Monday, December 10, 2012

Candy Cane Legend Book and Craft Tray

As we made our way through the first days of our Literature-Rich Advent Alphabet last week, one of Luke, Nina and Jack’s favorite activities was a tray created around a craft that is hardly original, but which is definitely worth reminding others to enjoy at this time of year.  That is, they loved our:
Candy Cane Legend Book and Craft Tray
A Picture Book-Inspired Tray with Faith, Early Literacy, Practical Life, Fine Motor and Math Connections
A Meaningful Craft Tray for Less than $5


Nina loved this activity the most!
(1) Recall the legend of a candy cane.
(2) Create the alphabet letters “c” and “j”.
(3) Experiment with patterns while stringing beads.
(4) Offer a fun, focused opportunity for fine motor control,  hand-eye coordination and patience.

Set Up

1.      Place copies of The Legend of the Candy Cane, The Candymaker's Gift: The Legend of the Candy Cane and/or J Is for Jesus: The Sweetest Story Ever Told in a large basket.  (If you don't have access to these, simply search “candy cane legend” or “candy cane legend poem” for brief online versions of the legend to share the faith-based symbolism of candy canes with children.  Then, search for images of candy canes with varying patterns/thicknesses of stripes to inspire different beading patterns.)
2.      In front of these, place a handful of white chenille sticks and several small containers of red and white pony beads.  (We used recycled, single-serve apple sauce containers for our pony beads.  Glass, ceramic or wooden bowls would be more appealing. Holiday patterned ones might be more fun.)
3.      Place the basket on a large tray.(We used the top of a bed tray that long since lost it's legs.  An inexpensive plastic holiday tray might be a fun alternative.)
4.      If desired, put a stack of other trays nearby so multiple children can enjoy the activity at once.  (We use ones we have around the house, including dollar store aluminum cookie trays and wooden trays from our wedding.)

Luke, Proud of His AA-BB and A-B-A-B Patterns

2.     Present the book and craft tray, asking children to retell one or more of the stories in their own words, or to explain the symbolism of the candy cane.
3.     If children are unfamiliar with beading activities, demonstrate how to take a bead form the container and to string it on a chenille stick.  Go especially slowly when demonstrating how to twist the chenille stick around the first and last beads to keep the rest of the beads from falling off.
4.      Suggest looking at the illustrations in the book to get ideas for beading patterns.
5.      If necessary, demonstrate how to shape finished bead sticks into candy cane shapes.

Skills, Learning and Concepts
  • Faith (the legend connects the color and shape of the candy cane to Christian history)
  • Early Literacy (retelling stories, making bead sticks into the letter “c” for candy cane and then shaping them into the letter “J” for Jesus before turning them upside down to make shepherd crook shapes)
  • Practical Life (creating ornaments, perhaps to be used as gifts; exercising eye-hand coordiantion)
  • Fine Motor (picking up pony beads; stringing beads on chenille sticks; twisting chenille sticks around beads at the beginning and end of beading; manipulating finished bead sticks into candy cane shapes)
  • Math (creating and talking about patterns, such as A-B-A-B or AA-BB-AA-BB, or A-BB-A-B-A—A-BB-A-B-A)
  • Art (discussing lines, shapes and colors)
  • Focus (concentrating stringing and remaining patient while coordinating movement to string beads)

Notes/Quick Tips/Extensions
At 2 1/2, Jack was completely engaged in this activity.
  • Children of all different ages and skills?  Differentiate by using various shaped and sizes of beads, paying more attention to the size of the inside hole in them than the shape or size of the outer portion, to increase or decrease the attention needed to string the beads onto the chenille sticks.
  • Of course, pony beads can be a choking hazard and chenille sticks can have sharp ends that can scratch skin or poke an eye out.  Use common sense precautions when presenting this activity to young children.  If you are concerned about the ends of the chenille sticks, use needle nose pliers to turn the pointy, wiry bits down in order to make more rounded end points.
  • Don’t want to play find-and-pick-up-the-pony-beads all week?  You might not want to leave this tray constantly available or your two-year-old, like mine, could become so overjoyed with the sound of cascading pony beads that you find your entire living room floor decorated with spilled beads.
  • Concerned about historical accuracy?  Be aware that the candy cane legend is just that, a legend.  Perhaps discuss with older children how faith ideas are often layered onto pre-existing traditions, creating beautiful “new” symbolism.
  • No beads around?  No problem?  Children can also enjoy making candy canes, while getting a fine motor workout, by simply twisting red and white chenille sticks around one another.
  • Discouraged beaders?  Adapt!  Cut the chenille sticks in half or even in thirds to lessen the amount of actual beads that need to be strung to make a candy cane.
  • Have a low budget?  Do not disregard this activity.  If you have a Dollar Tree nearby, the activity can cost $5 of less.  A bag of red beads, a bag of white beads and  package of chenille sticks that includes white ones can be had for $3.  If you have no basket or tray about, an aluminum cookie tray and a basket can be purchased for an extra $2.
  • Planning a party or playdate?  Check out the ideas at the end of The Candymaker's Gift: The Legend of the Candy Cane.  They include a menu of candy cane celebration activities, instructions for making candy cane themed decorations and a list of Bible verses that support each of the ways candy canes can be used as faith symbols. 
Homeschool Methods and Approaches Connections

  • Montessori:  This activity makes an excellent one for the Practical Life shelves.
  • Workboxing:  Skip the tray and simply slip a book, a baggie of beads and some chenille sticks into a box or drawer.
  • Reggio:  Skip the demonstrations.  Leave the basket out at a provocation and see where the children take the idea.
  • Sensory Smart:  Use this activity when calming and focusing are in order, but bracket it with activities that will warm your child up for fine motor challenges and give your child enough gross motor heavy work to balance the sedentary nature of the craft.

If you have tried this or other beading activities, we’d love for you to share your own tweaks and experiences.  We’d also love to hear about other Legend of the Candy Cane crafts and activities your children enjoy.   to hear how it went.  We’d also love to your ideas for variations, extensions and sensory connections.  Please share!

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Discovering Montessori said...

This is a wonderful activity!! Thank you for sharing and being so detailed. Great post!!

Lee said...

I read this earlier today and I immediately longed for red & white pony beads and chenille stems!! Perhaps next week, after a visit to a craft supply store. These are great ideas, and a wonderfully thorough post.

Deb Chitwood said...

What a lovely activity, Martianne! It's wonderful that you linked it to a book and prepared a special basket. I featured your post at the Living Montessori Now Facebook page and pinned it to my Kids' Christmas Activities Board at


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