You won’t need too many materials to make this candy cane Christmas activity for your sensory table!
Over the years, I’ve noticed that a huge percentage of my preschoolers are really drawn to scent-based sensory activities. As such, I’ve gone out of my way to make sure their sense of smell isn’t forgotten about when it comes to learning activities I create for them.
When it comes to Christmas, and making my Christmas lesson plans, I knew I wanted to keep this up. The scents of candy canes and evergreen trees are forever linked to Christmas in my mind, so I wanted to make sure to incorporate them in my plans.
That’s how this scented candy cane sensory bin originally came into being in 2013. At this point, multiple classes of preschool kiddos have experience this Christmas sensory play activity. It’s been a hit each and every time.
A Scrumptiously-Scented Candy Cane Christmas Activity
As I mentioned earlier, you don’t really need many materials for this candy cane sensory bin. Nor does it take all that long to put together.
Materials You’ll Need
Corn kernels dyed red
White Navy beans
Peppermint extract or peppermint essential oil
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.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to use for the white aspect of the candy cane bin. As my son and I were grocery shopping, I remembered a friend mentioning how much she loves using white Navy beans in her 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!
Of course, you can change the materials based on what you have easily on-hand too. Maybe you’d rather use pasta, rice, or something completely different. That’s up to you!
Related: Candy Cane Shaving Cream Slime
Prepping the Candy Cane Christmas Sensory Bin
I used leftover dyed corn, but if you want to make your own refer to my directions for how to dye corn kernels. You can dye other sensory materials (like rice or pasta) red with liquid watercolors if that’s easier for your.
Once the red sensory materials are dried and ready to go, it’s time to add the scent aspect! Place the red corn in a plastic bag or bin. Add a bit of peppermint extract, seal, and shake everything up to disperse the extract. Lay the corn out to dry. Repeat with the white Navy beans.
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.
Next, put together the candy cane sensory bin once all of the materials are dry.
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.
Playing with the Candy Cane Christmas Bin
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!
Related: Name Candy Cane Craft
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.
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!
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. Just think of it as fine motor skills practice!
Have you ever incorporated the scent of peppermint into your classroom/home play?
Do you have another scented Christmas activity to share? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!
More Christmas Activity Ideas to Check Out
Reindeer Play Date Party| The OT Toolbox
White Glitter Play Dough Snowmen| Frogs and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails
Egg Carton Snowmen on the Light Table| Still Playing School
Cut-Punch-Paste Hand Print Wreath| LalyMom
Using Food in Preschool Sensory Play
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.
Christmas Resources for Preschool Teachers
Save time planning (and, really, you can use all the time you have around the holidays!) with already done-for-you resources from Preschool Teacher 101. There are lesson plans, math and STEM activities, and literacy resources just for you! Be sure to check out the membership options for even more savings. You can also find us on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Click on the photos below for more information about Christmas resources:
Originally published December 3, 2013