Using Water Beads in Play Therapy

Water bead in Play Therapy
When I entered into the blogging world in the summer of 2011 I was first introduced to the world of water beads.  An amazing substance of gel-like beads that grow or shrink depending how much water they are with … wonderful for sensory play.

I just had to try it out!  I picked some up at Michael’s (they call them water gems) … in the flower and vase section.  I bought a couple different colors of the already hydrated beads and was excited to try them out with my kids.  Both of them thought they were really cool … but my then 2 year old LOVED playing with them.  And still, now almost 4, will play for an extended period of time (WOOT!) with a large bowl filled with the water beads, a couple small cups, and/or a spoon!  We have found tons of different ways to play with them (but that’s another post for another time).

blue water beads in water

I think they are way too cool … they feel so amazing in your hand.  Very relaxing. Soothing.

However … they are also messy and can be VERY dangerous.  They are messy because they are like small little bouncy balls that WILL bounce off the table onto the floor and then who knows where.  (and, of course, this bouncing is extremely entertaining to your children … so some limits may need to be set, like “The water beads need to stay in the bowl.”)  They can be dangerous because they are small and could be very tempting to put into your mouth if you are a young child.  Not only can they be a choking hazard if swallowed … but they can cause life threatening blockages in someone’s digestive system. So … take care and as ALWAYS supervise children during play!

That being said I have LOVED introducing water bead play during play therapy.  I believe it to be very safe because I’m not using it with children under 4 years of age AND I am there playing one-on-one with them.  The way I have introduced water beads is as a part of child-centered play therapy where the water beads have become just another option of a resource they children can use (just like the dollhouse, sand tray, blocks, etc).  I use a shoe box size plastic bin (with a lid to cover up when the play is done) for one container of the “water gems” from Michaels.  

water beads in my play room

It has been interesting to see what this different type of play has elicited …

  • Organization and control based play.  One client chose to use the water beads by separating them by size into different plastic cups demonstrating her need to feel in control and reduce chaos in her life.
  • Anger Management.  Another client created a game with the water beads where he would squish/destroy the water bead while telling me something he was angry about.
  • Soothing and Calming.  Several clients have agreed with my sentiments that if is very relaxing to just run your fingers through the beads.  The sensory experience can have a calming effect.  I have found that allowing the children to play with the water beads sometimes helps them to open up and talk more freely.
  • Triggering.  Although some find the sensation soothing, other clients may find the experience to trigger past trauma (particularly sexual abuse).  This is true for a variety of sensory experiences that therapists should always be cautious.
  • Small World/Imaginary/Representative Play.  Water beads are an excellent medium for imaginary play or recreating one’s world.  Just like sand tray, clients can use water beads and miniatures to “play out” what is happening in their lives, past events, fears, and hopes for the future.
  • Confidence building/Mastery Play.  Some children found being able to crush the water beads very powerful.  One child created a mastery game of bouncing the water beads off the carpet to see if he could get them back into the bin.

And finally, here’s what one of my clients had to say about playing with the water beads (it’s just so cute, I had to share!) … “This is the BEST ever!  I’d give up all my toys for these!”

water beads and glass gems

If you’d like to know more about water beads and how kids can play with them, check out these great posts ….

Also, if YOU have used water beads in play therapy I’d LOVE to hear how you have used them.  Please leave a comment or email me!!!

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Laura Hutchison

Laura Hutchison (aka PlayDrMom) is a chubby kid turned competitive figure skater tween turned high school pom pon girl turned MSU Spartan turned grad student turned Mrs. HutcH turned Dr. turned Mom. She adores living in the Mitten, is addicted to Diet Coke, and firmly believes that ice cream is a main food group.

Latest posts by Laura Hutchison (see all)

  1. Ashley

    Thank you so much for adding our Icy Water Bead Cubes to your collection! I saw this post, and it intrigued me that they would be used for therapy; I had no idea you would be featuring others! Made my day! Great ideas for therapy too! Maybe I should squish water beads when I get angry; it could help!

  2. Valerie @ Glittering Muffins

    Very nice post, Nico uses them mostly to show control and pretend play a lot. Thanks for including our square beads 🙂

  3. TheBoyandMe

    Thank you for including me in your roundup. Off to visit some of the other posts.

  4. Rebekah @ The Golden Gleam

    So many benefits beyond fun for waterbeads! Thank you for sharing your expertise.

    I can’t wait till my younger ones gain a little more maturity because I know they would love them, but I can’t yet trust they won’t put them in their mouths. I might try the giant water beads with them with supervision.

    Thank you for including my post in your round up.

  5. Thanks for including our little blog and post in your list! Now I’m off to go hydrate some more beads so we can try some of these new ideas tomorrow! 🙂

  6. Adele- playfullearners

    A great post! We love water beads. Thank you for the mention

  7. chelle

    My lil guy loves water beads, and me too, SO much fun!

    Thanks for sharing at Sharing Saturday!

  8. Rachael: Nothing if Not Intentional

    Just thought I’d share how you encouraged me to bring water beads out again for my little girls! We even found a few ways for the baby to play! 🙂

  9. Kaitlyn

    I am absolutely in love with this collection of activities. We used water beads yesterday for an artic habitat experiment and bonding with Jesus, and interestingly I started looking up more activities. This is such a valuable resource link, and if it’s okay with you – I will link it to a post of mine planned to post next week! Awesome job collecting!

  10. Laura Hutchison

    Sounds great to me, Kaitlyn!

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