Each year, we end up with tons of leftover candy canes after the holidays. This year, I vowed I wouldn’t allow one candy cane in our house past January; I was determined to find some useful way of using them.
So, in the spirit of our previous candy experiments, and after our wave of coughs and colds this past week, we hit the ole lab (kitchen counter), put on our lab coats (not really), and had some fun with our leftover candy canes.
Nothing fancy, no new recipes, no fabulous dessert to show for it–just some learning, once again, in the name of sweet-science:
- How to Have Some Fun With Leftover Candy Canes: I think it was between Dora and Sid on sick day numero dos that I asked Maddy, Owen, and Cora to meet me at the counter if they wanted to play with some candy.
With a sweet-toothed family like ours, candy is quite a draw to any sort of activity, so the kids came quickly. I said, Remember after Halloween, when we played with some of our leftover candy–painting with Skittles and watching the letters come off? They did. And they were eyeing up the candy canes, boy. . .
Our candy canes, ready to meet their match.
Today we’re going to do some experimenting with candy canes. We’re going to see what happens when we put candy canes in different liquids–hot water, warm water, freezing cold water, and vinegar. Then we’re going to sculpt with candy canes. It’ll be so cool. But first we need to unwrap. Let’s get our fingers going.
So we unwrapped and unwrapped some more.
I said, We’re going to use these bowls for the water and vinegar. Then I poured boiling water into the first one, warm water in the second, and icy water in the third. I put vinegar in a fourth.
We talked about what predictions they had for what would happen to the candy canes when we put them in each. Maddy thought the colors would come off in all of the water like it did with the Skittles and M & M’s. Owen said the candy canes would freeze in the freezing water (yes!), and Cora said she didn’t know but could she have a bite of one.
Everyone had a few pieces before we dumped the candy canes in, and then we watched.
We noticed that within a minute or two, the candy canes became teeny, skinny sticks in the hot water, but nothing much happened in the warm and cold water. And then the kids started giving the glasses a stir, and the colors started to move, just like Maddy predicted. Hooray!
The candy canes melted into tiny twigs in the boiling water.
When nothing much happened in the vinegar, and we had given the hot, warm, and cold glasses a few good final stirs, we moved the water out of the way. I brought out some baking soda, talked about what the kids knew about it (we used it for baking, in cookies and muffins), and then we talked about what would happen if we added it to the vinegar and water.
Everyone was in agreement that nothing much could happen except the water might turn white (verrry logical for little scientists), so they were crazy excited when I dumped some into the vinegar and it bubbled over the glass.
Eeeeee! The bubbling vinegar was one of our experimenting highlights!
We checked the candy cane afterward, and nothing much changed–same results as the water but nothing major. We added some baking soda to the water glasses and the kids held their breath for bubbles, but nothing.
They decided it must be something strong in the vinegar to make the bubbles–they’re right, and that’s as far as I went with scientific explanations for the day. Not enough prep on my part; I wasn’t sure where to go from that point anyway.
Finally, we sculpted. I said, Okay, we know what happened when we put candy canes in boiling water, so what do you think might happen if we put candy canes in a hot oven?
Maddy said they might melt, and Owen said they might shrink (like they shrunk in the glasses, perhaps?), and Cora said they’d melt. So we tried it.
I put a bunch of candy canes on a cookie sheet at 225 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. I pulled them out, and formed it into a letter ‘C’ for Cora, and she loved it. I gave the kids their own canes to mold, and after some initial frustration with cracking canes and moving quickly, they got the hang of it–if they moved slowly, they could twist and stretch and turn their candy canes into something new. And they did.
After three batches of sculpting, we were finished. We had enough, but we had fun. It wasn’t but 30 minutes or so that we ‘experimented’, but the predicting, the hands-on learning, the using one thing for something new, the brief excitement of bubbles and wonder–it was pretty cool. And it was a super-cool way of using candy canes if I do say so myself.
I found TONS–and I mean tons–of amazing recipes, crafts, and ideas for ways to use candy canes, but I didn’t find much on using them for science experiments. I thank my friend Loralee for initially getting us into candy experiments, and I thank Marie, from Make and Takes for sharing her idea of sculpting candy canes. Many thanks, Loralee and Marie, for sharing!
If you have any ideas for how to use them, please link back or share them here–I’d LOVE to know; we’re always up for something new!
Want a few more holiday-inspired gift ideas or activities? Check out:
- True Holiday Spirit Lunchbox Notes
- Holiday Fun Fact and JOKES Lunchbox Notes (with Hannukah!)
- Holiday Time Fun Fact Lunchbox Notes
- Little Holiday Notes and Jokes
- Holiday Notes for Families
- The Polar Express tradition
- Scratch-off Cards
- K-Cup Advent Tree
- New Year’s Family Interview
- Happy Holidays Backyard Birds