It is no secret that rainbow rice is really just regular uncooked rice with some coloring (and vinegar to help with the coloring), yet it still excites my children and can keep them occupied for long periods of time even though they have played with it countless times before. To me, that's the beauty of sensory play - it is captivating, open-ended and the ways to play are limited only by your imagination. In many ways, playing with rainbow rice is like water play - the most basic type of sensory play, so simple, yet a source of never-ending fun for children (and adults too)!While children are usually very good at finding their own ways to play, sometimes they could benefit from some guidance or additional tools to expand the possibilities for learning and enhance their play experience. Hence, I hope to provide a list of ideas for you here on how your children can play and learn with rainbow rice, ranging from very simple 5-second activities for sensory appreciation to ideas for a longer engaging session with specific learning objectives. I will attempt to be as exhaustive as possible, but possibilities are truly endless, so do let me know if there are other fun ideas that you have that I can add to the list for all of us to try.
1. Arrange rice in a rainbow and then swirl!
Photo credit: Sharon Ting
- Call out the names of the colors as you arrange them. Children can be involved in pouring and arranging the rainbow depending on their age and skill level.
- Ask children to use just one finger first to draw a line through the colors, then progress to a circle or spiral or other patterns before they mess it all up!
- Learning: Learn color names, appreciate the beautiful colors, first sensory interaction with the rice
2. Scoop and pour with a variety of spoons, scoops and containers
- Let the child start with just a few tools, such as just one spoon and cup, so as not to overwhelm them (and result in too much of a mess).
- Switch tools when the child has mastered the first set. Can move from big containers to smaller ones with narrower mouths to raise the level of difficulty.
- Learning: Great for fine motor skills
3. Have fun with funnels!
- Funnels are so much fun with rainbow rice, the rice flows through really well and feels great if you catch the flow with your fingers.
- Children can use funnels as a scoop, or learn how to use the funnel to fill a bottle or a tall container. Sometimes they will need to give it a shake or a poke when the flow gets stuck.
- For a fun game, use multiple funnels at the same time and try to catch the flow from one funnel with another repeatedly.
- Learning: Sensory appreciation, fine motor skills
4. Make rain sounds with rainbow rice
- The rice makes wonderful rain sounds when they fall on empty containers and hard surfaces.
- Try letting the rice fall on different containers or surfaces and compare the sounds made.
- Learning: Appreciation of sounds and different materials.
5. Simple hide and seek fun
- Young children can have fun hiding little toys or objects under the rice one at a time. Encourage them to try different methods to bury the objects, such as pushing them into the rice or by scooping rice over them with different tools
- Make it a game to dig out the objects that have been buried. The objects can be buried one at a time to see who can find it first or you could hide several similar small objects (such as buttons or cut up straws) and see who can find more.
- Learning: Fine motor skills, appreciation of game play.
6. Targeted learning with the hide and seek game
- The hide and seek game can be extended for a multitude of learning objectives, such as:
- Learning how to count: Hide some number of similar small objects and count them as you dig them up.
- Learning shapes and colors: Hide multiple objects of different shapes or colors and specify a shape or color for the child to search for, eg. "Can you find me something round?"
- Learning their names or specific words: Hide the letters of the words, get the child to find the letters and arrange in order.
- Learning: Various learning objectives, fine motor skills.
7. Make an 'I spy' bottle with rainbow rice and various small objects
- Fill a plastic bottle about 2/3 full with rainbow rice and add a couple small objects. Children can help to fill the bottle using a funnel. Seal the bottle with a hot glue gun or a lot of tape (which I've done here because I don't have a glue gun!).
- Can also include cut outs of shapes or letters of your child's name to aid learning. Here I've included the names of my 3 children in different colors and various shapes cut out from craft foam sheets.
- This bottle is great for taking on the go and can entertain children of all ages. Toddlers and preschoolers will have fun searching for the different objects by turning and shaking the bottle, while the littlest ones love the sound it makes when shaken. Older children (and adults!) could even make a game of it by challenging themselves to move all the objects to one side or on top of the rice.
- Learning: Appreciation of sound and gravity, learn shapes, colors, names and more.
8. Color themed play
- This really needs to be done before you get all the different colors of rice mixed up (of course you could always make or order another set of rice if you have already mixed yours up!) but I'm only listing it here as you can apply any or all the above methods of play for color themed play as well.
- You can create color themed activity boxes with colored rice to help your child learn and appreciate the colors one at a time. Rice is great for this as its colors are vibrant and the sensory aspect helps the child remained focused on the activity. Color themes are also good for festive periods (eg. red here for SG50).
- Spread out the rice of the targeted color in a shallow box and add a handful of objects of that color to the box. Have a basket of other small objects in mixed colors on hand and ask your child to find other objects of the right color to add to the box. The opposite can also be fun - add objects of other colors to the rice and get your child to identify the ones that do not belong.
- You could also make color-themed 'I spy' bottles with colored rice and objects of that color.
- Learning: Colors, names of objects, fine motor skills.
9. Pretend play with rainbow rice
- My children love to make pretend food with rainbow rice. They will earnestly prepare rainbow porridge, rainbow milkshake, rainbow soup for me by scooping the rainbow rice into various bowls and cups and insist that I 'eat' or 'drink' their culinary creations.
- Get them even more in the spirit of pretend play by providing play pots and pans, ladles, straws etc.
- Learning: Fine motor skills, imagination and creativity.
10. Run rainbow rice through sand or water wheels
- Rainbow rice flows like water and sand, so they usually flow quite well through sand or water wheels too. The ones with a funnel at the top work best as the funnel will direct the rice flow correctly.
- Learning: Fine motor skills, appreciation of gravity, wheels and motion.
11. Make a flow path for rainbow rice using suction slides or improvise one
- We recently discovered that the foam slides (that we initially created for the water beads) works great with rice too. You can purchase these simple suction foam slides here or improvise your own flow path with cardboard tubes.
- Experiment with different gradients - it usually needs to be pretty steep for the rice to flow smoothly.
- Learning: Fine motor skills, appreciation of gravity, wheels and motion.