Friday, December 16, 2011

The Many Uses for Candy Canes

There is something about candy canes that appeals to all children. Even the youngest toddlers who have never seen them before are enthralled, probably because they are new to them.  I brought out some plastic candy canes, both the traditional hook-shaped kind as well as some spiral ones.  Some are red and white while others add a stripe of green. I think the inspiration for them came when I was teaching a math methods course. I thought the different types of candy canes would provide multiple opportunities for sorting and classifying. Last year the older two's and young three's did actually do some sorting. But, even for them, filling up the bags provided was much more interesting that any ideas I had in mind.

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.


  1. My daughter just saw these pictures and said that this looks like fun!

  2. I love how open ended that activity was! My son (3) loves candy canes. We had quite a few on our tree but they are slowly disappearing ;)

  3. They have had lots of fun with this, even the little ones. If I don't bring them out in the morning someone always seems to ask me to get them out, if that tells you anything:)

  4. I LOVE candy canes, what a great idea!! Thanks for linking to Fun Sparks. x