Ode to AquaBeads: How an Unlikely Ally Helped This Mama Get Her Groove Back

If you are an avid consumer of Nick Jr. as we are in this household, you probably know quite a few commercial taglines just as well as you know your kids’ favorite cartoons’ theme songs. One day you’re humming “Gimme gimme gimme some speed,” and you string together “I love my ZippySack,” and before you know it, you’ve got the makings of a monster medley that promises to lord over what little cerebral space you had to spare for the rest of your ever-loving life.

FullSizeRender-20And if you fancy yourself a savvy consumer (as I do), then your automatic assumption of a product featured tirelessly on TV with a catchy an annoying little jingle is that it must be garbage. So you categorically dismiss every such product as worthless and ignore your child’s incessant pleas of “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, can we have that?” Unless, of course, your child’s pleas are a daily occurrence spanning an entire year, in which case you might just feel compelled to suspend your better judgement in a last ditch effort to reclaim some peace in your house. And so began my spiritually ordained journey to AquaBeads.

Y’all, AquaBeads saved my life. OK, maybe they didn’t actually save my life, but I don’t feel like it’s a stretch for me to say that they rescued my sanity. Have you ever felt such a debt of gratitude to one of your children’s toys that you felt compelled to build an altar to it and worship it daily? Yeah, me neither. Until I met AquaBeads. From the moment my daughter ripped into her first AquaBeads starter kit on December 28 until today, three replacement bead orders down and one on the way, AquaBeads has kept my daughter happily and independently entertained for some period of time almost every. single. day.

A bit of background as to why this statement is nothing short of extraordinary: at four-and-a-half years old, my daughter is not the type of child who can sit still for long. In fact, her energy is so abundant, I’ve arrived at the seemingly illogical conclusion that she has a nuclear power plant lodged in her belly. She’s the kind of child who elicits that time-honored phrase “well, at least she keeps you on your toes!” from complete strangers who have had the privilege of witnessing her in action for a few minutes. And—it’s interesting—that’s always said as if it’s a good thing. Which I guess it is, for a short period of time. But have you ever tried to stand on your toes all day? It’s exhausting. It hurts. It doesn’t work. People need to stand with heels firmly planted on the ground. Enter AquaBeads. AquaBeads lets me finally put my heels squarely on the ground.

The set that started it all. We found it easier to ignore the pictured blue “bead pen” altogether. It seemed to be more trouble than it was worth.

To quickly sum up AquaBeads to the uninitiated, it is a craft targeted to young girls (as best I can tell) that consists of a set of brightly colored small plastic beads that stick together when sprayed with water. Each craft kit (except the bead refill sets) comes with at least one plastic grid tray and a set of designs you can make using the beads. To complete the craft, you select the design sheet you want to use, place it under the grid tray, put the corresponding colored beads on top of the grid, and spray with water to complete the process. Once your creation is dry, you remove it from the grid and do with it what you want. This is truly a craft where the journey is greater than the destination as I don’t think the final creations serve any real purpose.

Of course, if you’re a mom to a young girl, you know that (at least in your daughter’s mind), function over form is highly overrated. Girls love to collect little, cute, worthless everything, and AquaBeads creations have proven to be no exception!

Oh, AquaBeads, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. You gave me back 20 beautiful minutes of sweet, precious alone time in the morning. These days, instead of coming to my room to harass greet me the minute she wakes up, my daughter runs instead to her AquaBeads command center (formerly my breakfast room table) and gets right to work on her designs. Do not underestimate the power of an extra 20 minutes of uninterrupted time in the morning. God bless you, AquaBeads.

The maestro hard at work on a new AquaBeads design!
The maestro hard at work on a new AquaBeads design!

2. You saved us from looming cerebral devastation sure to follow from my daughter’s avid consumption of “Surprise Egg” videos. I didn’t think anything would ever hold her interest more than the lispy voice of the dad who provides the stream of nonsensical commentary on the TheEngineeringFamily’s YouTube spots…or the cackle of his “assistant,” but you did the trick, AquaBeads, and for that I am forever (and ever) in your debt.

3. You are a negotiating tool that actually works. Prior to discovering AquaBeads, I never really had a threat that worked consistently. Sure, I could threaten to take away a doll or a tricycle or a TV show if bad behavior didn’t improve, but it always seemed like my daughter could quickly conceptualize a substitute activity for my big threat, so they were never very effective. In our current reality, there is no substitute for the almighty power of the AquaBeads, so when I even suggest I am considering yanking AquaBeads privileges, my little fire-breathing demon morphs quickly into a pint-sized version of Mother Teresa, halo and all. There are no words to express gratitude on this one.

4. You are building my daughter’s fine motor skills. And as if all of the above mentioned perks aren’t enough (which they are), you are also building my daughter’s fine motor skills as she works diligently to carefully pick up and correctly place each and every one of your beautiful tiny little beads. How do you find the time, AquaBeads?

This is just a sampling of the different designs created by my daughter since the end of December.
A mere sampling of the different designs created by my daughter since the end of December.

5. Finally, you offer my daughter a craft she can complete by herself from start to finish. The crowning glory of AquaBeads is that it does not require my assistance in the slightest. My daughter knows how to set up the frame, insert the beads, spray the water, and peel off the finished design after it dries. How many crafts really require zero parental intervention? In my experience, not nearly enough. AquaBeads, you had me at hello!

Like a teenager smoldering with passion for her first love, I really don’t have anything negative to say about AquaBeads. If pressed to give a few minor imperfections for the purposes of trying to feign a balanced review of this product, I can offer the following minor hiccups in our courtship.

  • The beads are fairly easy to disrupt on the design grid. When you have a child whose body likes to stay in motion, unintentional movements are going to happen. When you accidentally hit a design grid loaded with AquaBeads, the beads tend to go flying, thus rendering all the time and effort used to produce a design worthless. My daughter has handled all but the first few upsets pretty well. She learned quickly to be more careful with her arms when working on the AquaBeads and is not nearly as distraught now if she has to do some restorative work after disrupting one of her designs. (Terrible Mom aside: I secretly love it when she messes up one of her designs because it means she’ll have to spend that much more time putting it back together. Muahahahaha.)
  • When the beads go flying, they really go flying. The AquaBeads are tiny and round, so if they hit the floor, they spread like a bad case of lice. My daughter has become fairly diligent about picking them up off the floor now because she knows once we’re out of beads, we’re out of beads. Every bead counts!
  • Beads run out fast. I have already ordered several refill AquaBeads sets (and a Beados set—more on that below), so there is a continuing investment element to this hobby. I consider it a small price to pay for the peace of mind it brings me, but to each her own.

Again, in the interest of fairness and trying to offer up the illusion of a nonpartisan review, I feel compelled to admit that I recently discovered there is another player in the AquaBeads market called Beados. I had to order a set just to see how the two compare, and my ultimate conclusion is that I prefer AquaBeads over Beados.

Note the Beados design template on the left with room for one design. The AquaBeads templates typically have 3-5 different designs on each template.
Note the Beados design template on the left with room for one design. AquaBeads templates typically have 3-5 designs on each template.

Beados do have some things going for them, however: they have some compelling themed kits, including a princess castle set, many Shopkins sets, and a ballet concert set. They also have an appealing range of pastel colors that are softer (and more girly) than the AquaBeads standard colors.

But I don’t like that each Beados grid can only house one design. It seems way less efficient to me. I also like that the AquaBeads gems (though not the regular beads) are angular, which seems to make them less likely to fly all over the place with one errant move of the arm. Perhaps it’s because my initial discovery was with AquaBeads, perhaps it’s because I want to reward them for the excessive money they clearly spent on advertising, or perhaps it’s because of the bright, cheerful colors of the beads, but whatever the reason, I prefer AquaBeads over Beados.

Now before you run out and blow your retirement fund savings on a lifetime supply of AquaBeads, I urge you to consider whether your child has ever shown an interest in crafts in the first place. My daughter has always been a craft machine. She loves to draw, paint, play with Play-Doh, and do all those Melissa and Doug crafty things that moms-in-the-know give instead of plastic toys for birthday gifts. (Sorry, but I’m a big fan of crafty gifts because, to me, they are the gift that keeps on giving.) If your child has never expressed much interest in these type of crafts, perhaps AquaBeads is not destined to become your Holy Grail of go-to activities. If, however, you’re thinking this might be your golden ticket, let me encourage you to hop on board the AquaBeads Express, mama. It’s rollin’ with a vengeance, and it’s time you took a little ride. All aboard!!

Elizabeth is a native Texan and stay at home mom to a 3-year-old human hurricane in pigtails and a 1-year-old son who is currently jockeying for the title of world’s biggest mama’s boy. She has been married to her husband, who lives in perpetual denial of the fact that he is, in fact, a Yankee, for eight long (and wonderful!) years. Together they have renovated a historical home with their own little hands (never again), braved the winters of New York (and decided they’d rather not), and discovered a profound and binding love of travel (travel without the children, that is). They currently reside in Fair Oaks Ranch where they are surrounded by family and deer.