Smallest Child is a big fan of water beads. To be fair, so am I and so is Biggest Child. They’re strangely therapeutic. There are lots of ways that you can turn water beads play into a variety of STEM activities for pre-school children. Even just hydrating the water beads themselves is a STEM activity. Show your child the un-hydrated beads and allow them to explore them. What do they feel like? Explain that the beads are made from a special gel that sucks up lots and lots of water, which makes them much bigger. Then add some water and wait. The water beads that I have say they take 24 hours to reach their full size but actually they’re usually done within a few. Keep checking back regularly to see how they’re getting on.
Here are some of the other water beads STEM activities we’ve come up with:
Maths activities using water beads
Counting – Set out four cups. Tell your child that you’re going to do some counting. Put one scoop into a cup (counting together). Then put two scoops into the next and so on. Each time get them to count how many scoops you’re adding to each cup.
Addition and subtraction – Cut out a piece of card with one each of a +, – and = symbol. Get three bowls. Use the water beads to demonstrate simple number sentences 1 + 2 = 3 etc. Get your child to add the right number of beads to each bowl, counting together to work out the sums. Do the same for subtraction.
Number recognition – You can step the activity above up a level using a white board. Write the numbers of your number sentence below the bowls. Read out the sentences, pointing out the numerals before putting the beads into a bowl.
Volumes – You can also use this as a starter exercise to compare volumes. “Which cup has the most in it?” “Which cup has the least in it?”
We also talked about the small and large ends of the measuring spoon. The 15ml spoon was too big to fit into our bottle. The 5ml spoon was small enough though. We took it in turns to fill up the bottle. Whenever I tried to use the big end I got told off so she was clearly recognising the difference between the two!
At the early years stage they can start to learn about measuring through play. You can use lots of different size containers, funnels and trays to learn about measurements.
Science activities using water beads
Friction – Before we started this STEM water bead activity I got Smallest Child to try and slide her feet backwards and forwards. We talked about how easy or difficult it was to do. Then she got into a large tub of water beads and gelli and tried sliding again. Obviously it was much easier to do that the second time! Little note of caution – this is VERY slippy and VERY messy when they get out so close supervision is required.
Chemistry – Instead of soaking the water beads in water, soak them in vinegar and leave overnight. Tip – Once the beads have soaked, make sure you wash them with water so there’s no vinegar residue on the outside. Place the beads onto some bicarbonate of soda and see what happens over the course of the day.
States of matter – Playing with frozen water beads is a great STEM activity. To make the discs put some beads (that have already been soaked) into a plastic cup, add a little water and allow to freeze overnight. Tip – Once you’ve frozen water beads you cannot use them again so it’s a good idea to freeze them when you’ve finished playing with them. You can use salt and warm water to melt the ice. Talk about why the water and or salt is melting the ice. Here’s a good explanation of why salt melts ice. You can also talk about how the frozen beads feel in comparison to non-frozen ones. Discuss the temperature, how easy they are to squash etc.
I’m Vicky and I am a mum of three living in Aylesbury. I set up Free Time with the Kids to review free and cheap family days out in Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire, mainly because I kept forgetting all the fabulous places that were recommended to me!! I love getting out and about with the kids (and hubby of course) and we have adventures all over the place. My reviews tell you all the things you need to know about the family days out and activites we’ve done such as how much it costs, if there’s parking, toilets and if there’s a cafe or if picnics are allowed. I really hope you find the reviews helpful. If there’s anywhere that you’d recommend please get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch via Facebook