How is it made?
To make your own coloured rice to play with, you need plain rice (perhaps Fair Trade?) and liquid food colouring.
Tip the rice into a large, shallow container, such as a big grill pan. Pour the food colouring directly onto the rice, and mix in well until all the grains are coloured. Leave it to dry, which may take up to 24 hours. Give the rice an occasional stir. You can experiment with quantities to change the intensity of colour, but expect to use one bottle of food colouring per 1kg of rice. Natural food colouring is much less effective than ‘un-natural’.
If you search online, you may also read instructions for adding vinegar or alcohol hand-rub to the rice and food colouring mix. We did try that, but didn’t see any improvement in the results, and the rice gained an odd smell.
You can also add essential oils, e.g. lavender for purple rice, sweet orange for orange rice. Do be a little cautious about this if you think the children are likely to eat the dry rice.
How is it presented?
We use a large oilcloth mat as a floor sheet, and put the rice in an (unused) cat litter tray.
It is tempting to add things (toys, herbs, natural objects, etc) to the rice to create themes, and that is very appealing. However, pouring and handling the rice is what people, both children and adults, enjoy most. So, make sure that any ornamentation doesn’t overwhelm the tray.
Having something to scoop and pour with, such as small cups or shells, is important.
You can of course present more than one colour of rice, in one or more trays. After playing, you can be certain that the colours will all be mixed together.
Is it hard to tidy up?
The rice can be stored or transported in a large tupperware tub, and poured into trays when needed. When you’re finished, tip the whole tray contents into a plastic bin bag. You can then cut a hole in the bottom of the bag and use that to pour the rice back into the tub in a controlled way. Unless it’s been played with by children who are particularly snotty and germy, the rice can usually be reused rice a few times. Have a dustpan and brush ready for tidying up, and a vacuum cleaner if possible.
When we’ve played with rice outside, of course the spills on the grass can’t be swept up. However, it does ‘disappear’ within a week or so without damaging the lawn. Apparently, it is just an urban legend that eating dry rice will hurt birds – we did check!
How do children respond?
We used rice many times now at Play & Pray, and at local playgroups and churches. Just once, memorably, some playgroup children went wild, throwing the rice in the air and taking off all their clothes to sit in it. This was joyful and very funny, but hard to clean up. In general, children find it calm and mesmeric, and will sit for ages pouring and playing with the rice in an absorbed way.