Discover the Delights of Boba Pearls Beyond the Teacup!

I don’t know why I waited so long to try tapioca pearls for sensory play. They were so easy to make, feel great and the investigation and learning it inspired in the children was lovely…

I’ve spent years using the same set of water beads for sensory play. The children love them and they are fun to use. But not wanting to waste this non natural material I’ve carefully dried ours out after each project and stored them away. Right up until this spring when they finally gave up the ghost; too many of them were disintegrating to be saved.

Rather than rush out and buy more of the polymer gel I thought that I would give the more ecologically sound choice a try – Boba or tapioca pearls.

What are Boba?

Boba or tapioca pearls are the small balls used in bubble tea. The product is made from tapioca, a starch derived from cassava root, and is often used in desserts because it can be adapted to sweeten, color or add texture. It was added to tea and shaved ice in the 1908s, by a creative food stall owner in Taiwan, and the huge bubble tea phenomenon swept the globe! The good news for us is not just the delicious and fun drink being readily available but that Boba are easy to make at home and are delightful to play with!

How to Make Boba

Firstly, make sure you buy the quick cook variety. You can find them in Asian food stores or online here (And in the UK). You can follow the directions on the packet or I simply made these 3 steps.

  1. Bring a pan of water to the boil. Add the raw tapioca pearls. I used one packet but you might want to double up if you have plans for a large sensory bin.

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2. Simmer for 6-7 minutes until the balls have swollen and have a firm but jelly like texture.

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3. Strain and rinse with cold water to stop further cooking.

And if you want to color the balls…

4. Divide into small bowls and add food coloring and a little extra cold water. I tried gel colors (UK), liquid food color (UK) and water colors (UK) (although note the letter isn’t edible) and all three worked great. The Boba will absorb anything!

I let the color absorb for about 15 minutes, rinsed off the excess and then I was ready to add the children!

So What Can you do With Your Boba?

You could use the Boba as taste-safe water beads (not that I recommend letting children eating a lot of Boba but a few won’t hurt). I did think about making a straight forward rainbow sensory bin with scoops and jugs and funnels. However, the Boba have a tacky feel to them once the water is absorbed and my boys both hate that sensation. Neither will touch slime, although oddly digging in the mud is just fine!

Boba will not last days or weeks like conventional water beads, you’ll probably get an afternoon out of them but it’s nice to know that what you are disposing of is non toxic and has provided a whole bucket of fun.

So, I added water! A whole ton of water. This made the Boba smooth and delightful to touch. The slippery little mites could be caught, squeezed, poured and measured. I collected scoops, jugs, a strainer, a funnel and a length clear hose (Home Depot) in our under bed storage bin. Added the Boba and water and the let the children investigate.

It was one of those rare activities which intrigued both age groups and had them working as a team to play and discover. The balls helped to make a visual show of water flow. It was real wonder to both boys. They undid the string which held the top of the hose and found out that by holding it higher and lower affected the water pressure and speed of flow. (My eight year old talked about how water towers work). They had to rearrange the equipment to catch the excess water they poured into the funnel and investigated different ways of catching the Boba as they came out of the pipe.

It was a total joy to watch my sons together (and I can’t always say that’s true of a summer afternoon!).

If you fancy giving Boba a try as a sensory material please let me know how it goes. Or if you have any great ideas for alternative ways to use my new favorite toy I’d love to hear them please friends.

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