Preschool Art | Make Colored Rice

After seeing so much lovely colored rice all over my Pinterest feed for ages, it was high time that we created our own colorful rice. And you, too, can make your own colored rice for an afternoon of sensory play or for filling clear jars with layers of rainbow rice like you see here.

Preschool Art: How to make Colored Rice

Why Colored Rice is Worth Making

  • It’s a natural play material
  • Kids love the sensory experience of sifting it through their hands
  • It’s economical
  • The supplies probably already live in your pantry
  • Kids can help make it
  • It can last a looooong time

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

Supplies for Colored Rice

  • White or Brown Rice
  • Vinegar
  • Food Coloring
  • Zip-up plastic bags or bowls and spoon for mixing the colors

TinkerLab tips

Can we use brown rice?

We used brown rice for this activity, and the colors are still vibrant.

What’s the rice : vinegar ratio? 

For each color that we made, we used 1 cup of rice and 1 teaspoon of vinegar. That’s the ratio that you’ll want to work with (or experiment — we encourage that too!).

But rice is Food!! 

If you’re concerned about wasting food, check your pantry for old rice. That’s what we did, and low-and-behold, we had a bag that expired last year. Eeep. I wish we hadn’t missed the expiration date, but at least we could put that rice to good use!

Will my kids actually enjoy this?

Yes, I bet they will! I try to get my own kids involved in all the steps of our projects, and they enjoyed everything from this ro-sham-bo face-off to decide who would make which color of rice to finally playing with their colorful creation.

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

If you’d like to make this recipe, simply click ‘Print” and you can save this in your recipe file.

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Preschool Art | Make Colored Rice
Prep time:
Making time:
Total time:
Make your own colored rice for sensory play or art-making. This recipe makes one cup of colorful rice. Add more rice for more colors.
  • 1 cup White or Brown Rice
  • 1 teaspoon Vinegar
  • ⅛ + teaspoon Food Coloring
  • Zip-up plastic bags or bowls and spoon for mixing the colors
  1. Fill a zip-up bag with 1 cup of rice and 1 teaspoon of vinegar.
  2. Scoop or pour about ⅛ teaspoon food coloring into the bag.
  3. Zip the bag shut
  4. Squeeze the bag and mix the rice all around until the food coloring is well distributed
  5. Add more food coloring to reach the desired color.
  6. Pour the colored rice onto a cookie sheet. Spread it out to expedite drying time. To absorb the moisture and help the rice dry more quickly, line the tray with a paper towel or towel.
  7. The rice take between 2 hours and a full day to dry, depending on your climate and humidity.

How to Make Colored Rice

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

  • Fill each zip-up bag with 1 cup of rice and 1 teaspoon of vinegar.
  • Scoop or pour about 1/8 teaspoon food coloring into the bag.
  • Zip the bag shut

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

  • Squeeze the bag and mix the rice all around until the food coloring is well distributed
  • Pour the colored rice onto a cookie sheet. To absorb the moisture and help the rice dry more quickly, line the tray with a paper towel or towel.

Preschool Art: Colored Rice

We ran out of cookie sheets, so we divided one in half by pulling a paper towel wall up between two colors. Our rice dried in about 5 hours. The rice will dry take up to 24 hours to dry, depending on your climate and humidity.

More Colored Rice

Check back tomorrow and we’ll share a Creative Table set-up using colored rice!

This recipe was inspired by Rainbow Rice via Happy Hooligans

Make a Fall-themed rice sensory bin, via Kids Activities Blog

Side-by-side comparison of dying rice with food coloring and liquid watercolors, via Fun at Home with Kids




Drawing over Old Photographs

The following post is from the archives. It originally appeared in August, 2011.

Drawing over old photos ::

Drawing over over old photographs is a fun way to turn old images into new treasures. Not only is the process totally enjoyable, but the product can be turned into postcards that are fun to mail to family and friends.

Old photos can be found in thrift stores, antique stores, garage sales, reuse centers, and mom’s attic. Can you think of anywhere else?

To start, I collected a big, random stack of photos when we visited the San Francisco re-use shop, SCRAP, with the idea that we’d use them for some kind of collage.

And then I remembered doing a fun photo painting project at some point in my own past, which inspired the direction we took this.

N recently started representing objects in her drawings, so I thought she might be at a point where we could have some fun playing with the intersection of realism and abstraction.

N likes to find new places to create, and on this day it was the kitchen floor. To do this project, all you need is a stack of old photos and some paint pens like these Elmer’s Painters Pens. Sharpies would work too, but with a slightly different effect.

Print a Recipe


Drawing on Photos
Recipe type: Drawing
Prep time:
Making time:
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Drawing over photos with paint pens is a fun way to mix realistic imagery with abstract coloring.
  • Paint Pens (such as Elmer's Paint Pens)
  • Old Photographs (or photos printed on photo paper)
  • Covered table or work area, since paint pens can be permanent
  • Smock to protect clothing
  1. Place a stack of photos and a bucket of paint markers in the middle of the work area.
  2. If your pens are brand new, depress them ahead of time to get the paint flowing.
  3. Offer your child a stack of photos to sort through and choose from.
  4. Each of you will choose one photo to work with.
  5. Draw over the photos in any way you see fit.
  6. Display the photos or turn them into postcards and mail them to friends and family.

If you don’t have any *actual* photos lying around, you could try sourcing them at a thrift store, cut images out of a magazine, or print your own photos onto photo paper or card stock.

As you can maybe tell from the images above, we collaborated on a few of the photos. I marked up a photo and then handed it to N, and then she added her own ideas.

After I drew on a photo that she started, N said to me, “you do it your way and I’ll do it my way.” Yikes. I’m usually really sensitive to drawing on kids’ art, and I learned that she didn’t see this as a collaboration — she was okay drawing on my photos, but didn’t want me to draw on hers.

So, I took a few big steps back and allowed her to do it her way!

A few of our creations — both “collaborations” and our own works of art. We turned these over later in the day and made some of them into postcards.

What do you think? Have you tried this yourself? Any other ideas on what we could do with these works of art? Do you have a favorite spot for collecting treasures for reuse?

Re-use Shopping Resources

I Heart RAFT (SF Bay Area)

National (US) search for contractor/building reuse: Building Materials Reuse Association

Find FREE stuff on Craigslist: List of SF Bay Area resources

Find FREE stuff in your neighborhood through the Freecycle network

SCRAP Portland

SCRAP San Francisco

Surplus Sales at Stanford University

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse (Berkeley, Oakland, CA)

Reuse Resources via East Bay Depot Creative Reuse


Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment

It’s summer and we’ve been doing a lot of citrus juicing in our home. Between my 4-year old expert juice squeezer and my almost 2-year old juice taster,  our simple and inexpensive juicer has been hard at work.

invisible ink science activity kids

While little Rainbow napped, Nutmeg and I gathered materials and set up the project. We talked about how we’d have to reveal the ink (lime juice) with the high heat of an iron or hair dryer, and she couldn’t wait to get started. She loves dangerous tools.

invisible ink citrus kids

We gathered our ingredients.

Here’s the full recipe:

5.0 from 2 reviews
Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment
Recipe type: Science
Prep time:
Making time:
Total time:
Lemon juice is acidic, and acid weakens paper. When paper is heated, the acid burns and turns brown before the paper does.
  • Lemon or Lime Juice
  • Paper
  • Paint brush or Q-tip
  • Iron
  1. Squeeze lemon or lime into a bowl.
  2. Paint the juice onto your paper with a paint brush or Q-tip.
  3. Wait for the paper to dry.
  4. Heat the paper with an iron, hair dryer, light bulb, or other heat source. Be careful that you don't hold it there to long, as it could burn the paper.
Experiment with other liquids: milk, orange juice, white wine, vinegar, and apple juice are good bets.


invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

Just as we were getting started, baby R woke up to join us. She’s 22 months old now, and enjoyed the sensory experience of squeezing the limes with her bare hands, and then licking her fingers. According to my mom I used to eat lemons right off our tree, so this wasn’t too much of a surprise.

invisible ink lemon lime juice

The girls experimented with different colored papers and brushes. Afterwards I realized that Q-tips would have been perfect for this project, but we enjoyed the challenge of small watercolor brushes.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

The papers dried pretty quickly on this warm day and we were able to get right to the fun part of burning the acid with heat. N’s grandma blows her hair dry every day, and N is obsessed with this tool. Obsessed. We ran the heat on the paper for about a minute with little success. I never blow dry my hair and have a cheap blow dryer for projects like this, and maybe that’s why? In any case, we decided to move on to the iron.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

I folded a thick towel, placed the art on top of it, and she ironed away. In most cases an ironing board would have been better, but ours pulls awkwardly out of the wall and it’s too tricky to get the three of us around it safely. This worked perfectly and only took a few seconds to show its results.

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

N’s picture of her and her dad (he’s above her head, slightly visible in all his heated lime acid glory).

invisible ink citrus lemon lime kids

I really like how the abstracted images turned out and wished I had joined them once I saw how cool these looked. I usually join in when we’re creating and somehow forgot to on this round.

How about you? Do you find yourself doing projects with your kids, or are you in more of the facilitator mode? And what do you think about the new recipe card tool and header?

How to Make Paint: Sweetened Condensed Milk

sweetened condensed milk paint diy from tinkerlab

This recipe is a keeper because it comes together quickly, uses ingredients you probably have on hand, and it expands the way children think about art supplies. When children have the opportunity to invent things and imagine new possibilities (in this case, making their own paint, inventing colors, and imagining what they can create with the paint), opportunities for creative thinking are greater.

Not to mention, both of my kids (21 month Rainbow and 4 year old Nutmeg) enjoyed painting with it, and, um, eating it too. Once dry, the paint has an attractive shiny coat to it. Because there’s sugar in the milk, I’m not going to guarantee its archival quality, but after we’ve had our paintings for a month they still look brand-new.

I get a lot of questions about activities that can be enjoyed by kids of multiple ages. Generally, my opinion on this is that children will adapt the materials in front of them to meet their own level of ability. This project will work for toddlers on up to adults; just expect that the results will vary.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

My 4-year old’s completed paintings.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint


  • Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Food coloring
  • Small mixing bowls
  • Paint brushes
  • Tea spoons for mixing
  • Card stock or other heavy paper for painting on

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

Pour a little milk into a bowl, add a couple drops of food coloring, and mix.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

My 21-month old got into the mixing action too.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

Our painting set-up: I have a big, clear plastic tablecloth that covers the art table. It’s perfect for sticky + wet projects like this. I taped my toddler’s paper to the table to keep it from slipping.

how to make sweetened condensed milk paint

These paintings takes some time to dry. Rainbow did not have a delicate painting hand and her paint went on quite thick. The painting on the right had a deep puddle on it that took a good day to dry. And when it finally dried it caked up a bit and had a nice crackled effect to it. Just something to keep in mind in case you’re looking for a quick-drying paint…this is not it!

Have you tried this before? What kitchen supplies have you tried painting with?

And be truthful, aren’t you just a little bit curious about what it would be like to paint with sticky milk?

This post has been shared on It’s Playtime

Microwave Puffy Paint

Who wouldn’t love a good experiment that combines mixing flour + watercolor paint, and zapping it into puffy magic in the microwave?

When I saw this inspiring post by Rashmie at Mommy Labs, who in turn was inspired by Tammy over at Housing in a Forest, I knew it was something that my 3.5 year old experimenter would love to try.

We mixed a batch of puffy paint from water, flour, baking soda, salt, and liquid watercolors. See Rashmie’s post for all the deets.

I poured the mixtures into these awesome Nancy Bottles from Discount School Supply.

And N made some cool designs on cut-up manilla file folders.

We zapped them in the microwave and they came out looking like this. I think my ratio must have been a little off because the texture isn’t as puffy and beautiful and those over at Mommy Labs, but my 3-year old was ENAMORED by the process and kept making them until we ran out of paint.

What a fun way to spend an afternoon. Thanks, Rashmie!