Playing With Sticks

August 16, 2011

stick play

I can hear the voice in my head, yelling across the play ground;

“Put the stick down!
It’s not safe, you’ll poke someone’s eye out!
Put it down!”

If the voice didn’t belong to me it was someone I was working with or another parent.

A small child waving a stick around seems to make even the bravest of us suddenly see visions of disaster. A ‘no playing with sticks’ policy seems to be the easiest way to avoid the scenario where one child’s eye balls is somehow skewered onto the end of another child’s stick.

But there is something about sticks that just draw children to them.

If there is a big stick in a paddock of long grass, my kids will find it. Then they’ll fight over who gets to play with it. The stick becomes a fishing rod, a sword, a light sabre, a wand, and monsters giant arm with clawed fingers on the end…. And while I am wincing at the thought of all those possible injuries my kids are busy playing, imagining, problem solving, working together and learning.

So I’m taking a deep breath, I’m putting on my big girl undies and being brave about this.
Yep, I am going to let my kids play with sticks.

Sure, there will be some limits. I don’t think even I am ready for lots of big sticks with lots of children in a small space…. but outside, with lots of space, and a bit of supervision and explanation? I’m willing to deal with the consequences and let my children take a few risks for the sake of learning and sheer enjoyment!

playing with sticks

On Sunday morning, in some glorious winter sunshine, we went for a walk ‘up the back’.

Up the back, under the big trees there are lots and lots of sticks. Some of them are HUGE branches fallen from the sugar gums during recent storms. Some of the branches have been chopped up ready to be stacked as fire wood. Some sticks still have green leaves on them and some are as long as we are tall. It is stick heaven ‘up the back’ under the big trees, and I let my kids really enjoy it.

playing with sticks

They had sword fights, made fairy houses, spent time stacking fire wood for Daddy, tried to use a big stick like a pole vault. I even let them run around like crazy people, sticks in hand. It was good fun!

a basket of sticks to play with

Then we collected a basket full of sticks and carried them back to the shed… but more on that next week.

Do you let your kids play with sticks?
Do you let your kids take some risks in the name of learning or fun?

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Naomi August 16, 2011 at 2:46 pm

My own kids played with sticks. There is something so joyful in it.
My work kids do too… in fact I bought some really long pussy willow sticks just for such play! They get dragged around, made in to cubby houses, used in the sand and dirt patches.

I also have no problem with kids finding sticks in the playground to use. Within reason of course. I think we can all too easily underestimate just how careful kids can be.

Caroline August 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm

I love this post! Playing with sticks is up there with climbing trees – yes there may be some element of risk but if managed well is such a wonderful way to connect children with nature. Play with sticks I say!!

Kate @ Puddles and Gumboots August 16, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I think it would be a rare thing to see my kids outside without sticks in their hands. There is just something so fascinating about them for kids, so many ways they can play with them. I think we need to let our kids play and explore and not worry as much about safety. As a society I think we are overly concerned about safety. Now what I need to figure out is how to stop my kids trying to bring sticks inside all the time lol

Jane August 16, 2011 at 3:02 pm

I too have to fight my inner teacher and let my children play with sticks. I think within reason, as you say, in a big open space with reasonable size sticks kids have a great time. On holiday with another family when toddlers were just 3, they had a great time piling up sticks and making a “campfire” while we enjoyed pre dinner drinks! I also bit my tongue this morning and let Miss 2 negotiate a flight of wet, slippery steps by herself (on her insistence). She made it up and down the steps quite safely and was v proud of herself!

Amanda Kendle August 16, 2011 at 3:39 pm

I have the same philosophy and hope I have enough “brave” to carry it through when the small boy gets bigger. I must say I was so pleased yesterday when I picked him up from childcare and I sat inside with the carers and kids watching the storm outside and one of the carers saw that several branches had fallen from the tree outside – she said to the kids “Look, you’ll have some sticks to play with tomorrow!”

SquiggleMum August 16, 2011 at 5:25 pm

We love playing with sticks and only have two rules:
1. Don’t hurt yourself
2. Don’t hurt anyone else!

Jo S August 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm

We love to play with sticks – they are much better than actual “toys”. Our rule is we don’t wave them around near people’s faces etc. It is great to see the kids having fun and being creative.
I too had to squash my “inner teacher” when the kids first started playing with them.
I am a high school teacher and my observation is that big kids get up to more mischief than little ones. In our staff room, we have an ongoing competition for who can confiscate the biggest stick. I am the reigning champion after confiscating a bed post (it was turned and painted) which kids were jousting with :)
One of the local schools gives kids a “stick licence” which lets them play with sticks if they are safe about it. Not a bad idea for little ones.

E. August 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm

I’m one of those parents who thinks kids and sticks don’t mix.

This is mainly because some children who play at a local playground after school run around chasing each other growling and trying to hit each other. I’ve seen the damage some of these kids do to each other without sticks so I cringe when they have them.

Using sticks in imaginative play is great unless that imaginative play involves sticks being swords in other people’s faces.

Kierna August 16, 2011 at 8:02 pm

I love this – bravo to you. I did comment on FB but had to also leave one here. You are so right, about learning NOT to shout out about the dangers of sticks, I often have to quietly explain to students, parents or other visitors that we do allow stick play. We have 2 ‘sayings’ in my setting ( a nursery class of 26 3-4 year olds) 1. If you can’t think of 3 good reasons (apart from H&S) why they shouldn’t do it, keep quiet.
2. They’ll only do it once – in reference to something dangerous!!
The last one is a bit tongue in cheek but sometimes a 3 year old has to experience a fall for themselves to understand why it is not a good idea to run along a wall in flip flops (thongs to you I think). Keep on blogging I love your posts

sarah August 16, 2011 at 8:13 pm

So happy to see this blog post – I was one of those parents that certainly was anti stick play until about 18mths ago when I rethought and reflected on what I was actually doing. My 4year old needs the opportunty to engage in “risky play”, begin to make decisions about keeping himself and other safe and engage with nature. Certainly playing with sticks requires supervision but I’m all for it…

Jackie August 16, 2011 at 9:04 pm

Yes, there definitely is something about sticks isn’t there? Have you seen or read the book ‘Not a Stick’ by Antoinette Portis? You might like it.
I think schools (etc.) take on the ‘no-stick; policy because you’re dealing with lots of children where the line between safe and not-safe gets blurred very quickly.
I think it’s completely different in a family setting or with a small group of children. I actually think it’s a great way for children to learn about responsibility and safety authentically while still exploring and being imaginative.
Great topic, thanks!

Cheryl August 17, 2011 at 5:02 am

I do have lots of children (8 in my childcare home) and a small outdoor space (400 square feet) and I still let the children play with sticks — and rocks too — but they can loose the privilege if they get too rough. Sticks are our favorite toys.

Jodi Gibson @ The Scribble Den August 17, 2011 at 7:50 am

Sticks, stones, leaves, feathers, nature. Absolutely! We head down the river and the girls just have a ball. I love watching them. Who needs expensive, fancy toys?
But carefully of course x

Ayana August 17, 2011 at 9:07 am

I like this post :) it reminds me of my beautiful childhood. I don’t have children yet, but certainly I will let them play with sticks.

Marita August 17, 2011 at 9:24 am

My girls love sticks, Heidi often gets told off at school for playing with sticks and her teacher will collect the sticks Heidi has found during the day and hand them over to me at the end of the day to take home – where Heidi can play with them all she likes.

Kelly B August 17, 2011 at 10:17 am

same thing happens to me. i let my kids play with sticks. they are a great play things really. if i’m in a group where there is a lot of parents who are funny about it, i just explain to my kids that out of respect for the people there, we leave sticks this time. we’ve never had an accident with sticks before. love the pics of the kids play kate.

Susan, the Book Chook August 17, 2011 at 10:28 am

This is something I feel really strongly about. If we don’t let our kids take acceptable risks, they won’t learn about risk-taking. I advocate letting kids learn to play with tools like knives, sticks, glue guns etc and teaching them how to use those tools safely.

I also think they should be aloud to play on challenging playground equipment, climb trees etc. Fear of litigation seems to be dumbing down our kids’ environment!

Alicia August 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm

I got a phone call from my 5 year old sons school yesterday to say that another child had poked my son in the eye with a stick. So yes the adage that we, and our mothers before us, have used is true. Kids can and do get poked in the eye when they play with sticks.

Having said that I too have let my children play with sticks in the backyard at home while being supervised.

Rebecca Newman August 17, 2011 at 6:08 pm

My kids love sticks. The bigger the better. I do make rules if there are lots of kids in a small space but at the park they love finding a good stick …

bek August 17, 2011 at 10:03 pm

My kids play with staffs (staves?) so not letting them play with sticks seems kind of silly :) The only rule I don’t deviate from is no head shots for any game.

kerri August 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm

I agree watching a group of boys running around with sticks I nearly stopped them only to see them start crawling and hiding in the long grass stalking animals to shoot. Now I wait to see what the game is or I may be ruining important social play.

Jamie @ hands on : as we grow August 18, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Yep! We do :) Though usually its just Henry, without any other kids. He loves to help Grandma pick up sticks around their yard (its a pretty big yard and there’s lots of bigger branches too). He loves having a JOB. There’s something about ‘real’ items like sticks that kids just love.

umatji August 19, 2011 at 11:38 pm

yep totally. i have a no pointing sticks at people (especially faces) rule though. sticks are way too good. also that whole running with sticks thing has got to be mad. how can you have a good stick game with no running?? well for some stick games anyway.
go stick girl I say!
ps love the big girl undies!xx

Cecilia @ Parenting Controversy August 20, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Playing with sticks is fine by me, building faux campfires and what not, but running around with sticks isn’t.

A bigger concern for me right now is that my 9 year-old daughter has just started to delight in climbing trees – really high up! Dreading broken bones as a result of a fall, but don’t want to be too over-protective. I used to climb trees at a younger age than her and never suffered any injuries, so I’m just hoping for the same result with her.

PS: Your stick heaven ‘up the back’ under the big trees looks like a lovely place for children to frolic. :)

stephanie a. August 27, 2011 at 1:39 am

I love this article! Isn’t it amazing how letting them use dangerous things communicates our trust in them? Kids really appreciate that.

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