Sensory centers, like this rice table, serve a very important function in early childhood development. Not only does sensory play engage all of the child’s senses, it also builds language, dramatic play, math, science, and social skills
Why rice? It’s extremely versatile. It doesn’t leave a residue on small fingers. It can be colored with food dye, easily swept up, and is typically not an allergen. It’s also inexpensive – large bags sell for just a few dollars. However, if you want to substitute other sensory filler, these center ideas will also work with sand, water beads, dried beans, pea gravel, or any other small sensory filler.
Rice with Colorful Scoops
There is something calming about having rice slide through fingers or weigh down a hand. The motion of the rice sliding through fingers or out of a tool can be cathartic, while the sound and weight can be reassuring. It is a great emotional outlet as well. If a child is feeling nervous, shy, homesick, or angry, it can be a great way to redirect and soothe. Keeping it simple, with some brightly colored scoops, invites the children to dump and pour. Click HERE to see more pictures.
Rice with Aluminum Pie Tins and Whisks
Aluminum pie pans and whisks can be an excellent addition. Whisks move the material in a different way than spoons or hands, and it can be intriguing to have some “real chef tools” in the center. The sound of the rice in the pie pan can also be exciting to the children.
Rice with Funnels and Scoops
Here’s a way to incorporate science into your sensory center…just add funnels! They learn about
- funnels make cool hats
Change up the funnel accessories by placing them into a funnel stand. This one is homemade with 2 pieces of plywood glued to a large PVC pipe (that we painted black). Kodo Kids also sells an awesome funnel stand HERE.
Rice with Magnetic Letters & Cookie Trays
I bet you were wondering “Where on earth is the literacy?” Magnetic or plastic letters with cookie sheets or trays can turn into a game of hide-and-seek! Children dig through the rice to find the letters they need to complete their name. Other ways you can build on this:
- Sort the letters by color
- Practice sight or vocabulary words
- Challenge students to find the whole alphabet!
Rice, River Rocks, and Names
Budding archeologists will especially appreciate using paintbrushes to uncover the hidden rocks with the letters of their names! Often, children will work cooperatively once they are able to recognize letters in their friends’ names.
Rice, Candles, and Cupcakes
What child doesn’t love to pretend it’s their birthday? We included:
- Cupcake tins
- Measuring cups
- Silicone cupcake liners
- Birthday candles (both numbers and regular)
All of the items except for the silicone liners can be typically found at your favorite dollar store.
Young children will improve language, social, and dramatic play skills as they negotiate with one another to share tools, create stories, and cooperatively play. Sensory play also invites children to learn about spatial concepts such as full and empty, as well as an introduction to science. Pre-math concepts are introduced as well with vocabulary such as “big, bigger, biggest,” as well as numbers and colors.
Rice and Plastic Eggs
The kids speak for themselves in this short clip. You can see them using all of their senses, from making an egg into a maraca to pouring rice over their hands, overfilling and letting it spill out, and the way they all negotiate tools and space with each other.
What’s your favorite way to change up a sensory bin? We would love for you to share pictures on our Facebook page.