How to make rainbow rice

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Rainbow rice, coloured rice, messy play rice, sensory rice. Whatever you’d like to call it it’s an amazing material for play.

The bright colours of rainbow rice make it irresistible. But, that’s only the beginning. The vibrantly coloured rice grains flow like water, you can pour them, scoop them, shake them, and stir them. Running rice through your fingers is mesmerizing (seriously, try it!), and if you scoop up a big handful and let it fall, the rice sounds like rain… pitter, patter, pitter, patter. Not to mention that because rice is porous, adding a few drops of essential oil is like adding a sprinkle of magic. Who knew that a little bit of rice could engage so many of your senses? Smell, sight, touch, hearing.

Feed their imagination

Then, there’s the option of letting the artist in you loose! Rainbow rice is a fantastic material for sculpting into pictures. Cars, rainbows, flowers, sheep, unicorns. A little bit of strategically placed and brilliantly coloured rice and the limit really is your imagination.

But, if sculpting is not your thing, you could try using coloured rice as a base for a small world – a teeny, tiny make-believe play space for your little one to get lost in. You could use blue and yellow rice to make a beach, or purple and pink rice to make a magical fairy garden. Black and yellow rice is fantastic for a construction site, and green, red and black make the perfect base for dinosaur world…. Roar! What better way to feed your little one’s imagination?

Fairy garden small world made with rainbow rice
Fairy garden small world made with rainbow rice

Storing your coloured rice for play

But, the very best part is that this versatile play material is easy, and cheap, to make at home in your kitchen, and will keep for ages. The trick to keeping it is ensuring the rice is dry, because if the rice is wet it can get mouldy and no one wants to play with mouldy rice (not to mention it could make your little ones sick).

So, to keep your rice in tip top playing form dry it thoroughly, store it in an airtight container and keep it clean and away from moisture when playing. Do this, and you’ll have your gorgeous rice ready to go for those days when you really need a tried and tested way to keep the kids busy.

Dyed rice, before it has been dried
Dyed rice before it has been dried

Toys to help make the most of the fun

What equipment should you use? Any! Like all sensory play, rainbow rice is about exploration, so let your children lead the way.

You could start with a small world, adding a few animals, some scoops, a truck perhaps. Add some cardboard rolls as the play continues (adding the toys in stages will extend the play and help to keep your children’s interest). Then, mix things up with a spade or shovel, a funnel to pour the rice through, a few different bowls, a plastic bottle to shake and roll.

Don’t be surprised if your children take matters into their own hands by adding toys of their own. They might grab a tea set, then decide that teddy needs to come along, in his new car…. It’s all part of the fun.

If your worried about which toys your children might select and grab (or you simply want to limit what ends up in the rice tray), set some boundaries before you begin. Put away the toys that might be problematic or difficult to clean, or ask your child to help you select a few toys which they can include, and place these nearby so they’re accessible. Then sit back and watch the magic!

A butterfly made with coloured rice
A butterfly made with coloured rice

Rainbow rice recipe

What you’ll need:

  • White rice
  • White vinegar
  • Food colouring
  • Essential oil (optional)

What to do:

  1. Put your rice into a bowl
  2. Add a dash of white vinegar (this helps to colour fast the rice and also disperse the colour)
  3. Add food colouring and essential oil (if you’re using it) and stir to coat the rice. Be careful not to add too much liquid as you don’t want the rice too wet, or it will be harder to dry.
  4. Spread the rice on an old tea towel to dry, this should take about an hour (note that the tea towel will catch the colour of the rice, so use one that you don’t mind staining. Also be mindful of the surface you leave the tea towel on, again in case the colour bleeds).

A few tips

  • Its best to make your coloured rice outside or on a non-porous surface as the food colouring could spill or bleed. I often use a glass top table and my baking trays.
  • Please be mindful when adding essential oils to your rice, particularly with younger children. Its best to use a good quality oil, and to double check that the oil is edible (in case little ones decide to taste test their new play material).
  • While a little taste test of the coloured rice is okay, please discourage your children from eating it, and always supervise your children while playing with rainbow rice.

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