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Playing With Beans and Rainbow Rice

March 30, 2010

{I’m a few years late on the boat, but if you’ve never checked out Bench Monday, you should. So fun!}

I’m about to tell you that your kids will really, Really, REALLY love playing with rice and beans and shaving cream and corn. Don’t cringe. {Keeping it real – I still do every time I get this stuff out! I can’t lie.}

In case, like me, you didn’t know this already {I didn’t until very recently know that there was an actual name and lots to learn}, sensory play is incredibly important for toddlers and preschoolers because of the experience and multitude of ways that it allows them to learn. It lets them use many senses at the same time while giving them the opportunity to control and manipulate the mediums and environment themselves. I’ve been wanting to set up some concrete spaces in our home for some fun sensory play, but just hadn’t gotten to it or found the right space. I saw this great post on Ohdeedoh last week about a budget/mobile sandbox, then this incredible post on Not Just Cute about the importance of sensory play and figured that they were enough clues in the world that I needed to get myself in gear! {I love that the article gives suggestions for ways to control the mess.}

We don’t have tons of space and we also have a one year old wandering around, so we couldn’t make a large open space. I decided to go with small containers that we can put away when we’re not using them. So, we headed out last night on a mission for containers, beans and a big bag of rice. If you’re going to go shopping for containers, I definitely suggest looking for containers that are a bit shallow. Little arms have a hard time reaching up and into containers that are seemingly short to adult arms. If you’re being more responsible than me and re-purpsoing containers you already have at home, dig around and see what you can find. After we got home I found a few that I didn’t even remember we had and used one for the rice. It’s deeper than I intended, but we had more rice than I realized and she really wanted it all. I stuck it on a low table for her to play while standing because she couldn’t sit in a chair and play and get her arms comfortably into the container.

The beans were easy – I just opened them and dumped them into a container and gave her a few scoops and containers to use in there. She played with the beans the entire time that I worked on the rainbow rice. If your kids are older(or if you’re nicer than me), they’ll probably love helping with making the rainbow rice.

What You’ll Need:

-5 lb. bag of rice

-Jars or Containers with tight lids to mix and shake

-Food coloring (the liquid drops were easier than the gel)

-Vinegar or rubbing alcohol to set the dye

-2 Cookie sheets covered in aluminum foil


  1. Preheat your oven to 175 degrees.
  2. In a jar, add a tablespoon or two of vinegar, a few drops of food coloring and 1.5 cups of rice. I used a 5 lb bag of rice and made 6 colors, then had a bit of white leftover that I just mixed in with the colors. It gave me extra in case I messed up anything.
  3. Shake the jar like crazy. Then shake some more.
  4. Pour the colored rice onto the cookie sheet.
  5. Rinse out your jar and repeat with each color.
  6. When you have made each color, put the sheets in the oven. After 15 minutes, check to see if the rice is dry. If it’s not, put it back in for another 10 minutes(or so.) If it’s dry, pull it out and let it cool
  7. Once cool, transfer the rice to a big container and you’re ready to play!
  8. Make sure you give it to the kids to play – I promise that you’ll be tempted to keep it to play yourself when you feel how fun and soothing it it to just keep running your fingers through the rice when you mix it;)


  • Use more red dye andΒ  less blue dye in any situation that you’re using them. I had to use about half of the bottle of red, but the blue I could have done much less.
  • I planned to use the gel coloring, thinking the colors would be more saturated, but it just made a big old mess. The liquid drops were much easier to use and the colors came out fine.
  • I’ve seen instructions to put the rice in ziplock bags rather than a jar or container. I buy cheap baggies, so I didn’t want to risk one ripping and getting rice with food coloring all over the place!
  • You also don’t need to put them in the oven, many instructions I saw just had you lay them out on a cookie tray on wax paper to dry. I wanted to finish it quickly and not have trays of colored rice sitting out for someone to knock over. If it had been sunny, I would have put them outside in the sun.
  • You could use wax or parchment paper instead of aluminum foil, but I really liked the aluminum foil because rice is a wreck if it spills. I just folded the edges up around the rice to transfer it in there rather than worrying about it slipping off the cookie sheet (like it did into the bottom of the oven when I didn’t keep it straight taking it out of the oven…)

Other great forms of sensory play:

-Shaving Cream


-cornstarch and water (it is fascinating to watch it mold, then immediately lose shape again)


This article has some great recipes to make various mediums at home – bubbles, clays, paints, goops and so much more!

I’m not joking when I say that it’s a conservative estimate that Amelia spent about 3 hours playing between the beans and the rice today. She could not get enough of it! I can’t wait for it to warm up more so that they can play in their little pool outside. We haven’t purchased many toys at all for our kids since they get so many as presents, but I’m seriously considering somehow creating a water space beyond the pool for the summer. I love this, this or this, but I just don’t want to spend the money, so I’m thinking of rigging something to create more opportunity…any thoughts or suggestions on that?

p.s. I would like to think that this goes without saying, BUT, the sand and bean play especially are NOT good ideas for little ones who still put anything in their mouths. It’s a recipe for disaster. I don’t want to be held responsible;)

50 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2010 8:28 pm

    Great ideas, Lillian! I can totally see Theo spending hours playing with beans and rice, too. I’m going to try making the rice next week. πŸ™‚

  2. March 31, 2010 3:04 pm

    i am huge on the sensory play too!
    i absolutely love the rainbow rice idea! i was just thinking about filling up the old (much smaller) turtle sandbox that theyve grown out of with something and this is perfect! wish i could do it in time for my upcoming easter egg hunt!

  3. Chrissy permalink
    March 31, 2010 3:29 pm

    You inspired me! Addison and I have spent our day putting together her tub of beans and making rainbow rice. She is loving every minute of it, and I am loving watching her creativity and enjoyment. Thank you so much for a wonderful idea.

  4. June 9, 2010 12:18 am

    Owen LOVES playing in his rice tub, though I need to be better about not freaking about the mess. I am way not cool enough to have done rainbow rice, though! Pretty! The beans are a good idea. I was just thinking wagon wheel pasta too.

  5. July 8, 2011 4:52 pm

    Thanks so much for this recipe. We’re about to try it. I found it on that 101 Summer Activities post. Appreciate it. πŸ™‚

  6. August 29, 2011 2:40 pm

    You can add a nice element to the play by hiding small toys in the rice. I’m planning on doing a sea themed rice tub with just blue rice and putting all of my boy’s little toy sea animals, ships, and scuba divers in the rice.

    • Cassandra permalink
      September 8, 2011 3:17 pm

      Thats a brilliant idea! mind if I steal it? πŸ™‚

      • Lillian permalink*
        September 8, 2011 4:02 pm

        Steal away, that’s why I share! Have fun!

  7. Cassandra permalink
    September 8, 2011 3:16 pm

    I cant wait til my 17mo old is old enough to do this! He is close to coming to an end with putting everything in his mouth but beans and rice are some of his favorite foods, so as soon as he can make the distinction between this fun play thing and dinner, this mamma is going to be DYING AWAY! πŸ™‚ I wanna go home and do it now just for fun! I think i will! πŸ™‚ Thank you for the great tips!

    • Lillian permalink*
      September 9, 2011 2:45 pm

      I like playing with it, too;) You could do bigger stuff now, too, and fill up a bin with toys or or food that’s safe – raisins, lima beans(or any other that you can find that are just a bit bigger than normal black or white beans in a bag),water, pudding, jello, homemade play dough, ground coffee(tastes gross but won’t really hurt him if he tastes it).

  8. Valerie permalink
    September 18, 2011 9:40 pm

    A fun water play idea is make a water wall.

  9. September 20, 2011 1:46 am

    I really wanted to make rainbow rice for my lil dude’s first sensory box. But it seems that everything goes in the mouth and I could only find the suggestion to use alcohol until I ran into your site! The vinegar worked like a charm and lil dude tasted it for about .02 seconds before he decided vinegar wasn’t his favorite flavor πŸ™‚

    Thanks for the awesome tutorial!

  10. December 17, 2011 5:00 pm

    Great post! Thought you might be interested in looking at this list of ideas –

  11. Debra permalink
    December 31, 2011 9:38 am

    Anyone know how to make rainbow rice that is edible? Could be a fun meal for the kids

    • Anna O permalink
      January 22, 2012 5:18 am

      Sometimes I color rice when I cook it, I just add some food coloring to the cooking water. If you want multiple colors, either dye the rice ahead of time, or make multiple pots of rice. A couple of different colors can be added in if you put your rice in the pot, add the water(the water level should be a pinky finger segment above the rice level), add oil and salt, spices or even sugar, if desired, let it start to boil, put drops of liquid food coloring directly onto the top of the rice(do not stir; this is the part where you can add more than one color, if you stir, you will end up with a lighter color/blend of colors)

      • Lillian permalink*
        January 23, 2012 9:56 am

        Thanks so much for sharing this info Anna!

  12. January 9, 2012 10:04 pm

    just made this for my preschool group. thanks for sharing!

    • Lillian permalink*
      January 9, 2012 10:53 pm

      You’re welcome! Hope they love it:)

  13. Sita permalink
    February 23, 2012 3:11 am

    It’s a lovely idea to jazz up old plain rice with rainbow colors! Love how they turn out so pretty too!

  14. February 26, 2012 8:46 pm

    Reblogged this on Nanatays's Blog and commented:
    I like this idea. Going to do wit Brayden!

  15. susan wright permalink
    April 14, 2012 11:30 pm

    for hand therapy too.

  16. July 10, 2012 6:57 am

    Just made some for my toddler’s class/playgroup! The theme is under the sea and I can’t wait to watch their faces when I hand them all little shovels to dig for treasures!!!

    • Lillian permalink*
      July 10, 2012 7:20 am

      So fun!! Thanks for sharing:)

  17. PSD permalink
    October 7, 2012 1:05 pm

    DO NOT PUT IN THE OVEN!!!! I made a few batches from my son’s classroom…after the oven was on 175degrees for two hours (I kept opening the oven to stir, add more, etc.) I opened the oven and the alcohol and heat met the oxygen from the air and combusted into a huge blue flame!!!!!! The front part of my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes singed…not good! I am willing to wait for it to air dry….

  18. Amanda permalink
    January 9, 2013 10:16 pm

    What type of bins/containers were used in the picture? Do they interlock together? I’ve been looking for something like these bins for sensory play.

    • Lillian permalink*
      January 9, 2013 10:21 pm

      I’m not sure where I got them, but the don’t interlock. They do stack really nicely, though! I like them for stuff like beans and rice because the lids lock on and make me worry less about all of it dumping all over the floor when I reach to get it from a high shelf:)

  19. Kristi permalink
    February 3, 2013 2:56 pm

    Thank you! I’m going to be heading up a preschool sensory play class in our homeschool co-op and this is one of the options I’m offering. It was super fast and easy to make and my test subjects (8, 7, 4, and 2 years) loved playing with it. We did find it smelled of vinegar so we added a few drops of peppermint extract and now it smells like candy canes πŸ™‚

  20. March 21, 2013 9:12 pm

    I’ve been planning on doing this for some time but I never did. i like your idea of doing it in a jar and hurry the process in the oven. Thanks!

    • Susan Lang permalink
      August 11, 2013 8:31 pm

      Susan Lang
      I love this, I am a preschool art room teacher and this will be a wonderful addition to our sensory table

      • Lillian permalink*
        August 16, 2013 7:23 am

        Love that you’ll add it at preschool, have fun!!

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