How To Dye Rice For Sensory Bins

Did you catch my post a few weeks ago on how to find success with dyed rice sensory bins? This post will give you tips on rice sensory bins, as well as our favorite tools for rice play. Today, I wanted to share how to make the dyed rice! Here’s my tried and true recipe plus some tips! This rice is taste-safe but does not mean it should be eaten by the handful. 

Materials: 

1 cup dry rice
1 tablespoon vinegar
Lots of food coloring! Liquid or Gel
Sandwich bags
Sheet pan
Wax paper/ parchment paper/ tin foil (optional but nice to have) 

Instructions: 

Place the rice and vinegar in a plastic sandwich bag. Squirt in lots of food coloring. The more food coloring, the deeper and better the color will turn out. 

Sandwich bag with rice, vinegar, and food coloring

Shake the bag until the coloring is evenly spread through the rice! 

Spread the rice on a sheet pan to dry. I like to cover my pan with parchment paper (or something similar) to keep the pan cleaner. If this isn’t possible, it’s fine to place the rice directly on the pan. In my experience, it has always washed off with a little soap and water 

Dump the rice on a sheet pan
Spread it thin. This is one cup of rice on one half of a standard size cookie sheet.

*The thinner you spread the rice, the faster it will dry. 

*For an even faster dry time, put in the oven on the lowest setting. If it’s a sunny day, place outside to dry. 

After about 30 minutes, you will have to break up chunks of rice that stick together.

The rice is dry once you can run your fingers through it and it doesn’t leave a residue of color on your fingers. 

Other Tips: 

Use the 1:1 ratio for rice and vinegar. You can do 2 cups of rice, 2 Tbs vinegar, and so on… 

The sandwich bag is a great way for kids to get involved in making the rice, they do great at mixing up the color into the rice! 

HOWEVER, we’ve had our fair share of little fingers puncture the ziplock bag, sending rice everywhere and food coloring places you don’t want. Teach your kids to mix the bag with flat hands and rub, like this!

If you’re looking to use less plastic, a glass bowl and spoon work great to mix as well. Make sure to rinse and dry the bowl and spoon before starting another color so you don’t mix colors.

Store in a gallon Ziploc bag or tupperware container. 

The rice smells strongly of vinegar for a time. Leave the baggie or container open all day or through the night to get rid of the smell before sealing and storing. Once the vinegar smell goes away, I have never found the strong smell to come back.

The rice can last for years and years stored in an airtight container!

Rice Sensory Bin Tips

Hello, early educators and parents of littles who are ready to dive deep into the sensory bin world! Sensory bins can be daunting given the mess that can come with it. But I’m here to help ease your fears and bring more sensory play into the world. First, a few other resources for articles: 

One Big List Of Sensory Bin Fillers

Tips For Sensory Play In General

Here are my tips specifically for RICE sensory bins. 

SET BOUNDARIES: Before you even begin, set boundaries. Our number one rule is to keep the rice and tools inside the bin. This idea of rice in a bin to play with can be new for the majority of kids and we can’t just assume they know to keep the rice nicely in the bin. Give them good boundaries BEFORE you give them the materials. 

SET THEM UP FOR SUCCESS: One thing I firmly believe is that we have to set kids up for success before we expect them to perform the way we want and expect them to. Even if you set them up for success, accidents still happen. The best solution I have found for keeping rice contained is to put the sensory bin on top of a quilt or rug. Then it can easily be shaken off outside or vacuumed up when you’re done!

KEEP THE BOUNDARIES: When lines are crossed, don’t be afraid to take a break from the rice. Separate the child and the bin however you can, take a minute for a break, and come back to try again for success when you feel the child is ready. 

FIND THE RIGHT TOOLS: Too many tools, not enough tools, or the wrong tools can make or break the sensory bin experience. We’ve done our fair share of experimenting with tools and here are our favorites. 

  1. Scoops and spoons 
  2. Small bowls 
  3. Ice cube trays
  4. Small people or animals for pretend play 
  5. Holiday-themed toys (usually from the dollar store) 
  6. Puzzle pieces for a puzzle find. Expect this to be messier because they’ll be pulling pieces out of the bin. 

PRAISE THE POSITIVE: Applaud and praise the correct behaviors. 
“I love how you’re sharing so nicely with your friend!” 
“You are keeping the rice in the bin so well. I am proud of you!”  

TASTE SAFE IS NOT AN AFTERNOON SNACK: Dyed rice is typically made taste safe (recipe coming soon!). Just because it’s taste safe doesn’t mean it should be eaten. It means you don’t need to call poison control if it ends up in their mouth at some point. With diligent supervision and boundary setting, babies as young as a year old can play with sensory bins full of rice. More on that in the next point. 

The first experience of a sensory bin looks like sitting right next to the child, helping them scoop and play. When rice is inevitably put in their mouth respond with, “Yucky! No no!” and help them spit it out. Repeat over and over. It takes multiple times to remind them and in multiple settings! Be diligent and they’ll understand. Take it away if you need to. 

IT TAKES TIME FOR RICE TO BE AN INDEPENDENT ACTIVITY: To go along with the last point, it takes time for any sensory bin to be an independent activity! If you’re a parent, handing your child a rice bin with toys and tools for the first time so you can make dinner isn’t setting them up for success. Rice bins are a side-by-side activity to teach your child self-control and pretend play. 

In an early childhood educational setting- model, model, MODEL how to play with any sensory activity. Set a responsible adult next to the bin with a handful of kids to monitor and keep the boundaries. 

Given time, independent play with rice is possible! 

Do you have any tips for rice sensory play you can add to this list? 

Other Activities To Do Instead Of Explicitly Teach Letters

I’ve written a lot lately about teaching my daughter preschool. 

Read about my initial thoughts here. 

Read about the curriculum I’m using here. 

Read about a few things I’ve learned in the process here. 

While it’s easy to focus on learning letters during this age of a child’s life, it’s not the end goal. Here’s what I wrote: 

“Learning letters and numbers isn’t the goal of preschool. Playing is the purpose of preschool, and throwing in the letters and numbers is just an added bonus. I was reminding myself often that just because my daughter still didn’t know that R says rrrrrr by the end of two weeks, it doesn’t mean the two weeks was a fail. We played, we sang, recited poems and painted. So much paint! The purpose of the R unit wasn’t to engrain the letter or sound into her mind, it was to expose her to a new letter, maybe recognize it, and most important- to play.”

Today I wanted to make a list of activities to do with your kids beside teach letters (that can still promote letter awareness and learning). 

Paint. We are BIG advocates for paint over here at our house! Super washable Crayola paint is our go-to. Paint on paper, paint on windows, paint in the bathtub, paint outside. PAINT! Paint flowers, letters, silly faces, rainbows, animals, numbers, and more. 

Other artistic outlets such as coloring, cutting and gluing, paper folding, etc. 

Sensory bin activities with different fillers. I’d list them all out for you, but I’ve already made a post for that!

Play outside. Discover the world, and talk about it. Talk about the green grass, the blue sky. Wonder why dandelions grow in your yard but not the neighbors? (This was an actual conversation I had with my daughter. Maybe a sign that we need a little more weed killer??) 

Build with blocks, build forts, build with safe items from the pantry. Talk about bigger and smaller towers and the letters on the packaging or the colors you are using. 

The blocks featured are sumblocks

Go on a walk. Discover new places, see new people, and have different experiences outside of your home. 

Keep letters around your home to be involved in play.

I’ve said it multiple times in multiple posts, but never forget the fundamentals: 

  • Talk
  • Sing
  • Read
  • Write 
  • Play 

These five incredibly important points create readers. And not just a child that can read, but a child that loves to read. Let’s stop the pressure of children learning letters at a young age, and start creating reading lovers. 

A few more resources: 

Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

Tips On Activities With Young Learners

What Is Play-Based Learning?

“The whole world opened up to me when I learned to read”

Mary McCleod Bethune

What I’ve Learned Teaching Preschool

I’ve been teaching my daughter and her little neighbor friend preschool since mid-April. At first, it was very consistent and every day, but now we’ve tapered off since the world is (somewhat) opening up again and we can leave our homes again. We have been using Busy Toddler’s Playing Preschool curriculum and love it! You can read more about my review here.

Today I want to share a few little nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned from teaching on a preschool level. This age and curriculum are somewhat out of my realm, my dream teaching job would be 3rd-4th grade, but I’ve learned a lot teaching this age and learned to adapt to this different age range. 

More play. Less instruction. I knew this before, I live by the phrase “play is a child’s work.” However, sometimes when we put the label “teacher” out there, it’s easy to fall into teacher instruction mode. I found that the less I was involved and the more play that took place, the more learning that came. 

Sing. Sing all of the songs. I’m not a singer!! I know a lot of people say this, but I’m REALLY not a good singer. Guess what? They didn’t care. They just wanted songs. They craved the repetition and beat and learning a new tune. Sing the songs, and sing them loud and silly. 

Consistency is important for them at such a young age. We had our schedule that we did every day (laid out by Playing Preschool), and the days we strayed from it, left something out, or switched it up slightly, the whole lesson was hard for them. Be consistent. 

Not all kids grow up with a #teachermom and do activities like poke toothpicks in an apple, and that’s okay! Our cute neighbor boy that joins us for preschool was doing the apple poke activity. It promotes counting, spacial awareness, and fine motor skills. After he had put two or three toothpicks into the apple he looked at me and asked, “Why am I doing this?” while my daughter sat next to him happily poking her toothpicks because an activity like this is fairly normal in our household! Gave me a good laugh!

Learning letters and numbers isn’t the goal of preschool. Playing is the purpose of preschool, and throwing in the letters and numbers is just an added bonus. I was reminding myself often that just because my daughter still didn’t know that R says rrrrrr by the end of two weeks, it doesn’t mean the two weeks was a fail. We played, we sang, recited poems and painted. So much paint! The purpose of the R unit wasn’t to engrain the letter or sound into her mind, it was to expose her to a new letter, maybe recognize it, and most importantly- to play. 

I think doing this preschool program with my daughter has opened my eyes to what playing for a child truly is. I knew it was important and I knew that’s how they can learn, however, now I realize that it’s not just how they CAN learn, it IS how they learn. It is crucial! 

To you preschool teachers out there, what other tips do you have, or what else can you add to this list? 

#TeacherMom Struggles: What’s The Balance?

The other day I handed my 2.5-year-old scissors for the first time in her life. When handing them to her, I had a moment where I realized this was probably her first physical exposure with scissors herself instead of watching me use them, so I gave her a quick tutorial on how to hold them. 

Within minutes she was frustrated. She didn’t know how to cut the paper I had given her. I originally started her on this project so I could have a few minutes to cook dinner, so you can imagine my frustration when I had to go back over to show her, yet again!, how to hold and use the scissors. She worked diligently, and very, very slowly on cutting up a big sheet of construction paper into tiny pieces, struggling and asking for help the whole way. 

Once she had completed the construction paper, she moved on to the next task without consulting me first. The blanket. Luckily, we have some fairly dull kid scissors that won’t cut up the fabric so the blanket was saved, yet it still wasn’t okay. 

But it made me think that if I were teaching in a preschool, kinder, or first-grade classroom (maybe even older) and we pulled out scissors for the first time in a while, I would have an explicit lesson about what is okay to cut, scissor safety, and more. Yet with my daughter, I didn’t! A couple of thoughts I had about this situation-

  • Using scissors seems like such an every day, easy task to us who have used them for years and years. This is absolutely not the case with a toddler. 
  • Explicit instruction can do wonders. 
  • New activities such as using scissors aren’t for “from a distant” parenting. I should have chosen a safer activity I knew she could be successful and handle on her own. 
  • I try to turn off “teacher mode” often around her because while it’s valuable, I want to be play focused and not “coach” her too much throughout our day. But sometimes, teacher mode is okay and should come out. 

Mistakes were made! The first time a child picks up scissors they don’t need a quick tutorial, they need a sit-down, explicit lesson! I know that. I guess as a #teachermom, I expected myself to have a perfect balance of teacher mind and mom mind, and while it seems to work out some days, it doesn’t others. So here’s to me working hard at this balancing act of #teachermom life! 

You #teacherparents out there, do you struggle with finding a balance between being a parent and being a teacher to your kids? 

Reading Before Kindergarten- Is It Really Necessary?

Reading before Kindergarten- is it necessary? Is it beneficial? Is it something parents and educators should be spending their precious minutes with the children on? As time goes on, more and more pressure is put on parents to have high academically achieving children and preschools across the nation are meeting this “need” by giving kids an academic-based preschool in exchange for a play-based preschool.  

I’ve been hearing an ad for a local preschool in my area that boasts “We will have your kids reading before kindergarten!” and every time I hear the ad it makes me angry that they are adding to the social pressure put on parents for having a reading four or five year old! No parent should ever have to feel inadequate because their child isn’t an early reader. It goes without saying that this is not a preschool I can support.

Reading to her horses, even though she can’t read! What great pretend play that will eventually lead to reading.

Did you know that if your kid is reading before kindergarten, studies have shown that by 2nd grade they don’t have much advantage over kids who learned to read in kindergarten? Did you know that teaching your child to read before they are ready can actually drive them away from reading and make them a worse reader in the long run? It may be exciting at your mom group to brag about how academically advanced your child is, it’s exciting to celebrate your kid’s accomplishments! But that shouldn’t be shadowing out what they truly need. 

I have even felt the pressure myself and my daughter is not even 3 years old yet. I see friends with kids similar ages who can name letters and sounds so easy, yet my daughter is just barely showing a small interest in letters and not even close to knowing what they are or what they say. This is discouraging because I have read to her every day and she has been exposed to letter for years now!! But she will pick it up in her own time. Until then, she is establishing her love of reading, and that is more important than letter names right now.

Reading before kindergarten is not bad by any means! If your child is genuinely showing an interest in letters and words and stringing them together to read sentences, by all means, let them fly!! When it comes to teaching kids to read, let them lead. 

There are so many other things we can and should be doing with our kids instead of pushing reading on them. First, back to the basics that create lifelong readers, and some of my favorite things to do!

Talk 

Sing 

Read 

Write 

Play 

These fundamental skills build the learning basics of reading. Talking and singing with them will do more in the long run than pushing letter learning on them. Giving them genuine time to play, build, and make-believe will do wonders. Play is a child’s work! It’s how they learn and grow. 

Choosing an academic-based preschool and even kindergarten robs them of their most needed resource- PLAY! Let the kids play, really play! Mary also wrote out 5 lessons her kids taught her about play that is also helpful in this situation! I also loved her perspective of Kindergarten readiness from a teacher AND a parent standpoint when her daughter was almost kinder age! She has amazing resources and tips for us. 

Other things you can focus on with your child that promote kindergarten readiness instead of reading: 

Sensory activities

Writing, drawing, coloring, and painting 

Puzzles and problem solving 

How to maintain and hold a conversation 

Establishing a love for books and being read to 

Build positive relationships with books- from the beginning!

Let’s take the pressure of reading off kids! Let’s play and sing and let the kids lead! Choose a play-based preschool, give them books, point out letters in your daily life, and when they are interested, let them read! 

What are your thoughts on reading before kindergarten? Do you as a parent feel the social pressure of early reading? 

I’m Back In The Classroom! But Not How I Expected

If you remember back to my introduction post, you know that I haven’t been in my own classroom teaching my set of students for quite some time now. I’ve had plenty of substitute teaching jobs, which don’t get me wrong, has been amazing! But not the same as your own, personal classroom. 

Alas, I’m here to say- I’m finally stepping back in the classroom! Although, my “classroom” is in my basement and my students are my daughter and her little friend that lives down the road. The curriculum is learning letters and counting, something I was never given proper instruction on how to teach because my degree is in elementary education, not early childhood. While most would not think twice about the difference between the two, there is enough difference that I somewhat feel out of my realm here. My dream job would be to teach 3rd grade, not 3-year-olds! 

However, it’s still my dream job right now, even if it isn’t in a 3rd-grade classroom because it means I can teach and be with my kids at home every day. 

The curriculum I purchased for preschool came from Busy Toddler, a former early childhood teacher but now a mom running her own business by blogging about kid activities and writing preschool curriculum. So far, I have been very impressed with the book. It’s very play-based and includes math, writing, art, science, plenty of children’s books, and lots of sensory bins, my favorite! I plan to do a full, honest review once we have had a few more weeks under our belt and I can give a better idea of what it’s like. 

It has also been very helpful to have a little slice of normalcy in our lives right now during this crazy time with everything shut down due to COVID-19. It’s about 20-30 minutes of our day where we can just leave the world behind and have a little structure. 

My absolute favorite part about it is that I went deep in our storage to pull out a little plastic bin my grandma gave me years and years ago to use for my first year of teaching! While I imagined it very different, I was still just as excited to pull it out again and use it for this! 

So for now, you can catch me in my little classroom corner that I’ve created!