This group is no different. Since they are much younger, I was quite curious to see how they would use them. I brought them out in a big box and sat them on the floor. One of the older boys immediately realized the hook could be of some use and started trying different places to hang them up. He didn't have to go far as the first try at the felt board was successful. Soon his peers noticed and several children had a go at hanging candy canes. This required a degree of patience, perseverance and problem solving as they searched carefully for the ledge with the hook. If they were too rough, the candy cane would break and if they didn't pay careful attention to placement, the candy canes ended up on the floor.
Once all the hook-shaped candy canes were hung, he tried the spirals, to no avail. He didn't give up though, and instead removed the hook-shaped ones and proceeded to look for new places to hang them. Lots of trial and error took place as he searched for places not too wide and not too light to support his candy canes. Having a friend to help added a new level as they practiced turn-taking and listening and responding to one other.
For the youngest in the group, the simple act of placing the candy canes in the bags took some concentration and coordination. If the candy cane went in the wrong way, it might get caught on the handle. Too many candy canes in the bag could result in tangling, as they often found out them they tried to remove just one but instead emptied the bag.
Some just tried to see how many they could hold in their hands or fit in their bags, exploring spacial relationships and quantity.
We even tried mixing candy canes and bows in our bags, eventually realizing that not many bows would fit in the bags as compared to candy canes.
I could have shown the older toddlers how to sort the candy canes in various ways, as I had originally intended. By giving them the freedom to explore in their own way, the learning they created was their own and much more meaningful to them. And they practiced some valuable concepts and skills that they might have missed if I forced my ideas on them. As we continue to play with the candy canes, some of them might start looking for ones that match. Most of them probably won't. But that doesn't mean they aren't learning. And I am perfectly fine with that.