50 Fun Ways to Play with Rice

Have you ever heard that it can be fun to play with rice? I recently learned how to make colored rice for sensory play and, oh boy, it is so easy! Not only that, but it is also a super versatile sensory play material (an OT’s dream!) and can easily be stored in an airtight container for nearly forever without going bad.

50 fun ways to play with rice!

Dry rice is an ideal sensory play material for all sorts of kiddos:

  • It’s great for those who seek tactile input (you know, the ones who are always touching people’s accessories, playing with Mommy’s hair, or rubbing Daddy’s scratchy face?) because the texture of the grains of rice gives their skin receptors lots and lots of tactile input as a means of “satisfying” that craving for touch.
  • It’s great for those who have “low registration” of tactile input (you know, the ones who don’t seem to notice when something touches them or don’t seem to understand how much force to use when handling objects?) because the texture of the rice basically helps “wake up” those receptors in the skin so they can interpret sensory input more accurately in preparation for fine motor skill development.
  • It’s great for those who avoid tactile input (you know, the ones who won’t play in the sandbox or walk on grass?) because they can engage with what they usually perceive as an aversive sensory experience in a very controlled manner (such as in a small bin instead of an entire sandbox or field of grass) and they can use tools like cups and shovels so they don’t have to touch it right off the bat.
  • It’s great for those who seek olfactory input (you know, the ones who are constantly putting objects to their nose or smelling things?) because rice can easily be scented. Check out the links below for amazingly creative ideas related to making scented rice.
  • It’s great for those who need help regulating their level of arousal (you know, the ones who often seem like they don’t have enough energy to stay upright in their seat while working, or those who are bouncing off the walls?). Not only can the texture of the rice provide a regulating sensation to the body (calming or alerting depending on the child’s state and response to sensory input), but the smell of scented rice can be a very powerful sensory tool for helping children increase or decrease their level of arousal or emotional state. Some scents can be alerting (think citrus, cinnamon, peppermint, pine, eucalyptus, or Rosemary), while others can be calming (think vanilla or rose). Smell is the only sense that goes straight to the brain and it affects the body very quickly, so you can use scented rice play as a sensory warm-up activity to help kids get their “engine” to the “just right” level right before they have to sit down and focus on school work.
  • It’s great for those who seek a normal amount of sensory input (you know, the ones you have no concerns about?) because it helps develop kids’ abilities to sense and discriminate sensory input throughout different parts of the hands and fingers, which is important for efficient development of higher level fine motor skills such as grasping a pencil and cutting with scissors. Dry rice is also great because it’s an extremely open-ended play material and, oh yeah, IT’S FUN!

My almost-two-year-old and I made colored rice for the first time recently (he picked out the colors and helped squish the mixing bags) and it was so fun to both watch him and join him in exploring this new sensory medium. We used one of the vinegar and food coloring recipes from below because that’s what we had on hand in our pantry. He was so excited!

The bin of colored rice started out on his lap…

50 fun ways to play with rice!

Then went down to the floor… 50 fun ways to play with rice! 50 fun ways to play with rice! 50 fun ways to play with rice!

Then back onto his lap for a good twenty minutes of sensory play (that’s FOREVER in toddler time!). 50 fun ways to play with rice! 50 fun ways to play with rice! So how do you make colored rice? Or scented rice? And how exactly do you play with it? Well, I’m glad you asked.

50 fun ways to play with rice!

Below you will find 50 fun ways to play with rice, with suggestions ranging from recipes to themed sensory bins to math and arts & crafts ideas! Scroll through and pin your favorites, or re-pin any and all of the below links from Mama OT’s Sensory Play Ideas board on Pinterest! You can also follow the excellent 101 Sensory Bins and Sensory Bins for Kids boards for lots of non-rice themed sensory bin play. Oh yeah, and keep a broom, dustpan, and sheet or tarp on hand…you’re gonna need it. Here we go!

Taking the Stress out of Messy {Rice} Sensory Play

1. Six tips to ‘get over’ the mess: Taming the Goblin

Basic Recipes for Colored Rice {Depends On What You Have}

2. Make colored rice using just food dye: Craftulate

3. Make colored rice using food coloring & a microwave: Blog Me Mom

4. Make super easy rainbow rice using white vinegar & icing gel: Happy Hooligans

5. Make blue rice using white vinegar & food coloring: Learn with Play at Home

6. Make neon rice using neon food coloring & rubbing alcohol: Crazy Life with Kids

7. Make colored rice using Kool-Aid & rubbing alcohol: Mama Miss

8. Make colored rice using Kool-Aid, rubbing alcohol, hair dryer: Love Play and Learn

9. Make colored rice using rubbing alcohol & food coloring: Taming the Goblin

10. Make rainbow rice using Purelle & food coloring: Pink and Green Mama

11. Make colored rice using liquid watercolor vs. food color: Fun at Home with Kids

Sensory Play with Scented Rice {Oh the Wonderful Smells!}

12. Lemonade scented rice: Growing a Jeweled Rose

13. Orange creamsicle scented rice: Growing a Jeweled Rose

14. Cotton candy scented rice: Growing a Jeweled Rose

15. Watermelon scented rice: Growing a Jeweled Rose

16. Chocolate scented rice: Growing a Jeweled Rose

17. Pumpkin spice sensory rice: Frogs & Snails & Puppy Dog Trails

18. Peppermint scented rice: Growing a Jeweled Rose

19. Eucalyptus scented rice: Growing a Jeweled Rose

Themed Sensory Rice Bins and Rice Play {In Order of Season}

20. Valentine’s sensory play with colored rice: Learn Play Imagine

21. Valentine’s Day sensory bin with colored rice: The Measured Mom

22. Springtime “flower meadow” sensory rice tub: Fun Toddler Activities

23. Easter egg sensory rice bin: Learn Play Imagine

24. Easter sensory bin: Love Play and Learn

25. Patriotic Memorial Day sensory rice play: There’s Just One Mommy

26. Summer beach themed sensory rice play: Taming the Goblin

27. Fourth of July kids craft ideas with colored rice: Powerful Mothering

28. Fall sensory rice bin for preschoolers: Frogs & Snails & Puppy Dog Trails

29. Spider sensory rice tub: Fun Toddler Activities

30. Christmas sensory bin with green rice: Love Play and Learn

31. Christmas sensory bin with uncolored dry rice: Glittering Muffins

32. New Year’s Eve themed rice bin: Growing a Jeweled Rose

More Ideas for Play {Sensory, Arts & Crafts, Pretend Play, Playful Math}

33. Sensory play with colored rice (general): Laughing Kids Learn

34. Blue rice sensory tub: Fun Toddler Activities

35. Glowing rice: Growing a Jeweled Rose

36. Homemade bath crystals with colored rice: Creative Playhouse

37. Making art with colored rice (general): Let Kids Create

38. Making a rainbow mosaic with colored rice: Feels Like Home

39. Sticky sensory art with colored rice: Creative Playhouse

40. Pretend play with rainbow rice: Blog Me Mom

41. Pretend cooking with dry rice: Learn with Play at Home

42. Pretend gardening play with rainbow rice: Share and Remember

43. Pretend play with sunshine rice: There’s Just One Mommy

44. Small world farm with colored rice: Taming the Goblin

45. Japanese-themed rice sensory bin: Mama. Papa. Bubba.

46. Ancient Egypt rice sensory bin: 3 Dinosaurs

47. Colorful and educational rice bottles: Teach Preschool

48. Personalized i-spy bottles: Lalymom

49. Magnet letter search in rice: Learn with Play at Home

50. Math with colored rice (measure, compare, estimate): Learn with Play at Home

I hope this post opens up your mind and hands to new ways to play with rice and use it as a tool for learning!

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Mama OT In addition to being mama to two sweet little boys and wife to a crazy awesome husband, Christie is a Registered & Licensed Occupational Therapist (OTR/L). She holds a B.A. in Psychology with a Minor in Education from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA...Go Bruins!), and an M.A. in Occupational Therapy from the University of Southern California (USC OT). She has experience working as a pediatric OT in early intervention (birth to 3), clinic-based, and school-based settings. Her mission with MamaOT.com is to encourage, educate, and empower those who care for children. Christie loves that she gets to PLAY when she goes to work, is hopelessly addicted to Kettle Corn, and is known for being able to turn virtually anything into a therapeutic tool or activity, from empty food containers to laundry and everything in between. Learn more about Christie and what inspired her to become an OT.

Occupational therapy (OT) is a holistic profession that helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities, also known as “occupations”. Some OTs help people diagnosed with disability, injury, or disease. Others help prevent disability, injury, or disease. Because of occupational therapy, people of all ages are able to say, "I can!" no matter what their struggle. Isn't that amazing?!

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Please provide appropriate supervision to the child in your care when completing any activities from this site. You as the grown-up will need to decide what types of products/activities on this list will be safe for your child. If you’re not sure, check with your child’s occupational therapist or pediatrician. Appropriate and reasonable caution should be used when implementing any ideas or activities from this site, particularly if there is any risk of injury (e.g., falling, crashing), choking (e.g., small parts), drowning (e.g., water play), or allergic/adverse reaction (e.g., materials/ingredients). The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site. 
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