Make: DIY Colored Rainbow Rice for Sensory Play

One of my earliest preschool play memories was running to the shelf that housed two sensory bins of dried noodles, dried beans, and colored rice. There were tools in each bin to gather, scoop, and separate, and I would savor every minute of playing with them before rug time was over. It was a simple little sensory play idea that I’ve remembered to this day and inspired my own interest in making rainbow rice.

A child using a tong tool to pick up a small toy in a rainbow rice sensory bin.

As an adult, these are the kinds of activities that take me right back in time and help me recall the simple joys of “toys” made from basic tools and no-frill supplies. The process of making this includes quite a few of its own opportunities for sensory discoveries, so I encourage you to let your kids take part! I’ve included a couple of tips in the instructions to help make the process and playtime a success for everyone!

Dying methods for your DIY rainbow rice

There are quite a few methods for coloring rice – you may run across DIYs using liquid watercolors or paints for instance. Personally, I prefer the straightforward, tried & true process of food coloring, simply because it’s taste-safe and works as planned every single time.

If you’re BIG into DIY, you can go totally homemade and experiment with natural food coloring methods (I like these DIY plant-based color suggestions from Food52). But there are also quite a few premade plant-based food coloring options you can find online or at your local grocery store now too.

  • A word to the wise on using plant-based colors: they *may* not be as vibrant or true to the standard colors. Another thing to remember is that plant and spice-based food colorings may have more of their own distinct smells.
Childen using a tong tools to play with a colored rice sensory bin.

For our DIY rainbow rice, I just used food-grade gel food coloring. I wanted vibrant, true-to-the-name colors and didn’t want to spend a lot of time mixing to get just the right effect. I also took it a step further with the addition of a few scents (berry, sweet orange, mint, juniper, and lavender) with food-grade oils.

For more easy sensory play, take a virtual trip to the beach with your own DIY moon sand, make your own taste-safe water beads, or mix up some magic zen meditation jars.

To make your own DIY colored rainbow rice you’ll need:

Note: We prefer to shop locally or use what we have at home, but this list contains Woodpeckers Crafts and/or Amazon affiliate links for reference. As Amazon Associates, we make a small commission on qualifying purchases.*

BASIC SUPPLIES:

  • White rice
  • Standard or gel food coloring (plant-based or food-grade)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • A large metal mixing bowl or ziplock bags
  • A baking sheet
  • Wax/parchement paper or flattened brown grocery bags
  • Spatula

OPTIONAL SUPPLIES:

How to Make Colored Rainbow Rice for Sensory Play – DIY Instructions:

  1. Measure your rice into a bowl

    Put 3-4 cups of rice in the metal bowl (if you’d like to get your little ones involved in the color-mixing, you can measure into ziplock bags instead.

  2. Add food coloring

    Add the desired amount of food coloring (I like to use gel food coloring, as it makes the colors incredibly bright and vibrant!).

  3. Add rubbing alcohol

    Add a tablespoon of rubbing alcohol (which helps dry out the rice, locking in the bright colors). If you decide you’d like to add food-grade scents to your rice, add those now too (start with only a drop or two – a little goes a long way)!

  4. Mix

    Mix, mix, and mix some more with the spatula. If you are using ziplock bags instead of mixing in a bowl, your kiddo can get in on the fun by shaking the bags and gently smushing the rice around the inside of the bag.

  5. Let dry thoroughly before play

    Lay your dyed rice out onto brown bags or paper towels to dry. Be careful as you transfer your rice to dry, as the dye can obviously stain until fully dried out. Let the rice sit out for about an hour (some colors may need a longer drying time) and it should be ready for fun sensory play after that!

  6. Store in an airtight container

    Making rainbow rice you’re not going to use right away, or need a way to store it after play? Just pour it right into an airtight container.

Making a rainbow rice sensory bin

Put your colored rice in a large bin, pour it into single bowls or bags, or arrange it in a tray. Add spoons, cups, funnels, anything you can think of that might be a fun “scoop”!

We’ve deemed our colorful rice an outdoor or tabletop tray toy only, but where you play with it is totally up to you!

A child using their hand to pick up pieces of rice on a rainbow rice sensory tray.

Easy colored rice sensory play ideas

One of the things I love about colored sensory rice is how easy it is to incorporate it into simple learning games.

Toddlers and preschoolers (or kids of any age!) may have the best time simply digging their hands into a large bin as they watch the bright colors mixing together, and feel the rice sifting through their fingers. It’s such a full sensory experience, especially in the beginning, no play plan or accessories are necessary at all!

Have a little one that can’t play with something like this without stuffing a handful in their mouth? Make rainbow rice sensory bags by filling a few sandwich-sized ziplock bags with different colors of rice, then putting them all in a larger gallon ziplock bag – or simply toss all the colors in one – pouring in one color at a time. They’ll still be able to enjoy pushing the rice around (and can mix the colors if combined) without the fear of swallowing a fistful of dry rice.

A child using a tong tool to pick up a small toy in a rainbow rice sensory bin.

Play setups for kinders and older may be a bit more advanced. You can set up a simple bin or tray with lines of color and small, colorful objects. Let kids match objects by color (as shown above) or, for extra fine motor skill practice, simply move objects onto or out of the piles of rainbow rice using tongs or chopsticks. You could also use your colored rice with playdough (you can find my simple favorite homemade playdough recipe here) for some added texture to dig into.

You can incorporate kitchen tools like funnels, pitchers, and bowls to use your rice play as a practical skill lesson in pouring or measuring.

Even more rice bin sensory play ideas…

For more amazing inspiration for rice sensory play and learning, take a look at a few of these incredibly entertaining ideas from our friends around the web…


*A note about affiliate links: We strive to use simple, earth-friendly supplies that can be purchased locally whenever we can, but sometimes we find the best universally available options, a rare eco-friendly find, or a niche product only available on Amazon, Etsy, or Woodpeckers Crafts. When included in our supply list, these products are affiliate links, and if you click through to make a purchase we receive a small commission that helps us re-order these supplies!

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Amanda E.

With a passion for cultivating imagination, Amanda aims to help kids and families discover their creative potential through art, play, adventure, activism, conservancy, and community. Amanda has a background in graphic design, environmental design, and art curation. When not playing with ideas and designs for barley & birch, she enjoys working in freelance design, art, and illustration.

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  1. We do this at my preschool too, and I look forward to when my 6 month old daughter is ready for it. Something else we use at preschool is the colored rices and lentils, etc. from the bulk bins at the grocery store. We are especially fond of this at Thanksgiving/Fall time as the colors go right in with those times.

  2. Great idea! I can’t wait until Daniel gets over his “taste everything” phase. Such a fun and cheap way to play!