The Stick: Now available at a woods near you!


Kira rocks out with her microphone-stick.

You can’t keep a good stick down.

In an instant, kids will transform the humble stick into just about anything and you should let them:

  • Walking stick
  • Crutch
  • Stir Stick
  • Microphone
  • Magic wand
  • Eating tool
  • Fishing pole
  • Drawing tool
  • Building material
  • Flag for a sand castle
  • Digging tool and lots more…

What’s not to love about sticks?

Sticks are free.
Sticks are everywhere.
Sticks are the ultimate creativity booster.

So why not let your kids have some fun? Use a little common sense and everyone will be happy and occupied for hours. Here are my rules of thumb for stick play:

This stick is made for walking.

This stick is made for walking.

1) Sticks are for walking not fighting: If kids use them for walking or for poking in the dirt or water, that’s cool. If they use them to bother another child or wield them like a weapon, that’s not cool. I stop stick play when children’s safety is at stake. If kids know the rules, they will listen because they love stick play so much.  I usually give two warnings before taking away sticks. They will listen next time.

A stir stick to catch a lilly pad.

This stick is made for dipping and scooping out lotus leaves.

2) Redirect Behavior: I redirect stick play if kids are using sticks dangerously.  I say something like, “You have 10 seconds to find something else to do with your sticks, like create a fort or dig around in the dirt. If they can’t seem to do that after two warnings, then I stop the play. I also tell them that they can play light sabers when they’re at home with their parents, but not here as I have lots of kids to look out for.

3) Play with them. Pick up a stick and play with them. They will love you for it and will copy your behavior. When a stick becomes a tool, they are less likely to hit someone with it.

4) When not to play with sticks: Sometimes, it’s best not to let kids play with sticks. It depends on the group. Make this decision with other adults and teachers before the event and then enforce the rule as needed. Let the kids know in advance that sticks stay on the ground. I have done this with groups that I didn’t know well and with very young children. I have learned to trust my gut.

A girl and her stick.

A girl and her stick. Need we say more?

World’s Oldest Toy
Toy Hall of Fame

Could the stick be the world’s oldest toy? Quite possibly. And now, the stick has the recognition it deserves. To recognize the humble stick and its universal appeal, the stick was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame in 2008.  Not just any toy gets inducted. The stick is right up there with Crayola crayons, Hot Wheels and Easy Bake Ovens.

I have mixed feelings about the stick being on the list.

On the one hand, it’s sad that we have gotten so far removed from natural play that we now have to promote the most obvious and simple of objects. On the other hand, perhaps parents will see the list and recognize the beauty in a simple play object that costs nothing. If that gets a few more parents to embrace the stick – and rocks and leaves and everything natural as legitimate play things –  then that’s a very good thing indeed.

Do you let your kids play with sticks?
What rules do you have?

Diane Schwartz is a teacher in Madison, Wisconsin where she leads outings for kids. She is also the Site Coordinator at Schumacher Farm Park in Waunakee, WI. Contact her at

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