Child experimenting with liquid watercolor paint and rice on paper

Tiny things capture children’s attention because of their scale – and because they are so small, children can see them in their entirety.

And, using different materials to experiment with paint is always a wonderful phenomena for children to experience.

By playing with rice and watercolors children can compare, and make predictions while exploring concepts such as individual and collective, quantity, line and shape.

What Could Lead Us to This Play Invitation

  • Children have been drawing with an emphasis on the outlines of the elements;
  • Children are curious about small things, or have been collecting them;
  • Children are excited about trails and traces.

Materials Needed

  • Liquid watercolor paints (red and orange colors)
  • Paper
  • Pipettes
  • Thick brushes
  • Rice

Setting up This Play Invitation

  1. Pour some rice into small containers that are wide enough for children to fit their hands in and easily collect a handful of rice.
  2. Pour water into a small jar and add brushes.
  3. Prepare the liquid watercolors with pipettes.

How to Create the Painting

  1. Explain to children that you are going to use a wet-on-wet painting technique: First, we give a water wash to the paper; after that, we apply the watercolors.
  2. Invite children to wet the paper with plain water using a brush.
Child experimenting with liquid watercolor paint and rice on paper

3. Next, invite children to drip the watercolors onto the wet paper using the pipettes.

4. Then, sprinkle the rice (the paper must be wet for the rice to work).

Child experimenting with liquid watercolor paint and rice on paper

4. Leave on a flat surface to dry. When the paint is completely dried, shake off the rice for an incredible painting! The paint will be darker around where the rice sat. Very cool!

Tip: Spreading the paint all over the paper will create a better result.

How to Nurture the Natural Unfolding of the Child’s Identity During This Play Invitation

  • Children have the right to work freely. In a well-prepared environment, children can work autonomously without much adult intervention.
  • Honor and support children’s processes by ensuring they have everything they need during the Play Invitation. For example, having more paint on hand, fetching something out of their reach, cleaning messes, etc.

The Academic Learning Opportunities

  • MATH: Name and describe spatial elements such as over, middle, left, right, and under. Build awareness of quantity, like “Here, there’s a lot,” and “Here, there’s less,” and the concept of lines and shapes.
  • LANGUAGE: Explore new vocabulary to communicate ideas.
  • SCIENCE: With this play invitation, children can explore concepts such as spread and mixed; observe rice’s reaction to water and pigment; and use observation and investigation to identify, describe and seek explanations for phenomena, and to formulate new theories.
  • ART: Develop perception of colors and hues, experiment with composition and visual balance.


  • Use colored oil over an overhead projector, and put drops of dish detergent over the oil. The colored oil will spread from the drops of detergent.

Book Recommendation

A lovely story about discovering wonder in the tiniest of things.