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Coloured Rice & Pasta – Why are they so good for therapeutic work as well as just ‘messy play’?


As an arts and craft supplier, we were asked by one of our customers to source coloured rice and pasta. We struggled to find a UK supplier and then thought we could make this ourselves, which we have now done and called our range “FoodArt”.

The products have been exceptionally well received and we are now considering extending the range to other products such as semolina, couscous and even spaghetti!

So we started to look a little more into how coloured rice and pasta are used. We are no experts at this but noticed the following:

  1. At a basic level we found that families at home & Early Years settings (nurseries, playgroups etc.) are using them for simple messy play. Kids just love to run their hands through either the rice or pasta, exploring the different textures of the rice and pasta shapes (macaroni, twirls, bow shapes etc.).
  2. On a more artistic, creative level, they are used for arts & craft activities:
  • Threading penne onto string, elastic, braid or pipe-cleaners to make a colourful pasta necklace or bracelet
  • Making rice pictures by gluing a shape or pattern onto paper, then sprinkling rice over the glue so it sticks & make a colourful picture. Fireworks spirals are the best!
  • Decorating trinket boxes and card

3. Next there seemed to be a more imaginative, fun and even scientific play emerging, when they were made available on sensory tables or in sensory bins: filling and pouring from scoops or jugs, exploring the basics of measurement and volumes; imagining it to be cargo then transporting it elsewhere & tipping it…. Others take the lead from the food itself and role play cooking, mixing, serving, restaurants etc. Finally large jars of rice can be sealed with small toys hidden and kids have to roll & turn them to discover what items are concealed. An Eye-Spy sensory game!

Quick fill that truck!


Look what I’ve made!

Then we picked up that dry rice particularly is used quite extensively by occupational therapists and in special needs settings as a versatile sensory play material to help children with a multitude of disorders, amongst others autism, sensory processing disorder, poor fine motor skills, hand-eye co-ordination…

Interesting, but we needed to do a bit more exploring on the web to find out why and how…

  • Touch – Rice is a great tactile material, the texture of which stimulates the receptors on the skin of hands and feet and helps children seeking or avoiding touching things. This can for example help with fine motor skills, much needed for things like holding a pencil, fork, scissors etc.
  • Smell – Sense of smell too can be helped to develop with scented rice. Food flavourings and essential oils can be used to scent the rice and can be very powerful in either arousing or calming someone’s emotional state – e.g. Arousing: peppermint, eucalyptus, lemon…. Calming: rose, lavender, vanilla
  • Sound too can be explored making bottles and jars into rice shakers
  • Speech and Language. We even read about one occupational therapist in the US who uses rice and pasta to develop speech and language for example she develops articulation by hiding in a sensory box objects all starting with a given letter e.g. “B” – balls, books, bottles…she also develops expressive language by asking children “Wh” questions.. ”Where is the ball hiding?”

We feel that we have only scratched the surface in understanding just how good rice and pasta can be both enjoyed and utilised on such a multitude of levels and we have observed that they are liked equally by girls and boys.   Truly versatile! And the final plus is that if stored in airtight containers, they can be used again and again…

Those interested in purchasing rice and / or pasta can see our range of FoodArt here…


We’d love to hear of any more uses – if you are able to share any with us please do get in touch!