the bowl. So giving him another bowl, and a spoon to help, added an extra bit of interest for him.

So, what did this activity help develop? Well, for each child it'll be different. But for Joey, his tell-tale sticking out tongue indicated that it was helping develop his concentration skills. He sat there playing with them for a good half an hour, and after his morning nap he wanted to play with them straight away again; pointing and shouting at the bowl until I'd give them to him again! I have had to temporarily hide them...

It was also a great activity to help boost his hand-eye co-ordination. Sometimes the beads would ping off in an unexpected direction, given their soft and squishiness. And whilst that delighted him, it also taught him that he could control where they went if he tried hard enough.

The main thing that I found though was that it wasn't necessarily about the sensory element for him. Actually what was really useful was that it gave us an opportunity to help reinforce commands and instructions with him. Anyone will tell you that a 19 month old is likely to have selective hearing; they don't always listen to you when you say 'no'. But actually, when doing an activity like this, he saw my instructions as a way of playing with him, rather than telling him what to do. Even with the TV on in the background, he concentrated and listened remarkably well.

We practiced:

- Putting the beads in a different bowl

- Picking up beads one at a time

- Using a spoon to scoop the beads

- Trying to identify different colours (pointing and saying 'that')

- Wiping his hands on a towel

The down side? Well he squashed a few into the carpet! But I was really relieved when I found that you could simply scrape up the squashed ones with the spoon we'd been using and it barely left any residue. A quick hoover up and the carpet was as good as new (well as good as it can be with a toddler!).

It's definitely an activity I'll be doing again with Joey in the future, especially now we have our sensory tuff tray, so I plan to work them in to future tray set ups. I got the beads on Amazon, but they can be purchased cheaper on eBay. Of course, don't leave your little one unattended with them, as they are a choking hazard, and if you have any reactions on your hands whilst using them, immediately wash your hands and discard of them.

Lauren x

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