One of my favourite (though possibly one of the hardest) parts of my job is to run a Church-based Toddler group on Tuesday mornings. Each week we read a Bible story, sing songs, do craft, play, and eat cake. Today’s story was about Abraham, with the focus on God’s promise of descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky and grains of sand on the beach.
I like to include sensory play in the sessions when I can (i.e. when something relevant to the theme can be done simply and cheaply). I am following a wonderful resource at the moment (God’s Story for Under 5’s by Becky May), and for this story the author recommends filling “a tuff spot or tray with a thick layer black beans and placing a number of glow-in-the-dark stars” into it. Well, I didn’t have any black beans, or any glow-in-the-dark stars (though this does sound like a great idea and so I must try it at some point), but I did have some Sainsbury’s Basics rice (60p for 1kg), black food colouring (£1), and star-shaped buttons (Baker Ross, £1.99, though you could even make your own star shapes if you have enough time – I just happened to have these in), so I decided to make some black rice and add colourful stars. Admittedly, the star buttons were fairly small and therefore required adult supervision at all times so it is probably best to use something else until you can be confident your child won’t put them into his/her mouth. Saying this, it is probably best not to use coloured rice either until the munchkins are past that stage…
I love coloured rice; it forms a great base to any sensory box/play, can be used in small world play (though take note of my warning below about using it alongside water beads), and it is so easy (and cheap) to make. There are various methods on the internet that involve vinegar (or other acids), vodka (or other spirit alcohols – I mean, really???), ziplock bags, and other things that I just don’t have. Ok, I do have vinegar, but I don’t like the smell, and so I don’t use it for anything unless I really have to. Also, I have actually experimented with using a ziplock bag, but found it surprisingly difficult to get the wet rice out of without pouring it all over the floor (though I understand that this may just have been my sheer incompetence at adulting). All I do is simply pour a bag of rice (1kg) into a roasting tin, add food colouring (enough to evenly coat the rice), stir well to mix thoroughly using a wooden spoon, and leave to dry overnight. If it is not quite dry enough for use in the morning, I simply add a little more rice and stir until the remaining food colouring is soaked up. I think the idea with the vinegar/alcohol is to help spread and set the colour, and then prevent mould forming on the finished product (with alcohol giving a much longer-lasting product than vinegar), but I have honestly never had a problem with this. As long as it is completely dry before using, remains dry throughout all play, and is stored in a dry environment, it should be fine (i.e. if you combine your rice with WATER beads in small world play, you may want to discard it quite quickly once the play has ended. Just saying…). Anyway, 1kg of Sainsbury’s Basics rice will fill a standard roasting tin which, believe me, when 30 children get their hands on it, is enough! The children adore coloured rice and I do use it quite often in the sessions as it makes a nice change from sand (it is certainly easier to clean up).
We used it in a number of ways in our session today. For our story time session I used it to put God’s words to Abraham into context. God told Abraham that one day there would be more descendants in his family that there are stars in the sky. I showed the children my tray of brightly coloured stars against a backdrop of black rice, and asked them to try and count the number of stars that I had. I had approximately 200 stars, which seemed like a huge amount to the children, and more than they could count. We then thought about how many stars might be in the night sky and whether any of the children had ever tried to count them, and compared that number to the “small” amount we had in front of us. After this the children were simply able to play freely with the rice, under their parent’s supervision.
After the session I took the tray home for A to play with (she saw me making it and was not impressed when I told her that it was for Toddler Praise; now that she is at pre-school she is no longer able to attend and she is not happy about this), and I realised just how versatile this set-up was. My children seemed to learn so much so naturally and so quickly. I put the tray into the tuff spot and A instantly put her feet into it, and then sprinkled it over her legs, and dropped it back into the tray, pointing out how much it sounded like the rain that had been hammering the window just a few minutes earlier.
As with the Toddler Praise session, I encouraged her to think about the bright stars in the dark night sky, and how many there might be, but she was having none of it so I just let her play freely with E. E got out some cups and a teapot from the play kitchen and started using the rice to make ‘tea’: pouring, scooping, stirring and mixing.
A then swiftly followed him to the kitchen and found a variety of bowls of different sizes. She filled each one, and used comparative language to describe how much each could hold. She also explained the difference between full and empty to E. She then selected some identical cups and put varying amounts of rice into each; again, describing and comparing amounts, and even ordering them by amount.
They both then decided to make use of the star buttons; E exercised his pincer grip, and separated a handful of stars by colour, naming the colours clearly and correctly.
A decided that using her fingers was too easy and so found a pair of play tweezers to separate the stars with instead.
She separated according to colour, counted up the amounts of each colour, and then ordered according to the amounts she calculated. It was so fascinating watching them learning through play together, at least for as long as the civilised play lasted before it descended into this: