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These crystallized candy canes are a perfect Christmas STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) activity to support hands-on learning learning during the holidays.
I’ve developed a real passion for STEAM education over the last year, teaching integrated STEAM classes to homeschoolers in addition to doing STEAM projects with my kids.
These crystallized candy canes are one STEAM activity your kids will enjoy so much they won’t even realize they are learning!
Note: For more Christmas activities your kids will love, see my Christmas Activities for Kids page.
Materials needed to make crystallized candy canes
To make crystallized candy canes, gather the following materials:
- Red pipe cleaners and white pipe cleaners
- Container to hold your supersaturated solution (the container must be able to hold hot liquids, so a glass jar is ideal, but we used an empty yogurt container)
- Something to suspend candy cane on a string into your container (e.g., pencil)
- Wooden spoon
Directions for making crystallized candy canes
Cut both pipe cleaners to about 6″ tall. Then twist the red and white pipe cleaners together to create the striped candy cane pattern.
Once you’ve finished twisting the pipe cleaners together, bend the top into the shape of a cane.
You need to find a way to suspend the candy cane into the solution you will prepare. One option is to poke a hole in a large lid and put a loop of string through the hole to hold the candy cane in place while the lid sets on top of the container.
Another option is to place a pencil across the mouth of your container’s opening and suspend the candy cane from the pencil using string.
Now it is time to prepare your supersaturated solution.
Creating the supersaturated solution requires the use of a stove. As such, this step should only be completed by an adult or a responsible child under extremely close adult supervision.
To get the right amount of water, fill your container with water and then dump that water into a pot.
Place the pot on the stove with the heat turned up to high. Once the water is hot, start adding borax and stir it in with a wooden spoon.
You will want to add borax until it no longer dissolves in the water when you stir it in. This will require about 3 TBS of borax for every cup of water you used.
Once the borax no longer dissolves into the water, you have made a supersaturated solution. (See below for an explanation.)
Very carefully because the liquid is still hot, pour the supersaturated solution into your container and suspend the pipe cleaner candy cane inside the solution.
Make sure the candy cane is completely submerged in the solution.
Wait 12-24 hours to remove your candy cane from the solution. Then behold the beautiful crystals that have formed!
The last step is to find a place to display your crystallized candy canes to enjoy!
What is the science behind it?
A solution is a mixture in which a solute (in this case, borax) is dissolved and evenly distributed throughout the solvent (in this case, water). The reason many solutes will dissolve in water is due to the attraction between the solute’s ions and water’s ions.
Temperature plays a role in how much solute water can dissolve. Water molecules spread out under conditions of high heat, which allows the water to dissolve more borax than it would if it was cool. Therefore, by heating the water before adding the borax, we can create a supersaturated solution, or a solution with more dissolved solute (borax) than the solvent (water) would normally dissolve.
However, as the water cools, it can no longer hold onto as much borax as it could when hot. This means there is less room for the dissolved borax. The borax begins to separate from the water and bond with other borax molecules on the candy cane. You will see crystals form on the candy cane, the string, and even the sides of the container.
More Christmas resources
More Christmas STEAM activities from Gift of Curiosity:
- Candy cane experiment
- Christmas tree on a sponge
- Christmas fizzy painting
- Painting with candy canes
- Christmas tree ribbon math craft
- Cinnamon Christmas tree ornaments
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