I don’t know about you, but I have a Halloween-candy problem.
As in, it’s here and I’m eating it. And so is my 4-year-old, which—as you know if you’ve ever combined a 4-year-old and an obscene amount of sugar—isn’t a particularly good situation.
So, I’m on a mission to do something with all of that leftover candy, other than derail my diet and make my preschooler insane. And something tells me that you might be interested in that mission, too.
The cool thing that I’ve figured out? That candy can be used for good instead of (admittedly delicious) evil.
Here are 17 creative ways that you can put it to work with a toddler and a preschooler.
WITH A TODDLER…
Use the bucket o’ treats as a sensory bin.
I am Italian, which I mention because I have a deep-seated fear of not having enough food for guests. That means that I always overcook, and when it comes to Halloween candy, I always overbuy. We had a whopping seven trick-or-treaters in our apartment building, and that picture below shows how much candy we had left when all was said and done. Whoops. But add a toddler (and a pacifier so she doesn’t put any of it into her mouth) and it’s a makeshift sensory bin! Watch as your child rummages through the bowl full of shiny wrappers, picks up and drops the pieces, and examines them to her heart’s content.
Teach basic sorting concepts.
Take the sensory-bin idea a step further by helping your child sort the candy by color, size and shape. Tell even the youngest toddlers what you’re doing and what you’d like them to do; they understand a lot more than we sometimes realize.
Get your child to follow basic directions.
Direct your child to place a piece of candy on the floor or to give you candy of a certain color or size. Kids who are just learning this skill are so proud when they accomplish the given task. Bonus lesson: Teach your little one manners by saying, “Thank you!” every time she gives you what you’ve asked for.
Engage in pretend-play.
Just because Halloween is over, it doesn’t mean that toddlers have stopped thinking about it. In fact, the exact opposite is true because they’ve just experienced the holiday and now understand it better. My newly minted 15-month-old has been toting around her pumpkin bucket at home, and we’ve been playing trick-or-treat with a few pieces of the candy. On a non-candy-related note, she’s also been bringing me Halloween books to read to her after we do this, further figuring out the world around her and what this kooky holiday is all about.
Hone fine-motor skills.
My daughter loves emptying items out of buckets…and then putting them right back in again. Repeatedly. She also loves to transfer those items between buckets. Much to her delight, we’ve got two—one is hers, one is big brother’s (and he’s at school while she’s playing, so no conflict!)—but you can also use a Tupperware container, a toy purse or whatever else you have handy.
Exercise baby’s pitching arm.
Toss the candy to each other or into rings set up on the floor. This takes precision and coordination, and it also develops your child’s sense of depth perception.
Make some music.
I’m a mean mommy. (According to my own mom, that is.) In my house, M&Ms and Skittles aren’t candy if they’re around my toddler. They’re musical shakers—much like the ones that kids use in music classes or the homemade ones you can make with beans—and they cannot and will not be opened. I did this with my son when he was little, and I swear, he had no idea there was actual candy in those packets until he turned 3.
Experiment with cause and effect.
Each piece of candy makes a sound—and a different sound, at that—when you drop it in a bucket. Is the bucket full? Is the bucket empty? The sounds will change, and your toddler will be fascinated.
WITH A PRESCHOOLER…
Make a candy cake.
Yes, this cookie-style cake from Baker by Nature is filled with more candy than should probably be allowed legally to be in one cake…but once you eat it, all that candy will be out of the house! In general, cooking with preschoolers is great because it can teach them all sorts of life skills and educational lessons. For this baking project, first let your child cut up the candy with kid-safe knives (we have a set from the Curious Chef that’s perfect for little hands). Then work on fine-motor skills by letting him measure and pour the ingredients. Cooking with kids can be messy, but it’s worth it.
Sound out words and lay the foundation for reading.
Which candy begins with the letter R? What sound does an M make, and how about a Tw and an Sk? Sound out the words and you get to eat a piece of candy!
Teach a lesson in self-control.
No, you can’t have the Halloween candy for breakfast. Well, you can’t, but Mommy can…in secret while you’re not looking, of course. (Mommy’s not stupid.)
Tell amazing stories.
While my daughter may be happily toting around her Halloween bucket, reliving her glorious moment of toddling up to the one apartment door in our building with an actual person behind it, my son is taking things to the next level. He’s pretending to trick-or-treat at spooky mansions that are populated with ghosts who want his candy. Or he’s a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle who’s foiling the bad guys’ plan to, yep, steal that candy. It’s fun and creative and awesome, and I love to see where his mind goes.
Be a mad scientist.
In that mound of Halloween candy, your little scientist can find things that melt, dissolve, bubble, pop, fizz and cause all sorts of crazy (and very safe) chemical reactions. Click here for some good ideas from Red Tricycle to start you off. And remember: The simplest experiments can lead to the biggest discoveries for kids.
Practice math skills.
Preschoolers learn about addition and subtraction visually—think about counting on your fingers or counting objects on a worksheet. Having tangible objects (that your child is very interested in) to add and subtract can add another level of understanding the concepts.
Explore the concepts of kindness and giving.
Teach a lesson in kindness right in time for Thanksgiving by donating some of your loot. You can send unopened candy to our troops through charities like Operation Gratitude and Operation Shoebox, as well as to sick children through the Ronald McDonald House Charities. I think that empathy and kindness are the most important things that you can teach young children, and this is a great, tangible way to do just that.
Think outside the (candy) box.
Candy corn is not just a straight-up, sugary treat to be eaten on Halloween. It also can be transformed into feathers on a cookie that looks like a turkey, or it can serve as decorations on a gingerbread house. You can also get creative with Skittles, M&Ms, Pop Rocks and a slew of other candy. Forget the craft store—you just need to look in your Halloween bucket.
Use it to illustrate the idea of working toward a goal.
You say bribe, I say motivation. When your child works hard at something, he just might get a sweet reward at the end. Speaking of which, I think I deserve one for finally finishing this post!
Tell Us: What’s your favorite thing to do with leftover Halloween candy, aside from eat it straight out of the bowl?
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