This is such a simple and cheap activity to prepare, as most people will already have all the resources to hand. It has proved a hit through from toddler, to preschooler and now school age. If you want to leave this activity out as an ‘invitation to play’ then you can colour the rice yourself before hand. But the boys found that colouring the rice was as much fun as playing with it.

Resources needed to make coloured rice

  • Rice (I used about 750g)
  • Poster paint or food colouring
  • Zip lock sandwich bags
  • Baking trays lined with scrap paper

Resources used to play

  • Sandpit or water tray. If you don’t have one a washing up bowl will do.
  • Tools for scooping up rice (spoons, measuring scoops)
  • Containers to fill
  • Ice cube tray

Additional resources requested by the boys

  • Ice cream scoops
  • Ice cream cones
  • Aprons
  • Mince pie cases


Step 1: Pour the rice into zip-lock sandwich bags. We used a jug, but a funnel would have been easier for little hands.

Step 2: Pour the poster paint over the rice. Seal the bag and enjoy coating the rice in paint. You can see from the expressions how fun this part was!

Step 3: Line some baking tins with scrap paper. Leave the rice to dry for half an hour, then squeeze the bag to break up any clumps. Spread rice evenly on the trays to dry.

Step 4: Leave to dry overnight.

Step 5: Pour the rice into your sandpit/water tray/ washing up bowl. Display with some different sized measuring scoops and some containers to scoop into.

Step 6: Play!

*Alternatively, if you have a toddler that puts everything in their mouth, fill zip-log bags with rice and mix with food colouring. It is all edible so is taste safe, but the uncooked rice doesn’t taste very nice, making it a deterrent.


Scooping (fine motor) – The boys started by scooping the different colours into the pots. Ioan went straight to mixing the colours, whereas Finn preferred having one pot per colour and took some persuading to mix them up!

Patterns  (colour recognition and repeated patterns) – Ioan used the ice cube tray to do repeated patterns. You could also do symmetry.

I nearly added some Christmas characters to the rice, but decided to leave the play open ended. I’m so glad I did. They requested ice cream scoops, ice cream cones and aprons to serve ‘rice creams’.

Two years later

Finny now puts his Christmas fox top and requests this Christmas rice activity every year. This is the third year and we’re still using the same rice, but these boys have really grown!

I always think it is a good sign when they are too absorbed in their play, to even talk for the first few minutes!

Now Cian is big enough to join in too.

Finn was very excited to have made a ‘shaker’. Their concentrating faces make me smile every time.

Cian was concentrating hard on scooping and pouring. Although, he had to keep stopping to pick grains of rice out from between his toes.

Finn played with the rice for three hours straight, and asked to carry on again tomorrow. Last week, when I asked him what he was most looking forward to over Christmas is, he said, “Christmas rice of course… I love it!”

When Finny asked, “Would anyone like a mince pie?”, Cian’s hand shot straight up in the air.

Please excuse the wobbly camera work in this video, it was hard to play with them and keep the camera still. Finn’s mince pies were ready to “eat”

DfES Early Learning Goals (2017)

Communication and language

ELG 01 – Listening and attention:

Children give their attention to what others say and respond appropriately, while engaged in another activity.

ELG 02 – Understanding:

Children follow instructions involving several ideas or actions.

ELG 03 – Speaking: children express themselves effectively, showing awareness of listeners’ needs. They use past, present and future forms accurately when talking about events that have happened or are to happen in the future. They develop their own narratives and explanations by connecting ideas or events.

Physical development

ELG 04 – Moving and handling:

Children show good control and co-ordination in large and small movements. They handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.


ELG12 – Shape, space and measures:

Children use everyday language to talk about size, weight, capacity, position, distance, time and money to compare quantities and objects and to solve problems. They recognise, create and describe patterns. They explore characteristics of everyday objects and shapes and use mathematical language to describe them.

Expressive arts and design

ELG 17 – Being imaginative:

Children use what they have learnt about media and materials in original ways, thinking about uses and purposes. They represent their own ideas, thoughts and feelings through role-play and stories.

Toddler Objectives: DfES Outcomes for EYFS (2013)

Physical Development

Moving and handling (8 to 20 months)

  • Passes toys from one hand to the other.
  • Picks up small objects between thumb and fingers.
  • Enjoys the sensory experience of making marks in damp sand, paste or paint.

Personal, social and emotional development

Self-confidence and self-awareness (16 to 26 months)

  • Explores new toys and environments, but ‘checks in’ regularly with familiar adult as and when needed.
  • Gradually able to engage in pretend play with toys (supports child to understand their own thinking may be different from others).
  • Demonstrates sense of self as an individual, e.g. wants to do things independently, says “No” to adult.


Shape, space and measures (16 to 26 months)

  • Enjoys filling and emptying containers.
  • Associates a sequence of actions with daily routines.

Understanding the world

The World (16 to 26 months)

  • Explores objects by linking together different approaches: shaking, hitting, looking, feeling, tasting, mouthing, pulling, turning and poking.