Cheap Activities for Kids · Holiday/Seasonal Fun · Sensory Play · Valentine's Day

Coloring Rice for Sensory Play

With today’s snow day (our 4th snow day in the past few weeks!), I gave the twins yet one more sensory play opportunity. I’ve been dying to see how the 18 month olds would do with rice, and since we’ve recently played in sensory bins filled with water, potato flakes, snow, and dried beans, this seemed like the next logical step. As I’ve mentioned many times before (and hope to have a post coming soon), my son B is extremely curious/opinionated/strong willed and most of all, sensory stimulated. He loves textures and music, sounds and sensations. Sensory bins were made for him.

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If you’ve never shoved your hands in a bucket of uncooked rice, you really should. It’s actually very relaxing and therapeutic. I’ve got many different rice bin ideas floating around in my head for the future, but I decided to start with a Valentine’s Day themed rice bin. This meant I needed to color rice. It’s SO EASY. Here’s what you do:

Gather your supplies – white long-grain rice, food coloring, and distilled white vinegar. You can also add extracts (as I did), but that’s totally optional. There are many recipes out there, but in keeping with my DIY activities’ theme, I wanted coloring rice to be easy, quick, cheap, and also safe for mouths. I used Learn, Play, Imagine’s recipe.  Because my sensory bin is large, I decided to make a double batch.

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Directions for coloring rice (Valentine’s Day themed): (DOUBLE BATCH)

– RED: Two cups rice, 10 drops red food coloring, 1.5 tbsp. white vinegar

-PINK: Two cups rice, 5 drops food coloring, 1.5 tbsp. white vinegar.

Now because I was feeling extra crafty, I decided to add a few drops of peppermint extract to the rice. Extracts go a long way; not much is needed. Without it, the rice only smelled like vinegar if you deeply inhaled the rice (which isn’t probably what you would be doing anyway). With the extract, while we all played in it today there was a nice, faint smell of peppermint. It wasn’t overbearing. I’ll definitely use other scents with my rice in the future. I’ve now decided that this pink mixture I’ve made can be Valentine’s Day themed or “Candy Cane” for Christmas.

-Mix together. I started in ziplock bags, but found the color wasn’t distributing well.

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So after a few minutes I dumped it into a bowl and found it much easier and quicker to mix. I would definitely recommend using a bowl.

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You do not need a lot of vinegar – play around with the amount, especially if you don’t make a double batch like I did. You only need enough to lightly coat the rice, as it helps move the color around. If you find the color not spreading evenly, add a bit more. If you do use too much though, it’s fine; it’ll just take longer to dry. After mixing thoroughly, dry out the rice on a foil-lined cookie sheet.

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With the amount of vinegar I used, it took maybe a half hour to an hour to dry. It wasn’t bad at all. I imagine in the summertime and with more vinegar it would take longer, so making it the night before you plan to use it would be a good idea. Because I let the rice dry completely, there was absolutely no staining on the twins’ clothes or hands. And I would know, because C was wearing white pants today!

Once it’s dry, store it in an air-tight container or like I did, in a gallon-sized ziplock bag.  As you can see, I added the rest of the rice bag to the mix for some plain white. It’ll keep for months!

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Play around with this – add your own colors and scents. The process of coloring rice took me a total of 10 minutes and cost me nothing as I had all the ingredients in my house already. A free, fun activity that would kill lots of time in an otherwise cabin-fevered day.

So today was another day in what I am now believing is the “18 month sleep regression”. The one nap the twins took was early and short. They barely ate lunch. They were just blah. And for B, who thrives on these sensory activities, he didn’t give his usual focus and concentration on this bin. I don’t think it was the rice though, I think it was his mood. They did get right down into the bin and immediately shoved their hands in it, grabbing the rice and letting it drop all over their clothes. As usual, I first taped down a cheap vinyl tablecloth to the floor for easier clean up.

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Originally, I let the dogs hang out with us. I typically do. But with the peppermint scent and the fact that it was rice, the dogs started licking their way around the mat, so I banished them to the living room where they could watch us without eating our bin. Puppy dog eyes were tried. It didn’t work.

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Surprisingly, (or not, with these lack of naps), the twins started to seem a little bored after only 15 minutes or so. These bins usually give us a good hour of solid concentration before anyone gets antsy. I decided to bring out my next trick, the same hearts we used in our Valentine’s Day Soup water bin.

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And then I made a crucial parenting error. I got all excited about the hearts and had this idea that I would bury them and the twins would dig them up. Except I jumped right in to bury them before the twins even had a chance to play with them at all, and being overtired, B was very upset. He started in on full meltdown mode and I thought for sure the activity was over.

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After a few minutes though, he did calm down and came back to play. I’d even say he enjoyed himself, as he typically does.

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And he proved his love for the hearts after all, even after I tried to hide them. We still managed to pass about 45 minutes of our day!

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Now, for the ratings:

The set-up rating: A 1, unless you are coloring rice, in which case maybe a 4.Once it’s colored, dump it in the bin, add tools and it’s ready to go!

The cost rating: A 1. You would probably have these things in your house already but if not, they could be purchased at the dollar store.

The mess factor: A 5. Rice is messy in that it’s small and light, so it’s easy to throw and spread everywhere. Kids like to grab handfuls of it and see how it feels when it hits their clothes and the ground. If you were doing this outdoors and didn’t try to save it for future use, the mess factor would be lower. But in between bouts of stirring and scooping, I went around with my hand on the vinyl mat and scooped up runaway rice back into the bin. In doing that, I kept the mess to a minimum. For clean up, I dumped what I couldn’t pick up back into the bag and then my dogs took care of the little rice stragglers. If I didn’t have dogs, a quick vacuum would’ve done the job just fine. It really wasn’t bad at all, but I gave the rating a 5 because it COULD get out of hand. Here was part of our mess:

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I will absolutely do a rice sensory bin again, though. It was fun – I enjoyed it as much as the twins did. On to the next one!

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