An Introduction to Gel Balls and Water Beads

Our big girl is 25 months old. Like most kids, eighteen to twenty-four months was a period of rapid growth. Her vocabulary exploded. She started forming  (slightly more) complex sentences with helping verbs, pronouns, and conjunctions. These days, she’s giving us a lot of lengthy monologues: “Mommy, my waffle down in my belly already. Sofi (the dog) no eat my waffle. Mommy happy. My diaper poopy. I poopy on pot pot. I thirsty.  I need milk, please. Mommy said, ‘No throw milk.’ I drink Daddy’s water and on and on and on!).  She started remembering  colors, numbers, letters, and things that happened in the past–like how Mamaw (secretly) gave her a (forbidden) cookie at the grocery store. She started singing songs and remembering rhymes. She learned to run, jump, use scissors, draw a circle, and (sort of) pedal a bike.

Not surprisingly, Nate and I feel like it’s already a challenge to challenge her. Heaven help us as she gets older/wiser/smarter/more capable! To stay one step ahead of her, we’re always on the lookout for easy-to-put-together, cheap, fun, educational, creative, and challenging activities for our blossoming toddler. (Can I get an “amen!” for Pinterest?) Sometimes I feel like I’m the last one to discover some of the ingenious ideas I find on the internet. But, in case I’m not, I decided to share some of the extremely cheap, incredibly fun ideas the toddler and I have tried lately.

First up: Gel balls. Have you heard of water beads/jelly balls? I think I first stumbled across the idea at PlayAtHomeMom.

We found our first bag for $2 at Walmart, but I just knew Amazon could do better. After we tried out our first bag (and loved it!), I immediately got online and ordered twelve bags for $3 (with shipping!) here.

So what are water beads/gel balls? They’re actually found in the floral department. They’re meant to go in vases with flowers. (They expand to the size of a marble once placed in water.) However, they’re nontoxic (not that I’d let my kids eat them! You don’t want them expanding in a child’s belly!) and make for great sensory play!

We dumped them in a plastic shoe box with water and did a little hypothesizing. I asked Miss A if she thought they’d get bigger or smaller after they soaked in the water. (She guessed “smaller.”)

She “worked” on her fine motor skills by picking up the tiny beads that landed on the table and transferring them to the box.  I added a spoon and a bowl so that she could scoop, dump, and pour. (She also pointed out that the bowl “floated” on the water. Very observant, child. Very observant.)

The next morning, A saw the box and got soooo excited! “I play balls, Mommy! I play with slimy balls!” (Oh, my.)

She poured. She scooped. She counted. She transferred beads from box to spoon to bowl to box.

After she asked, “Where water go?” I got to explain that the balls soaked up the water, which is why they got bigger. When daddy got home, she repeated this lesson to him by telling him that the balls drank the water. Sure? That’s one way to say it.

I’ve read that these balls can be reused for up to two years, but they need to dry out (on towels) or they may mold.

All in all, it was $2 well spent. And I’m sure we’ll get our $3’s worth (like I said, we’re cheap) once our Amazon package arrives!

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For ideas on how to include a baby in the fun, check out this post: Water Beads for Babies!

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10 thoughts on “An Introduction to Gel Balls and Water Beads

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  3. Angie

    I’m a Child Development Specialist and a mother who is always looking for fun fine motor activities so when I saw this I thought it was cool. Which ones did you buy since they ones I’ve looked into say not for children. Are these the same gel balls used in potted plants?
    Thanks so much
    Angie

    Reply
    1. Rachael

      Yes! These are the same ones used in floral arrangements. They’re non-toxic.

      The ones I have are SMALL. When they’re completely hydrated, they’re only about the size of a marble.

      I read one awful story of a baby who ate one of the bigger ones that swelled to the size of a bouncy ball in her stomach. These big ones are the ones you DON’T want to get. I’m almost afraid to post the link in case someone skims over and thinks I’m recommending these bigger gel balls, but here it is: http://www.parenting.com/blogs/show-and-tell/sasha-parenting/hazard-babyproofing. Again, those are the ones you DON’T want to get.

      I read somewhere that tapioca balls might be a good alternative! I need to try that!

      Reply
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  7. Ruth

    My daughter loves these. I was wondering if anyone new of some safe, long term storage options? Do they begin to get gross after a while?

    Reply
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