Do’s and Don’t’s of Water Beads in a SPED Classroom

It is not out of the norm to see a special education teacher utilizing sensory integration techniques in the classroom. When our students become overstimulated or overwhelmed by the things going on around them (ie. the environment), they may begin to experience a meltdown.

Part of our job is to help each student learn how to appropriately respond within and to his or her environment.

To help with sensory input and output of each of our students, we try many different things. Fidgets, sensory breaks throughout the day… and in my classroom we have 30 minutes of pure Motor Lab each day.

Our Motor Lab time includes a trampoline, a spinner, a ball pin, Playdoh, blocks, cars and trains, and water beads. (...and lots of other stuff too!)

I only discovered water beads last school year, but I instantly fell in love with them. I found myself sitting at the center, sifting my hands through the beads and realizing how calming it was.

Just the other week I saw a foot massage kit in the kid’s section at a store that had water beads in it. They’re everywhere now, and it’s so cool.

But in all honesty, there are some really great things you can do with water beads in the classroom… and then there are some things I have tried and not been successful with at all.


1. Sensory output
You can create so many different sensory output bins and containers for your students using water beads.

2. Science Experiments
There are a couple of different experiments you can try with water beads.

A. Using different colored water beads, have students make hypotheses about which color will expand the most/least and then use different tools to measure the time and size. You could also, then, have students make hypotheses about which color will shrink the quickest/slowest.

B. Using 3-4 of the same size cups, students can put different quantities of water beads in each cup and hypothesize on how full the cup will become.

C. Make a guessing game out of it. You know, “how many water beads do you think are inside of the container?” This could also be used as an incentive, kind of like the marble earning gig.

3. Fine Motor Fun
Using an empty water bottle and some expanded water beads, students can practice their fine motor skills by putting water beads inside of the empty bottle. Now that you’re all in for stocking up on water beads for your classroom, let me just tell you a few things to expect not to be able to do with your new favorite toys.


1. Freeze them
I mean, you can. You can freeze water beads… and they freeze up just like ice cubes. I tried this experiment thinking if they froze, it would make for a great cold sensory station.

But all that happened when I defrosted them was mush. They turned to mush as soon as you touched them post-freezer. So much so that I couldn’t even get a picture of them mashed because I had water bead guts all over my hands. #fail

2. Expect them to shrink up fast
I shared this experiment on my Instagram Story a few weeks ago… over the course of about 2 weeks.

Yep, that’s how long those lovely water beads took to dehydrate themselves on my kitchen counter. Thankfully my husband didn’t question me when I had tens of water beads just chillin’ on the kitchen counter… for two weeks.

3. Keep them forever.
Saving the best advice for last… and let me be so honest with you. These babies S-T-I-N-K after awhile. Seriously. Stagnant sewer water stink. YUCKO 1.

Image all of the germs on our hands and our little friends’ hands. The water beads are like a huge cesspool in a science lab just soaking up the germs. YUCKO 2.

Now I have tried essential oils, using special water, and steered clear of using bleach to clean them (not safe at all for anyone!)… and about every 2 weeks, I found myself dumping them out and creating a new batch.

You can view more fidgets and sensory bin ideas on my Pinterest board.

What sensory integration techniques do you utilize in your classroom? Tell us in the comments below!


sensory bin fillers list pin Special Education Classrooms


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