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Five Dollars, Five Ways: Dollar Store Activities for Kids – Rainbow Rice {Series}

Five Dollars, Five Ways is a series that explores a variety of activities for your kiddos based on a trip to the dollar store with a five dollar budget. We show you  how to maximize a few bucks for hours of fun and entertainment!


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I love colors—especially when they are all together in a rainbow! Dyeing rice is an affordable, easy, and hands-on way to explore color.

You can get rice at the dollar store (though you often better price at the grocery store or bulk/warehouse store). You can find food coloring at a dollar store as well, but you may already have some you’d like to use, and we’re going to explore the art of coloring your rice with markers or Kool Aid (both of which can be found at the dollar store). After your rice and coloring agent (if you didn’t already have them at home), I would recommend using your five dollar budget to get trinkets and a container, if necessary. Additional suggestions for this week’s activities are zippered plastic bags and duct tape, but you likely already have these at home as well!


To color your rice, place approximately one and a half cups of (uncooked) rice in a bowl.  Add 5-10 drops of food coloring and stir until color is evenly distributed. More drops may be added for a deeper and more intense color. Once desired color is achieved, spread rice on paper towels, a plate, a cloth diaper (lots of different things will do the job—the trick is to have a single, thin layer on a flat surface), and allow to dry. It doesn’t take very long unless you have used a lot of coloring. I often stir the rice a couple of times during the drying period to help things along.

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If instead, you’d like to color the rice with dollar store markers, pop the end off of a marker, and pull out the ink innards. (That’s the technical term. I’m sure of it!)

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 Soak the ink innards in a tablespoon of water or vinegar. You may have to squeeze the ink cylinder. Once your water or vinegar seems to be a rich enough color (and your ink cylinder is noticeably paler in color), remove the ink cylinder, and add the (again, uncooked) rice. From this point on you can follow the food coloring method instructions.

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Dyed rice can keep for quite a while if you store it in an airtight, sealed container. I’ve been coloring and saving smaller batches here and there in an attempt to have enough rice to fill a large tub or our sand table.

(For what it’s worth, I have not cooked dyed rice, but I have cooked dyed pasta, and it retained some of the color. I think as long as you did the food coloring or Kool Aid method—NOT the marker method— it would be fun to try cooking the rice! If you are such a brave soul as to try it, be sure to let us at Nashville Moms Blog know how it went!)

Activity 1: Treasure Hunt

Hide small objects throughout a container of rice. Depending on the age of the child, you can hide novelty erasers or something really small like beads or sequins. An additional challenge might be digging with a spoon or tongs rather than with their fingers.

Activity 2: Rice Art/Texture Letters & Numbers

Draw a picture with glue on a sturdy piece of paper. Shake rice over the glue, let sit, and then shake off remaining rice. We, of course, suggest you do said shaking over a trash can or other handy container. Use different colors of rice mixed together for a rainbow effect, or use one color at a time to keep them separated on the paper.

img rice art

Inspired by Montessori sandpaper letters, using a stencil or freehand, write a large letter (or number) made of thick lines with glue on sturdy paper. Cover with colored rice, let dry, and shake off excess rice. Children can trace the texture of the rice to help learn their letters and to learn how letters are formed.

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Activity 3: Sensory Play

Fill a small plastic tub, dishwashing basin, or sand table with colored rice. The emphasis is on experiencing the rice through the senses (especially touch), so give your children spoons, cups, a small strainer, tongs, gloves, dinosaurs, construction vehicles, ponies, shovels, forks, scoops…anything! If you’d like to add the sense of smell to their exploration, add a drop or two of essential oil (be sure to use a more gentle oil or use with a carrier oil) or some food extract/flavoring when coloring your rice. You can also color your rice with a concentrated Kool Aid mix (less than one tablespoon of water or vinegar with half a packet or more of unsweetened Kool Aid) to accomplish color and scent in one step.


Activity 4: Eye Spy Bag

Fill a quart sized or gallon sized zipped plastic bag with rice and small trinkets. Sequins, pom poms, small novelty erasers, marbles, Squinkies,Lego minifigures, and small animal figures all work well. I recommend a heavy-duty strength bag. After filling (leaving some room for movement), seal bag, and tape around all four edges with colorful duct tape leaving a “window” on one or both sides.  This will help kids stay busy while waiting for appointments or in the car!


Activity 5: BIG Math

Older children can to challenge their counting skills by counting how many grains of rice fit into a cup, how many grains of rice are red, etc. Children can transfer grains from one container to another. This way they can stop, record the number on a piece of paper, take a break, and pick up where they left off at a later time.

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