Note: This last school year, I participated in two different preschool co-ops--one for my three-year-old son and the other for my four-year-old son. For the older group, we loosely based our curriculum on Five in a Row. For more of my preschool posts, click here.
I'm sorry to revisit December two posts in a row, but this was one of my favorite lessons I did this last year for Aaron's preschool, so I couldn't just let it go undocumented.
The Legend of the Candy Cane is not a Five in a Row book, but I wanted to use it anyway. One of the good things about using Five in a Row is it teaches you how to extend stories and illustrations in ways you never would have thought of before. Consequently, even though I didn't have an actual lesson plan for this book, I was still able to think of lots of ways to extend it and learn from it (and of course random strangers on the internet also helped a great deal...).
The story begins with a stranger riding into town, stopping in front of a boarded up store, and saying, "That will do." He quietly begins working while the townspeople speculate about what he is going to use the store for. Everyone watches from a distance, except for a little girl named Lucy who asks the man if he could use some help. He lets her unpack glass jars and then fill them with candy. That is when Lucy realizes that he is opening a candy store, which is exactly what all of the children were wishing for. In the midst of the unpacking, Lucy discovers a box of candy canes; the man gently explains that the candy cane is a symbol of Jesus Christ--of His birth, His life, and His sacrifice for all of us. Amidst the joy and excitement of a new candy store, the two of them share the message of Christmas with the whole town.
Obviously, this story contains strong Christian themes. Since all of the children that participate in our little preschool co-op are Christians, I knew this would be an appropriate story to share. (Although, I will disclaim that even if you are a Christian, you might not agree with everything in this story: I read a review from one mother who liked the story well enough until she reached the part where it explains that Jesus "bled terribly" and that the red on the candy cane reminds us of His blood and infinite sacrifice. She was horrified at the thought of sharing this with her young daughter. For me personally, I want my children to know that we celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus because of what He would eventually do for us, and I thought this detail in the book was treated both simply and reverently, so I was not at all offended by it. I share this contrast only to make the point that everyone has different opinions and expectations.)
The illustrations beautifully depict a small town, probably somewhere in the Midwest, around the turn of the century. I saw that a few years ago a new edition of this book was published with new illustrations by Richard Cowdrey. I prefer the original illustrations that were done by James Bernardin. They have a more realistic look about them.
There are a lot of fun Christmas books that I like (and also a lot of fun ones that I find absolutely ridiculous and stupid), but I have a hard time finding serious ones that are both interesting to my children and treat the details of the Christmas season with the quiet and joyful respect I feel they deserve. This book is absolutely perfect because it places those details against the backdrop of a candy store, which is something that intrigues almost every child and makes those details easier to remember and relate to.
Speaking of candy stores, after reading this book to Aaron and his preschool friends, our first activity focused around our own little candy store.
First, I did a little money lesson with the kids. I explained that a penny is equal to 1¢ and that a nickel is equal to 5¢ or five pennies. We worked on a little addition: 6¢ = one nickel + one penny, 4¢ = four pennies, etc. I don't know how much they actually grasped, but I gave them each their own handful of nickels and pennies and turned them loose in the "candy store."
They were in heaven! They all stood in line and took turns coming up to the candy counter, choosing what they wanted, and paying for it at the cash register (I played the part of the clerk). I think they would have been happy to rotate through the line for the full two hours. Even though there were only five varieties of candy, each time they came through the line, it was like they were experiencing the delight and wonder of the choice and the purchase all over again.
The book began on a "dreary evening in the depths of November." Later on, "the town was whipped round by blizzard winds." I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to discuss winter weather, particularly blizzards.
I grew up on the plains of northeastern Colorado. There, it is so windy that almost every snowfall turns into a blizzard. But here in Salt Lake City, we are protected and sheltered by the mountains, and to see the snow fall sideways instead of straight down is definitely a rarity.
So rare in fact that when I asked the children what a blizzard was, I got a line-up of blank stares. And when I told them about blizzards, they thought they must be one of the coolest tricks winter could offer.
With that in mind, they all sat down to make personalized snow globes. A few days before preschool, I had all of the parents send me a picture of their child bundled up in winter gear. Then I printed the pictures, laminated them, and cut them out.
I took an old Christmas wreath and disassembled it so that we could use the leaves, berries, and evergreen needles in the snow globes as well.
I had each child take the lid of their jar and assemble all of the pieces the way they wanted them. We used a pile of small rocks to make a little nest for the other items to stick into. I used the hot glue gun to glue everything into place.
We filled the jars with water, a little corn syrup to help the glitter fall more slowly, and glitter. Then we carefully inserted the little scene and screwed on the lid.
The kids gave the jars a good shake and watched the glitter swirl around themselves in a beautiful "blizzard."
(Aaron and Max kept their jars for all of December. By the end of the month, some of the pieces had come off the base and the lids were leaking a little bit, so we threw them away, but we loved them so much, I think we'll make them again next December!)
By this point, the kids were very hungry, so we took a break and made candy cane shakes. As far as snacks go, I have a really difficult time thinking of one that will please everyone. This time, a couple of the children objected to the crushed bits of candy cane and went with a plain vanilla shake instead. Sorry, no pictures. I'm sure you can imagine it: ice cream, milk, candy canes...YUM.
For our final activity, we talked about patterns since all candy canes, even the non-traditional ones, feature a repeating pattern.
We made candy cane ornaments out of pipe cleaners and beads.
Some of the children were happy to create repeating patterns; others decided to follow a less-restrictive route.
Even though we only had time for these activities, you could do a lot more with the book: make candy, learn more about life in America at the turn of the century, learn to use carpentry tools, start a business, practice cooperation, do a kind deed, and focus on the religious elements.