Sometimes the simple things in life really are the best things! I don’t know about you, but as I have progressed on my journey to become more environmentally friendly as a mum, I realise how many ‘things’ we are told we should buy, we really don’t need. I am definitely someone who is trying to be more minimalistic around the home, and less suckered into buying the latest gadget that I am told my baby wants.

As H grows up we are learning together what he likes to play with, what is exciting, and what is useful. One thing I am sure of is that at the moment he doesn’t need more toys. He generally gets more enjoyment out of me passing him a new novel cardboard box, than he does with many of the toys he has been bought. Don’t get me wrong I love seeing H interact with the few toys that he has, we have bought a few key items such as wooden blocks, stacking rings, wooden rainbow and some soft toy characters, and we have had some lovely things as gifts and hand me downs – but I don’t want to be purchasing toys that will get used for a few weeks before becoming another item to clutter up the shelves.

My aim – find or make things that stimulates his senses, encourages interaction, but also have long shelf lives in the world of ever growing children.

As I was looking into activities suitable for babies, I came across multiple blogs on how to make your own sensory tubs – boxes full of a base material such as sand, water beads, spaghetti, dry pasta or rice, a combination of small toys or characters and some scoops or cups to play with. I love the idea of sensory tubs for free imaginative play, but as H is still at the stage of putting everything in his mouth, he isn’t quite ready for this.

I have also seen lots of people who create sensory bottles for babies. Adding water, food colouring, small figures and some glitter into an empty plastic bottle so baby can safely interact with these wonderful, colourful objects.

Issue there is that I don’t want to use glitter that will end up down the drain and ultimately add to the microplastics in our waterways, and to be honest, I don’t 100% trust that H won’t find a way to loosen the bottle just enough to end up with food dye leaking all over the carpet. I also know he loves the combination of both visual stimulation and sound.

So I thought why not make a sensory bottle with the items from a sensory tray. If I use dry store cupboard ingredients they can be used in a bottle now, and poured into a tray when he gets bigger.

After some experimenting I have now fallen in love with rainbow rice. This is one of the easiest DIY craft/sensory things you can create in your home with minimal ingredients and no specialist equipment needed. It takes about 5 minutes to make (and a couple of hours left to dry on the windowsill), and will last for years.

DIY Rainbow Rice


  • Rice (any kind) – I love the shape of basmati, or the smell of jasmine, but whatever you have handy)
  • Food colouring – liquid food colouring is the easiest, but paste can be used too
  • White wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • A large jar or tuppaware pot with lid
  • A plate
  • Kitchen roll or an old rag
  • An airtight container to store excess rice in – mason jars work really well!


  • Decide how much rice you want to end up with. I had a large mason jar that I wanted to fill for multiple future projects, so I used this to measure out the final volume of rice. Or you can use lots of smaller containers if you want to keep the colours separate. Any you are not using straight away will keep for years if kept in a suitable air tight container.
  • Take a cup of rice and pour into a large jar or tuppaware container.
  • Add 5 drops of food colouring.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of white wine vinegar (or lemon juice if you don’t like the smell of vinegar). This will help the colour set better on the rice, so it is less likely to leach colour when being played with in future sensory bins.
  • Put the lid on the container and shake! Keep shaking until the colour has dispersed well. If you want a stronger shade, add a few more drops of food colouring and shake again.
  • Put a piece of kitchen roll or rag onto a plate and pour the rice on top of this. You don’t have to do this, but it helps pull out excess moisture so the rice dries quickly. An old rag is great to use instead of a disposable piece of kitchen roll, just remember it WILL be covered in food colouring stains at the end.
  • Repeat this with different colours, until you have used up all your rice.
  • Leave the piles of rice to dry for a couple of hours, breaking them up with a fork if it forms clumps. Then pour into your final jar or storage container.

Make a Rainbow Sensory Bottle

Wash and dry an empty plastic bottle, removing any labels. We rarely buy drinks in single use plastic bottles any more, but we had a couple in the cupboard. If you don’t have any, it is likely one of your friends of relatives will have some in their recycling bin!

If you have kept your rice colours separate, take a spoon or two of each and add into the bottle. Or if they are already mixed in a large jar, just pour some in. You want to end up with no more than 2 inches in the bottom of the bottle so it’s not too heavy for baby to pick up.

You could keep it simple and offer it in rotation with other toys, create different colours for variety, or add in unusual things from around the house. You know the things they usually grab for but can’t have – magnets, rubbers, coins, small figures etc – if they fit into the bottle they can be a great addition, allowing baby to get up close to something but not put them in their mouths!

Just remember that when you are happy with the contents of your bottle, make sure you screw the top on tightly so baby can’t open it up, and offer it to baby, always under supervision. You can seal bottles with glue or similar for extra safety, just remember it may make it more difficult to recycle them in the future.

This DIY toy is easy to make, inexpensive, stimulates multiple senses, reuses waste single use plastic, and can be repurposed as baby grows older, extending the life of the ingredients for years. Baby H has a simple rainbow rice bottle that he loves! When he is older, the rice can be emptied out and used in sensory trays for future fun.

The only problem is to know when to stop… the giant couscous and pasta have both recently caught my eye – it is good to be prepared for a future full of play after all 🙂

Caroline Talbot
Author: Caroline Talbot