Several years ago, when I first put out several pounds of uncooked rice onto a black cloth for my niece to explore, she plunged into the rice with her hands, then her arms. She felt it between her toes, then on her legs. Soon enough, she was laying down on the rice, covering herself with the cloth, rolling in it and looking quite content. Rice has such a pleasing and soothing feel, it is the perfect sensory material for all ages.
For classrooms, placing several pounds of uncooked rice in a dark-colored bin (or any bin lined with dark cloth) provides a nice visual contrast and keeps the rice contained. If you choose to go all out and purchase a lot of rice, you can put it in a larger bin that the children can sit in, like a little sandbox – or rather, a ricebox.
Rice by itself is wonderful. Try it without adding anything and see what happens. Older children will quickly create images in the rice: volcanoes, monsters, fountains, etc.
Younger children will just enjoy the feel of the rice and explore it for its sensory qualities.
In time, you may choose to add little figurines or natural objects to the rice to see what stories these might inspire.
This is a bit of dialogue between my niece and nephew when I took these pictures.
Niece: Look, I’m making a beach. An elephant has found the beach.
Nephew: My elephant found a beach.
Niece: The elephant got buried in the sand at the beach. It’s raining and the elephant is unhappy.
Nephew: It’s raining….. It’s fun doing this.
Nephew to Niece: What’s happening over there?
Niece: The elephants one day crossed the town. “We are friends and will never lose each other.” One person saw them. “We must make the road here clear. Then with tail and heel we make the line.”
When you are ready, tell your own rice stories! For large groups, you will probably need to spread the rice on a large cloth instead of a bin so it is visible to everyone.
Note: As with all materials, teachers and parents will need to establish some limits with rice. In order to keep the rice within the confines of the cloth or bin when children play, you might consider querying the children in a group discussion first, “Before I let you explore the rice, I want you to watch me carefully and try to figure out how I am able to keep every grain of rice in the bin (or on the cloth).” Demonstrate for them various hand motions in rice that you use in your stories. Then challenge them to show you that they can also do it. Children can volunteer to demonstrate one by one in the group setting with full focus and awareness placed on this task. They usually like doing this. You will probably have to revisit these limits from time to time either with individual children or with the group.
Rice is a great medium for stories that have different settings because you can quickly form the rice to make a mountain, a river, a lake, waves of the ocean, etc. Explore the rice yourself to see what you can come up with!
Check out rice stories and rice fingerplays: