Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

A scrumptiously-scented candy cane sensory bin for the kids!

As I’ve mentioned in the past, my class this year is especially interested in scent-based sensory activities.  The scents of candy canes and pine trees are forever linked to Christmas in my mind, so I wanted to incorporate them into my December lesson plans.  With those two things in mind, I set about creating a candy cane sensory table for my preschool kiddos.

Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

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For the red part of the candy cane, I knew I wanted to use the red corn from our colorful corn kernels.  I love how rich and bright they are, and the kids loved playing with them.  I wasn’t sure what to use for the white aspect at first, though.  I was reminded of My Nearest and Dearest’s spices and beans sensory activity as Engineer and I were doing our grocery shopping.  We were checking out the bagged beans when I remembered she’d spoken of using white navy beans as a base for sensory bins.  That solved the “dilemma” of the second part of the candy cane fun.  The final piece of the bin was, of course, the peppermint scent.  I had peppermint extract at home, so that was easy!

Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

I placed some of the beans and corn kernels in plastic bags, added a bit of peppermint extract, and shook the bags up.  I laid the corn and beans out to dry for a few minutes afterwards, just to be safe.  I didn’t use the extract on all of the beans because I didn’t want to overwhelm the kids’ senses.  Peppermint is a strong scent, so I erred on the side of less.

Since I’m a dork, I used the beans and corn to make stripes in our sensory table — so they looked like candy canes, of course!  Yes, I knew they wouldn’t remain that way for very long.  One of my colleagues estimated it would take “2.5 seconds” before the bin was all mixed up.  What can I say, I’m easily amused!  Plus, the kids got a kick out of seeing the sensory table decked out like a candy cane.

Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

I placed white and silver cupcake liners, measuring cups, and scoops in a basket beneath the sensory center, as well.

As soon as the tops were off the sensory table, the kids pushed their hands into the beans and the corn.  They then exclaimed, “it smells just like candy!  Oooooh, candy canes!”  After pushing their hands into the bin, the kids discovered the cupcake liners.  Oh how they loved those cupcake liners!  They scooped and scooped the corn and beans into the liners as fast as their little hands allowed!

Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

The kids ended up with so many filled cupcake liners they weren’t sure what to do with them!  Some of the items from our science/nature center were borrowed at this point (2 wooden trays and a bamboo bowl).  They solved the problem of not enough space by placing the “peppermint cupcakes” on the trays on the ground.  The pile grew and grew, until the kids were practically out of liners.

Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

Based on my observations, the students LOVED this sensory bin!  I’m biased, but I was pretty happy with it myself.  The kids could touch, smell, see, and hear the corns and beans.  They loved scooping and measuring the corn/bean mix, and they adored using the sensory items in a pretend play scenario!  Next time I’ll have to put out more bakery-related items — mixing bowls, wooden spoons, a toy stand-mixer, etc.

Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

If you’re wondering, yes, the kiddos did make a bit of a mess with this bin!  I placed a large tarp underneath the sensory center, but some of the beans still managed to escape.  Thank goodness for mini brooms and dust pans — cleaning up is a great learning skill!  ;)  If all else fails, little fingers are great at picking beans and corn up off the floor.

Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

Have you ever incorporated the scent of peppermint into your classroom/home play?  If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

I know that some people are concerned about using food for art/crafts/sensory play/etc.  There is a concern that it’s disrespectful towards children who might not be getting enough to eat at home.  While I certainly respect this concern, I do not agree.  In the past, I have worked with children who weren’t getting enough to eat.  As their teacher, and as a member of their community, I did all I could to ensure they were cared for and well-nourished.  I would never let a child in my care go hungry, and their needs were (and always are) paramount in my mind.  It is still an issue that I concern myself with now, even though my current students don’t have those same problems.  The food I use for crafts, sensory play, etc. are often stale or past their “sell by” dates.  I take great care to keep the food in sealed containers to use again and again if it’s possible. Please know I mean no disrespect whatsoever.

Sweet-Smelling Candy Cane Sensory Play

Shared at Kids Co-Op, Discover and Explore


    • says

      Thanks so much, Ann! The kids are still loving it, and their pretend play with it is getting more and more detailed. Love seeing them enjoy an activity so much. Thanks for the inspiration for the navy beans! So much easier to clean up, even when the teacher (me) accidentally knocks them all over the floor. :)


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