My daughter will be the first to tell you that sometimes the best toys aren't really toys. She loves playing with rocks, dirt, anything and everything in the craft corner.... and yup water beads and beans. Endless fun and minimal cost.
Just a note that these are small items that can be swallowed so be sure to watch your kiddos when they play with these.
Now I don't let her play with water beads all that often because they can be kind of a pain for me but they are fascinating. I ordered mine from amazon about a year ago for $4 including shipping and got more than I could ever need. You can find them HERE. They aren't toxic or anything so if your little one decides to eat one it's no big deal but of course not recommended. They come in little plastic baggies like this and are super tiny.
So you place them in water and wait... and wait... and wait. Before you know it they will be fully grown. I know she will love seeing this process when she is a little older. It's really neat, but yup takes time.
Once they are filled with the water they turn into these squishy little beads that have a little bounce and are just fun to play with. I give her some plates, cups, spoons and she just loves scooping and dropping them. We both get a kick out of it. Now when you are done you just lay them out in the sun and they shrink back to size. Granted it took days for mine which is why I don't necessarily enjoy playing with these all the time but next time. I'm going to see if a blow dryer will speed up the shrinking process.
As for the beans... she loves and has always loved playing with beans. She plays with beans [and macaroni too] at least three times a week no joke! I let her use a tin can, plastic containers, spoons, scoops and for more than 30 minutes she is happy scooping and pouring. And of course only on her little quilt. When she lays her quilt out on the floor I know she will then as for beans.
The picture on the left is actually her first time playing with beans when she was about 18 months old and the one on the right is more recent.
Now I have her sit on a blanket because it makes clean up really easy. I have her get up and I push all the beans to the middle and scoop them back in their jar.
Two of her favorite things to play with [okay and I have fun playing too].