Ash twig

A few years ago, I was taking a class of primary school boys on a nature trail through the woods.  We played games and completed a scavenger hunt as we went, and as small boys like to do, many of them picked up sticks to wave around and swish through the surrounding vegetation.  One little boy walking at the head of the group beside me asked me if he could get a stick to which I replied “I’m sure you can”.  He then asked “Where would I get one?”

From working with school groups and families over the years, I’ve often noticed how much fun children get from a simple walk through the woods and how much of a novelty it can be for them to simply put their wellies on and get out for a walk. This exchange really brought home to me how much modern children are missing out on when they don’t get to spend time outdoors in nature.

Kids and Nature

There has been a lot of talk and a lot of research on the subject of encouraging outdoor play among children.  In his book, Last Child in the Woods, the American writer Richard Louv coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder to describe the ill effects of preventing children from playing outdoors.  The National Trust in the UK have produced a challenge sheet to encourage children and parents to do more outdoor activities.  In Ireland, the Heritage Council have done some of their own research and are doing their part to encourage more outdoor activity among children through the Heritage in Schools scheme.

Inspired by that child and by the subject in general, I’ve decided to write about that most versatile of outdoor toys: the humble stick.  It doesn’t matter what type of stick it is or what shape it is.  In the hands of an imaginative child, or an adult who hasn’t forgotten how to be a child, a stick can be anything you want it to be. So inspired by my own childhood and adulthood, my young son and other children I have encountered (and with a few hints from Stick Man by Julia Donaldson), I want to share some of my favourite stick games and activities.

Things To Do With A Stick

1.Use it as a gun

I’m sorry to start with a violent one, but the truth is that many small boys and girls when first picking up a stick will try to shoot someone with it.

2.Use it to make a bow

Many times as a child, I tried tying bits of string to sticks to make a bow.  They never actually worked very well, probably because I was trying to use curved sticks rather than bending a straight one, but that didn’t really matter.  An easier way is to leave out the string and just pretend.

Bow

3.Use it as a steering wheel

When grasped at either end and turned from side to side with accompanying engine noises, a stick makes a very good steering wheel.  One of my favourite stick games was taught to me by my son, then aged 2 and a half.  When held in one hand and pointed forwards, the stick was a gun, but when grasped in two hands it became a steering wheel and could be turned from side to side as he raced around the garden.  When held in both hands and lifted up, the stick would turn the car into a spaceship to take him up to space. He alternated the three uses happily for quite some time and he was having so much fun, I had to join in.

4. Use it as a magic wand

Another stick game I played with my son on one of our walks along the River Barrow involved me using a stick as a magic wand to turn him from a knight to a dragon and back again several times.

5. Use it as a canoe paddle

Wildways Adventures Log Canoe

6. Use it as a sword

Way back in 1992, two 17 year olds stood in the middle of a wood (in Roscommon I think).  Simultaneously we each picked up a stick, turned to each other and said those all important words “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my Father. Prepare to die”.  After all, nothing can cement a friendship like a shared love of The Princess Bride.

7. Throw it

Throw it in the river to watch it float, or maybe play Pooh Sticks. Throw it at a tree to know down conkers from the higher branches or throw it for a dog to fetch.

8. Use it as a snowman’s arm

Snowman arm

9. Use it to light a fire

I spent a considerable portion of my life as a Girl Guide and learned to use sticks and larger logs in many ways.  I used them to lay tracking trails, to make bridges, tables, assault courses, swings and roundabouts.  I also learned which sticks made the best kindling and how to light fires.  I always prided myself on my ability to light a campfire with only one match and no firelighters and also to sit up half the night singing around it.

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This is just a small selection of my favourite things to do with a stick.  I could easily have given you 49 uses, but I don’t want to bore anyone.  Feel free to leave a comment if you have some of your own favourites you’d like to share.

 

photo credit: eugeni_dodonov via photopin cc