I’ve read that working with beads helps develop a child’s fine motor skills, essential for writing, drawing, feeding and dressing oneself and the like. I’d long wanted to get my daughter, Raine, a lacing/bead set, but I found the sets available in the stores too expensive. I planned to get beads at the fabric stores instead, but aside from the colorful ones being too pricey, I thought the holes were too small, making it difficult for my not-quite-three-year-old to manipulate them. So with some help from Trish Kuffner’s The Preschooler’s Busy Book, I decided to make my own pasta beads. It’s not only cheap and easy, it’s fun too!
Age Group: 3+ (or well-coordinated 2 year olds)
Preparation needed: minimal.
Difficulty of preparation: easy, if slightly messy.
Time needed: 30 minutes to an hour, including drying time.
- Uncooked pasta, the ones with holes. I got the cheapest pack of salad macaroni, but it would be fun to use the more exotic shapes like rotelle. Younger kids may do better with bigger pasta pieces like penne or rigatoni. You don’t even have to finish the whole pack on this project—so you can have beads for activity time and mac and cheese for dinner.
- Rubbing alcohol
- Food coloring
- Several small bowls or containers, one for each color you plan to make
- Plastic spoons or something to stir—the recycled coffee stirrers or chopsticks are great for this
- Wax paper
What to Do:
- Mix alcohol and a few drops of food coloring in a bowl. More drops make stronger colors. If you’re making secondary colors, such as purple or teal, get the right shade first before adding the alcohol. I used just enough alcohol to cover the bottom of my small container.
- Add the dry pasta to the colored alcohol solution and mix gently with the spoon or stirrer to allow the pasta to absorb the liquid. The longer you let the pasta soak, the more intense the color will be.
- Scoop out the colored pasta shapes and lay flat on wax paper. Allow to dry on top of newspapers. You can reuse the colored alcohol mix.
- Once dry (it takes about 30 minutes to an hour), you can use them as you would any beads. Do not eat!
Fun Things to Do with Pasta Beads
- Make jewelry. String them on ribbons to make bracelets, necklaces, anklets. Cut out the required length and tie a big knot on one end so the pasta beads don’t slip off. Younger children will find it easier to string them on fuzzy pipe cleaners, or something similarly sturdy. Note: make sure your kids don’t sleep with the jewelry or any other ribbons or string; they could be choking hazards.
- Create art. Glue pasta beads on sturdy paper (recycled cereal boxes are great for this—you can follow the photo on the right side of the box, or make your own picture on the reverse side) for 3D masterpieces. Make greeting cards, posters and signs.
- Sort and classify. Playing games using these help build the foundation of mathematical skills. You can sort the pasta beads according to color, shape, size or whatever criteria you and your child come up with. Small plastic containers or boxes can also add fun.
- Practice patterns. Recognizing patterns is another step to building math skills. You can string beads on a ribbon—like yellow-yellow-red-blue-green-green, for example—and ask your child to copy it. As his skill grows, you can make the patterns longer and more complex; or you can ask him to fill in the missing pieces.
- Learn basic addition and subtraction. For older children, the pasta beads can help make the concepts of addition and subtraction more concrete; for example: “Five red beads plus two blue beads makes seven beads in all.”
- Anything goes. Left to her own devices, Raine likes pretend-cooking with the pasta beads. She makes salad with green beads as the lettuce, red as cranberries, yellow as squeezed lemon, and brown as chocolate.
Do you have any other fun things you do with your beads? Share them with us! Leave a comment below.