Sensory Learning with water beadsThe heading of this post probably sounds like a snoozefest unless you work in child development. However...I DO work in child development so this is pretty exciting stuff.
Do you know what water beads are? They are kind of like a squishy bouncy ball. They are small and hard until they absorb water and become a delightful sensory plaything. We keep ours in a shallow tote with a lid for easy access and limited spilling potential. My kids absolutely love them. They are cheap, come in a variety of colors, and completely reusable. I have purchased them online before, but found that with shipping and handling charges the cheapest place to get them is Hobby Lobby or Michaels. For a larger selection, google "water beads."
Significant research over the last decade in child development has been devoted to incorporating sensory input into learning. What we have learned through these studies is that children often retain information better when there is some kind of novel sensory stimulation involved. Bonus! It makes things more fun too!
I picked up some sensory beads a few weeks ago and knew that I wanted to incorporate some kind of learning task into it, but wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I purchased water beads of two different colors, green and blue. It kind of seemed like a water themed thing when I expanded the beads in water, so that's what I went with.
I am a huge fan of organizing activities for my children that all of them can participate in, at a developmentally appropriate level. This can sometimes be a bit tricky, as my children are 2, 5, and 9, respectively...but it makes my life a lot easier to include them all and just organize one task instead of three.
And what I came up with was this:
After digging around our office/room where we just throw stuff we don't know where to put anywhere else, I found several sheets of different colored foam and foam scraps. Aha! I cut several large fish shapes out of the foam, two of each color. On the big shapes I wrote letters that would make up common and simple sight words. When I got tired of cutting out crude shapes that only slightly resembled fish, I just cut out squares of other colors and wrote the rest of the alphabet on these squares. The squares became the "fish food" to make it seem like I had an actual idea in mind for them, instead of just getting tired of cutting out fish. Also though, this made it easy to separate the pieces that were needed for each child's separate activities.
When the water beads were at their full size, the fish and fish food got dumped into our water bead sea. :)
The last thing that was required for this activity was a questionably clean kitchen floor...don't look too closely.
For my two year old, I separated the small squares with letters out and just put the large fish into the water bead bin. We did several things with this; sometimes I would pull out a fish and ask him what color it was, and then if he could find the other fish that was the same color. Sometimes I asked him if he could find one fish of a specific color, or two fishes that were the color I asked him to find. Other times I just asked if he could find two fish of the same color without specifying what color I was looking for. We also had a good time just playing in the water beads, squishing them gently (and sometimes not so gently!), running them through our fingers and talking about how they felt, etc.
We worked on matching, color recognition, sorting, following directions, using language to describe our world...
For my five year old son (and pre-reader) I wanted to work on sounding out some simple sight words. I used the big fish shapes for him as well, and would give him a simple word, like "cat" and then have him sound it out slowly to himself and hunt for the fish letters that would spell the word. We're not quite at sitting down and reading easy readers, but we are at the point where we can read simple words while playing in the water/water beads mixture on our kitchen floor. :)
For my nine year old, we worked on spelling. It's something that's a little bit of a struggle for her, and I've been disappointed in years past to ask teachers about this and have them acknowledge that sitting kids down and writing out spelling tests probably isn't the most effective way to learn spelling. So, we've been coming up with some other ideas. For her, I also included the squares with all of the alphabet letters, making it more challenging but also ensuring that she had all the letters needed to spell out her words. This, she agreed, was definitely more fun than writing out spelling words!
Water bead play was a big success this day...not so much of a success a few days later when the big kids and I went out to run errands and came home to find the toddler had dumped the beads and water all over the carpet! Ah well, it was easily cleaned up.
Just another day at my house. :)