Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Candy Cane Science Experiments & Winter Learning Fun

I was hoping to find time to do some fun candy cane science experiments today and both the dissolving candy canes or bending candy canes into new shapes sounded really neat. I knew we wouldn't have enough candy canes for both experiments but, luckily, I found a bag of starlight mints in the cabinet.

Since we were so excited about science we started with that.  I first asked them to brainstorm all the possible ways we could dissolve the candy.  After making a master list (and checking our supply cabinet-- a.k.a. the pantry) I had them each pick two ways that they'd like to try and we set about testing our different methods. 

I had them predict which way they thought would work the best and we worked really hard to make sure all 6 cups were started at approximately the same time.  Evan chose to try out vegetable oil for one solution and water mixed with baking soda for his second solution.  Ian chose vanilla extract and a mixture of vinegar and baking soda (he really thought the reaction between them would dissolve the candy faster-- pretty smart thinking).  Alec settled on warm water and a salt water mixture.  They had so much fun watching the red stripes come off (which they told me happened because the red stripes were painted on later).  It was pretty neat to see the red dye settle to the bottom especially since at first they settled into red wavy lines! 

Ian's vinegar and baking soda solution is still fizzing
Over time we noticed that all the water solutions worked the best.  The vegetable oil solution didn't appear to do anything at all.  The vinegar and vanilla did work too, but it took a lot more time for the candies to dissolve that way.  We talked about water being the universal solvent and what that meant as well as why hot water seemed to work best for the first part of the experiment.  We noticed that as the water cooled it no longer dissolved the candy as fast.  It was great fun.  By the end of the day we had a tie between the vanilla and the hot water-- the candy in the oil still hadn't changed one little bit! 

We can immediately see Alec's water dissolving the red stripes

Evan's jars of liquid & candy

After an hour we can see major differences in all but the oil
Once they were looking a bit bored with our dissolving candies we turned to bending candy canes.  They all agreed that we can't bend candy canes as they are since they're hard and would break.  They agreed that if we heated them up we could probably bend them, but I was warned that if we heated them to much they would melt. 

We popped some candy canes into a 350 degree oven, on a foiled lined sheet, for about 2 minutes and then checked on them.  I let them sit for a moment or two until they were cool enough to touch and put them each on a paper plate.  The boys had fun twisting and molding the canes (though right up until the candy canes hardened back up and broke they did complain it was "hot"). 

Ian made glasses out of his candy cane
Evan just twisted his together
Alec tried to make a knot
I made a twister
We made some pretty neat shapes while they were pliable and then decided to put them in foil shapes and try putting them back in the oven to see what would happen if they melted.  Evan was upset that his candy cane had broken into smaller pieces and thought he couldn't participate in this second part of our experiment.  I encouraged him to try it and he was very happy when, after about 5 minutes, he had a "pool."  All of the candy canes melted into puddle sin the middle of the foil and the boys had a lot of fun eating their new "candy canes" once they cooled and hardened back up. 

Lying them in foil bowls to set them back in the oven

After 5 minutes they melted completely

Once cooled and hardened we took them off the foil and the boys ate them. 
After science we got our worksheets out of the way.  Math was a very easy roll and cover worksheet for all of the boys.  Alec and Ian multiplied the numbers on the dice while Evan added them-- a nice, easy review to build fluency and accuracy. 

Everyone decided to roll and cover instead of roll and color today
Once math was done I had them all write "how to build a snowman."  My boys are not big on writing but I'm finding that they rather enjoy these "how to..." writing worksheets.  I think seeing the paper broken into sections with just a few lines in each section help them feel like they don't have to write paragraph after paragraph so they're quite willing to write a few steps of instructions.  After they write them up we always talk about the instructions they gave to see if there are any important steps missing.  It's actually a bit difficult to write instructions in a clear concise manner without leaving steps out that the writer might think is obvious (and I always point out that it might not be obvious to the reader).

Their completed writing assignments-- spelling was downright scary today! 
At least I know what we need to work on next...  

 After writing I gave the boys the option of drawing or painting a snowman to go with their instructions.  Evan didn't want to do any art and chose to go play while Alec and Ian started painting backgrounds for their snowmen on some watercolor paper using their new watercolors.  Once the backgrounds were dry we painted snowmen using puffy snow paint. 

We mixed white school glue with shaving cream (a mixture we've used in the past) to make our paint puffy and I added glitter to some of the puffy paint to help make the snowmen sparkle.  Ian tried to paint his snowman's arms, face and whatever other details he wanted right away using my food coloring bottles.   His paint ran quite a bit and I was kind of frustrated at first but figured

  • a) it was his painting
  •  b) he didn't really hurt or ruin anything 
  • c) if nothing else he was mixing science with art...  
Alec let his snowman dry and then added details using his watercolors and a brush.
Round 1-- painting the background

Painting on our snowmen with puffy paint

Alec's completed project

We finished our morning by reading some winter books.   We read The Snow Bear, Little Snow Goose, A Really Good Snowman, and Mama, Will It Snow Tonight?
Wonderful winter books for kids
In the afternoon the older boys and I played American Trivia, it's a new game we got for Christmas and hadn't yet gotten around to trying out.  I knew how much they loved (and have already learned) playing the Scrambled States of America game so I was hoping they would love this too.  The questions are a bit harder and so it's recommended for ages 9 and up, but I thought it was worth a shot to play it a time or two.  Even Evan participated.  He can't yet read but he can answer questions.  By the third card we gave up on spinning the spinner altogether and scanned each card for what we thought would be "easy" questions for whomever was answering and if they got it wrong we read another question... even playing this way I think the game took a good hour.  We only needed one person to get 12 questions right but they were tricky questions.  Alec, of course, won and everyone was happy to see the game finally end so we had no sore loosers today!  I think we'll probably play again but not until the boys get quite a bit older.


  1. I pinned this on my "Grandma Ideas" board. I'm always looking for ideas of things to do with my grandkids. I think all of our candy canes from this year got tossed when the tree came down--no one eats them! This would be a great use for them. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for the pin and I am so glad you found our ideas helpful. We have a lot of candy science experiments to help use up not only our Christmas candy but also our Halloween and Easter candy too. We could not possible eat it all and I hate to see them go to waste!