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How to make rainbow rice for sensory play

Learn how to dye rice to make rainbow rice using just a couple of store cupboard staples – the results will make the most soothing sensory play activity ever!

How to make rainbow rice

Rainbow rice is a quick and simple home craft project that’s hours of fun for young children. With just a couple of cheap ingredients you can make a tray filled with brightly-coloured rice. From toddlers to pre-teens, kids will love playing with the results. As an extra bonus for all those of you crafting with very young children, rainbow rice is also edible so you don’t have to worry about tiny hands putting it in tiny mouths.

I’ve tested this recipe with my own children, aged 7 and 9. This really is a super simple kids project for any age. Not only did my children help make the rice itself in this tutorial, they also were both instantly mesmerised when I gave them the finished tray of rice to play with. As well as mixing it with a spoon, I gave them a kitchen ladle and some cups and bowls, and they just sat for ages pouring and scooping it between the cups and the tray.

This colourful DIY is part of our crafts for toddlers and young children series. You might also like our guide to the best craft ideas for kids and easy Halloween crafts for kids.

Trigger warning: I will admit that for those of you who like a neat play area, a lot of rice does get spilled along the way! But it’s easy enough to sweep up afterwards. I found it much easier to clean up compared to paints or play dough.

What do you need to make rainbow rice?

One of my favourite things about this kids craft is that it is pretty cheap to make and you don’t need much to give it a go.

To start off, you’ll need a bag of white, long-grain rice. I picked up a budget range bag from my local supermarket. Add a few teaspoons of vinegar to seal the colour and stop it from rubbing off on to fingers, and some food colouring of your choice. Now you’re ready to get dying your rice.

I tested the method in this tutorial with a couple of different types of food colouring and learnt a couple of lessons along the way. For the brightest results, I found gel food colouring worked the best. You can get a set of 8 tubes of gel food colouring on Amazon (£9.95) or just pick up the individual colours in your local supermarket.

For best results, use a new tube of gel food colouring. Food colouring can date if it sits in your cupboard too long, and this can lead the colour not to fade as your rice dries.

The last thing you’ll need is something to mix the rice in. I used food bags in this tutorial but to save waste you can easily swap these for a Tupperware container. You’ll just need to wash it out in between colours.

How to make rainbow rice – step by step


You Will Need

  • Rice (White, long-grain)
  • Vinegar
  • Food colouring
  • Food bags

Total time:

Dy the rainbow rice to add colour

Step 1

Pour one cup of rice and ½ teaspoon of vinegar into a food bag or storage tub with a lid.

Pour vinegar into the bag

Step 2

Add a few drops of food colouring into the rice mix. Be generous with the amount you add if you want bright colours, or use just a couple of drops if you want to get a pastel effect. We added roughly half a tube of gel colouring to our bag.

Add food colouring to the bag of rice

Step 3

Seal the bag tightly and then shake it well. The colour will spread throughout the rice in about a minute.

Shake the bag to spread the colour

Step 4

Once the colour has spread throughout the whole bag of rice, you’ll have brightly coloured rice but it will still be wet to the touch. Pour it on to a plate, or on to baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Spread it evenly into a thin layer, ready to dry.

Spread the rainbow rice on to a plate to dry

How to dry rainbow rice

Step 1

Before you can play with the rice, leave it to dry – ideally somewhere hot and sunny. How long it takes depends on a few factors. I made my rice during a heatwave, so left my rice to dry in the sun in my garden for a couple of hours. If you’re drying it indoors in cooler months of the year, you may have to leave it for one or two days to fully dry. It helps to mix the rice a few times while it dries, to help it dry equally throughout.

Hands hold a bowl of red rainbow rice

Step 2

Repeat this step with a few different colours and your rice is ready to play! Children will love mixing, scooping and pouring the rice. Try filling a large tray with the different colours and watch how fascinating it is for kids to play with.

Rainbow rice play tray

More sensory play activities to make at home

Ever since my children were very small, we’ve always made our own craft activities at home, and sensory play ideas never fail to fascinate mini makers. If you enjoyed this tutorial, the good news is we have a whole load of other lovely craft projects that young children will love to touch, feel, sniff and play with.

Try our easy salt dough recipe if you’re looking for simple ways to make gifts with toddlers and school-aged children.

We’ve also got some fun paper mache ideas for kids and an easy play dough recipe which will keep them entertained for days on end!

Girl measures rainbow rice into a cup
My daughter Eve personally tested this rainbow rice recipe and she was hooked.