Make: DIY Colored Rice for Sensory Play

One of my earlier memories from when I was a kid, was that my preschool class had 2 sensory bins of dried noodles and dried beans that I loved.

There were tools in the bin to gather, scoop, and separate. Obviously this cheap and easy toy made an impression on me, as I’m now an adult and I can still vividly remember how much I loved playing with them.

DIY colored rice is so simple to make and wonderful for toddler sensory play, color-matching games, and more! | via barley & birch

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. I love all the opportunities for sensory discoveries too. It really is a DIY that’s such a delight on so many levels – and also quick, easy, and so very fun.

DIY rice-coloring methods

There are quite a methods for coloring rice – you may run across DIYs using liquid watercolors or paints for instance. I prefer the straight-forward, 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.
DIY colored rice is so simple to make and wonderful for toddler sensory play, color-matching games, and more! | via barley & birch

For our own DIY colored rice, I just used standard, food-grade 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 with little ones, take a virtual trip to the beach with your own DIY moon sand, make a batch of sensory play pancakes, or mix up some magic zen meditation jars.

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

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


  • White rice
  • Food coloring (plant-based or food-grade)
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • A large metal mixing bowl or ziplock bags
  • Spatula
  • Flattened brown grocery bags


  • Juice concentrates, extracts, or food-grade essential oils for adding scents
  • Scoops, sorting bowls, and trays (I love these from Woodpecker Crafts, and you can take an extra 5% off your order with the code BIRCH5!)

Sensory Play DIY Colored Rice 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 it 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 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!

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

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

DIY colored rice is so simple to make and wonderful for toddler sensory play, color-matching games, and more! | via barley & birch

Easy ways to use colored rice for sensory play

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

Toddlers (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!

DIY colored rice is so simple to make and wonderful for toddler sensory play, color-matching games, and more! | via barley & birch

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 rice using tongs or chopsticks.

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 sensory rice 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 or Woodpecker 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!

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