Ten different ideas of how to use rice to create rich sensory play in the classroom or at home.
Sensory play has an important role to play in Early Childhood. Exposing young children to sensory rich play can help them develop their early literacy and numeracy skills whilst also encouraging their imaginative play and problem solving skills. It can also be an crucial part in meeting the sensory needs of some children during play.
Previously I've shared some of our favorite non-food items for sensory play which led me to thinking about what our favorite items are for promoting rich sensory play.
What is the most versatile material we use?
What encourages play in diverse but sustained ways?
What works for group play, mixed age groups and individual play?
This post contains affiliate links.For me, it has to be rice and lots of it. Deep enough to want to dip your hands into it and have the grains run over your hands. It's convenient as it can be used all year round - in hot or cold weather. It's not too wet/cold/sticky/expensive or smelly. It's easy to clean up and store. A few squirts of hand cleaner can also keep the same quantity of rice going for repeated use or it can be scented with some essential oils to create a different sensory experience.
I use it plain and coloured, both at home and in the classroom, to create different types of invitations for play.
1. SORTING COLOURSFor younger children, I keep the invitations quite simple like this sorting colours one.
Rice makes the perfect base to hide these metal rimmed plastic counters and swishing the magnetic wands through the rice to collect them makes for a lovely sound. Once retrieved from the rice, the discs can be sorted by colour. Of course, rice would make the perfect base for a simple 'magnetic or not' exploration too.
2. TEN FRAME COUNTINGYou can build in early maths skills into your play like this tub. It introduces children to a ten frame which are used to help count in junior grades.
I used two different colours to allow for further questioning - How many buttons are black? How many are white? Can you make a pattern with them?
3. MAKING NUMBERS
For slightly older children, other prompts can be introduced like these number cards I usually use with play dough or kinetic sand. Children can build the number once numerals become part of their understanding.
4. MEASURE IT
Rice is also the perfect medium for exploring measurement.
Young children can use rice for pouring to and from different sized and shaped containers, for mixing and measuring.
Which holds more? Is it full or empty? It's such a calming experience too for many. We used this rainbow rice to create a 'bucket-filling' space in the preschool I worked at.
5. ALL THE LETTERS OF THE ALPHABET
Use the rice to hide letters in. I've used variations of this several times as a literacy centre in my classroom. I found these letter erasers cheaply or use scrabble or other word game pieces. Children can match upper case to upper case or make it harder by asking them to match upper to lower case letters.
6. I SPY WORDS
We used some of our rainbow colour rice along with some small alphabet beads to create some DIY I spy bottles.
They been used to spot our names, the letters of the alphabet and create short words in our literacy centre activities.
7. BUILDING VISUAL DISCRIMINATION
My students love their LEGO so I knew this LEGO people challenge would be a winner in class. Using our many LEGO mini figures, I've created a few of these challenges now.
After taking a photo of all the LEGO mini figures whole, I pull all the pieces together and mix them up. Here's one of our tabletop invitations to play but I've also used our rice sensory tub in class to hide the pieces in for the children to find.
It's a fun way to build visual discrimination skills as they have to try and match the rebuilt characters to the picture but also means some of the sensory needs of my students as the move their hands through the deep tub of rice.
SMALL WORLD PLAY
Of course if you follow us on Instagram will know how much I love small world play. Rice offers a great base to create this sort of pretend play with and suits everyone from my mess loving eldest child to my youngest who dislikes getting her hands dirty.
Our kitchen floor at home is often the scene for such play. We have one very large tub of green rice that we use repeatedly as a base for such pretend play and I have a similar quantity in my classroom too.
8. FARM PRETEND PLAY
Our Schleich animal collection has seen so much play over the past ten years making them one of the best investments.
Farm play is a favourite both at home and in the classroom. Our big tub of green rice forms a perfect base for some pretend farm play. Just add some fabric scraps, log biscuits, glass gems along with your animals and you are guaranteed hours of imaginative play!
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
9. A WORLD OF BUGS AND INSECTS
Of course you can just as easily swap your animals for other creepy crawly creatures. My students loved this bug and insect small world I created for class during our non-fiction book unit study.
10. FAIRY GARDEN PLAYProbably our favourite way to play with rice would be to create fairy gardens with. Sometimes fairies come to visit other times Lalaloopsy come to play.
The best thing about rice is it can be used and reused many times over which for me overrides the issue of using food in play. I don't think using food for play can be considered a waste when it can bring so much pleasure and help meet the sensory needs of some children whilst encouraging their imaginations and promote early literacy and numeracy skills at the same time.
Now you all know your children better than I do. I know that my children rarely mouthed anything so with careful supervision, they were able to play with small objects from a young age but my children are not like everyone's so use your own judgement about when to introduce play like this to your child.
Tell me - what is your favorite material to encourage sensory play amongst your children?