Sensory Play: Lights & Waterbeads

Waterbeads are an excellent play resource to aid sensory stimulation and promote scientific exploration with preschoolers. They're also really good fun!

Waterbeads are tiny hard beads which when immersed in several litres of water, swell and absorb the water. They grow from 1mm across to the size of a pea, are soft and squidgy when touched, bouncy when dropped on the floor. Really bouncy! More commonly used in flower arrangements by florists, they are also a great resource for play, and are non-toxic (just make sure they don't taste-test them!).

I'd seen a few ideas on Pinterest involving lights and waterbeads; several used lightboxes and waterbeads, others used fairy lights. I'd also seen several ideas involving the plastic resuable eggs which are popular at Easter time for egg hunts and available from pound shops.

I bought some small submersible lights and soaked up a kaleidoscope of waterbeads. Into each plastic egg I placed a light and a handful of mixed colour beads, then put them with other beads and some loose water into a plastic tray for The Boy to explore, then turned the lights off and invited him in to play!

waterbead play

He was enthralled with the light shining through the waterbeads, the different colours that could be seen and the way the rainbow effect could be altered. As he's not one for messy play, this is a gentle nudge in the right direction for him with the beads feeling wet but not gloopy.

We discussed why the lights could shine through the waterbeads and I introduced the term 'translucent' to him, we then investigated what else the light could shine through and if coloured items altered the light. It's also a great activity for developing fine motor skills through opening and closing the eggs, twisting the lights on and picking up the water beads.

I bought both the waterbeads and the lights from eBay, both are reusable as the batteries in the lights can be replaced and the waterbeads can be dried out and reused.

Safety note: Waterbeads swell up in water or equivalent liquid and they can grow quite large. This makes them incredibly bouncy, and easy to roll into corners to be discovered at a later date by a curious child. Please take care to prevent these being swallowed as they can be harmful (even though they are non-toxic).

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  1. says

    submersible lights. that is really clever, I've never seen it done that way. I've seen it with the whole light table but that always seems a bit to much effort. I could definitely jump on board with your method. also introducing the word translucent is brilliant. although goblin still struggles to distinguish pink from purple so might be jumping ahead for him. great idea, thanks for sharing

  2. says

    I still haven't got the water beads out that I bought but you've inspired me. I'm going to put them into soak now and we're going to play with them tomorrow. I think some of these lights might be next on the list!

  3. says

    I don't why I've never thought to use submersible lights. That is such a brilliant idea!!! What would I do without brilliant people like you to think of ideas for me. 😉

  4. says

    Oh man! I just typed a really long comment and it has disappeared!
    I just wanted to say that I love what you've done with the waterbeads and I think I will invest in some lights like this too. Like the boy, Luka isn't keen on getting too messy and I thought that the waterbeads might be a good idea for him too. When submersed in water, he is fine with them but out of water not so much! i'm looking for ways to get him involved in more sensory stuff without pushing him too far from his comfort zone so I think this activity would be perfect!


  1. […] We did some sensory play with some water beads and some submersible lights which I had seen on The Boy And Me's blog, thank you for this. This was a lot of fun and the boys loved it. We've done water beads […]

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