Last year Zak got some water beads in one of his science kits. And he played with them several times. Eventually, they got lost, swept up, left outside, etc.
At the store the other day, I happened to notice several boxes of them on a shelf in the toy area. We bought two boxes, each containing three different colors, and totaling 1000 beads.
The color sets we chose were:
Pink, purple, clear
Red, yellow, green
Red, yellow, green
On Wednesday evening, while Daddy and the big kids went to the fair, Kit and I soaked some water beads.
She wanted "Pink!"
Each color comes sealed in a small plastic bag of 150 beads. In the box there were three packets of purple, two of clear, and two pinks.
We let the water run in the sink until it got warm, because I was guessing they might grow faster in warm water and patience is not Kit's most shining attribute.
I filled a plastic container with about an inch of warm water. Snipped of the top of the bag with scissors, and let Kit pour the tiny pink beads into the bowl.
By one minute, they were already bigger.
By six minutes, they had swelled some more.
Very noticeable difference by 45 minutes, but it was clear it was going to take several hours for them to reach their optimal size. But it was bedtime for Baby.
I checked the before I went to bed, about six hours after we had put them to soak. And they had substantially grown.
In the morning they were pretty much the same size as when I had gone to bed, making me think that about six hours is their growth period. So if you want to use them for a specific purpose or project, I recommend soaking them overnight. That way, they will be ready without a wait or frustration.
We were just planning on squishing them and exploring them as a sensory toy, but Kit was disappointed that she didn't really get to play with them the evening we put them to soak. She has toted them around since then though, and squished and smoothed and buried her plastic dollies in them.
A quick note: Kit had a very hard time resisting putting them in her mouth at the beginning while they were still growing. I was concerned it was going to be a big problem and that these would not be an option for independent play. After they reached full size (which is still very small) and we drained off the excess water, I carefully supervised all her play sessions and reminded her frequently that they do not go in our mouths. To my surprise and delight, she lost interest in tasting them, and stopped trying to put them in her mouth. While they are non-toxic, they are still not food, so be very careful if your child still frequently puts things in their mouths.
In conclusion, these are fun and inexpensive. They make for great sensory play. And though annoying when they get spilled all over the floor (of course ours did, we are us, remember?), they sweep up easy, even though they are still wet. The biggest negative is that they crumble really easily, but even that wasn't all bad as Kit thoroughly enjoyed squishing them to bits.