By: Rachel Franz (she/her), WaNPA Advisory Board Member
Sticks. For grown-ups, sticks often produce fear of injury and foul play. Yet, for young children, sticks provide a platform for deep, meaningful play, social skill development, emotional self-regulation, and physical growth. If fact, the stick was actually inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2008 (a little unnecessary for us nature-preschool folks, but cool nonetheless). So, how do we balance the fear of injury with the important role that stick play has in children’s development and experience outside?
Setting Clear Stick Expectations
One of the first things I loved to do in my outdoor classroom was to address the question head on: “How can we play with sticks safely?” Posing this question directly to the students created the most buy-in in the rules and generated an authentic investment in safe conduct. Answers ranged from “No playing with sticks!” from students who had received this advice before to “No hitting” and “Sticks point down!” This was a wonderful start to dialogue all about sticks. From there, we generated questions like, “How can we tell if it’s the right type of stick to play with?” “How should we move if we have a stick?”
Ultimately, with the children’s help, we generated some tools for helping the children to hold each other accountable for stick safety (with some adult help, of course):
Scaffolding a Stick’s Possibilities
So, what can children do with sticks anyway? The possibilities are endless. Of course, there’s the hilarious YouTube Video by How to Dad called “How to Play with a Stick,” which provides two and a half minutes of joyful imaginative stick opportunities (see the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sr2OKTAMdQM).
Sticks can be food, swords, horses, provide the beams for a home, sculpt a nest, dig, dance and more. It is the educator’s job to also model the uses for sticks and, in alignment with best practice, to play alongside children as they use sticks. One book I love to use to spark ideas around stick play is Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis. It is a beautiful provocation that challenges the adult mindset around sticks and gives children permission to use their imagination around everyday objects.
Great Resources for Stick Ideas
Stuck on stick ideas? Lean on the children to inspire what’s next! Additionally, here are a few resources to keep the inspiration going:
The Stick Book by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield.
20 Ways to Play with Sticks by Childhood 101.
Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis.
Share YOUR Stick Play Ideas by commenting below!