Rainbow Messy Play with Dyed Pasta

If your students love messy play, they’ll get a kick out of this rainbow messy play invitation. You only need a few simple ingredients to make it, and it’s so easy to set up.

You can use the rainbow sensory materials multiple ways, depending on your preferences and your students’ interests. No matter how you choose to set it up, the kids will have many opportunities to play and learn.

We kept our rainbow sensory play pretty bare-boned, but you can add more items to it. There’s really no end to how you can switch things up to add literacy, math, and other elements to the rainbow play.

Rainbow dyed macaroni covering rainbow-shaped wooden tray. With text that reads rainbow messy play.

Related: Rainbow Activities

Read below to learn how you can craft your own rainbow messy sensory play. I also show how we used it, along with a few suggestions for tweaking the rainbow play.

Rainbow Messy Play

Now, let’s jump into the messy rainbow fun! We’ve actually used it in a variety of ways over the years. So I can promise that the materials can last for quite some time.

I like to call activities like this one “kid-tested, teacher-approved” because of how many kids have enjoyed it. Plus, I know the many benefits of messy play for kids’ development (thus the “teacher approved” part.)

Materials for Rainbow Sensory Play

As I mentioned earlier, you don’t need much to get the rainbow messy play started. Below is everything we ended up using:

If you’d rather just use the dyed elbows, stick with the pasta and the liquid watercolors. And of course you can add some additional materials to the messy play, such as:

Rainbow Messy Play Directions

To prep the mini rainbows, split the elbow macaroni between 6 containers or baggies. Then squirt a bit of liquid watercolors into each container. Since this is focused on the colors of the rainbow, we used red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. You can use food coloring if you prefer.

Colorful dyed elbow macaroni in a bin with wooden rainbow tray.

Seal the container and shake it to disperse the color. Take a peek and add more watercolors if needed. Then place the dyed pasta on a tray to dry. Try to keep it in a single layer so it dries faster and is less likely to stick together.

While you’re waiting for the macaroni to dry, you can whip up a batch of play dough if you’re using homemade dough. The Imagination Tree’s recipe for white play dough is perfect for this. And, of course, you can always use store-bought play dough with your rainbow messy play.

After the play dough is ready and the elbow macaroni is dry, it’s time to set things up for the kids! You can do this a few ways:

  • Mix up all the rainbow macaroni in a bin, along with a wooden rainbow sorting tray.
  • Add macaroni to individual bowls based on color, and put the play dough on a tray nearby.
  • Set the scene by making two play dough “clouds” in a bin. Then add the pasta in a rainbow-shaped arch.
Colorful macaroni sorted by color on wooden rainbow tray, surrounded by more dyed pasta.

How you set things up is really up to you! I’ve done it multiple ways and think they’re all great. No matter what, be prepared for the pasta to get all mixed up. And understand that the play dough will likely get mixed in with some of the pasta, too. It is called messy play for a reason!

How the Kids Play and Learn

Even super simple invitations, like this rainbow messy play, have a lot of opportunities for learning. And since it’s open-ended, there are a multitude of ways to play. That’s a win in my book!

Dyed macaroni in rainbow order on top of white play dough.

Here are some things you might see as the kids interact with the messy rainbow sensory play:

  • Using their hands to scoop and pour the rainbow macaroni
  • Sorting the pasta by color
  • Making macaroni designs in the play dough
  • Putting the pasta in an arch by play dough “clouds”
  • Placing the macaroni in rainbow order from red to purple
  • Building patterns with the pasta

Of course, each child will do things a little differently, and that’s okay! In fact, that’s what we want to encourage.

Preschoolers using white play dough and rainbow dyed macaroni.

When it comes to learning, the rainbow messy play lets kids explore:

  • Color identification
  • Sorting
  • Patterning
  • Counting
  • Rainbow order
  • Fine motor skills
  • And more!

So even super easy messy play ideas like this one allow for a ton of play and learning!

More Ideas for the Rainbow Messy Play

You can definitely make some changes to this sensory play if you want to. Here are some ideas:

  • Add color sorting mats. A few times, I made color sorting strips out of construction paper.
  • Place cookie cutters and play dough tools out.
  • Add magnetic letters to the mix, along with name cards or color word cards.
  • Challenge the kids to make their initials in the play dough using the rainbow pasta.
  • Put simple pattern prompts near the messy play.
  • Grab some plastic eggs (or other small plastic containers that close) so the kids can explore how the pasta sounds.
Rainbow macaroni sorted onto colorful strips of paper with color words written on them.

Now I’d love to hear from you! How would you make this rainbow messy play idea your own?

More Rainbow Messy Play Ideas

If you and the kids had a blast with the messy rainbow sensory play, here are few more ideas to check out:

Preschool Rainbow Lesson Plans

Let Preschool Teacher 101 make your life easier with fully-developed, done-for-you preschool resources. We have over 100 lesson plan packs ready for you! They contain weekly plans, detailed daily lesson plans, book suggestions, whole group activities, small group lessons, center ideas, and related printables.

Click on the image below to see our rainbow lesson plans:

cover image for rainbow preschool lesson plans

Here are a few more resources your kids will enjoy:

Alphabet rainbow writing cover.
Alphabet Rainbow Writing
cover for numbers to 30 rainbow writing product
Numbers Rainbow Writing
three preschool printables with a purple flower and a green frog and the title digital and printable colors 3-in-1 activity pack
Colors Digital Activities
Rainbow dyed macaroni with wooden tray and white play dough. With text that reads rainbow sensory play.

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