Why we should encourage children to play with sticks

I remember as a child in primary school, one of my favourite forms of writing was to write “The day in the life of a…..” stories. I authored many a classic tale, such as “A Day in the Life of a Coin” or “A Day in the Life of a Shoe.” So today, it brings a smile to my face to be reigniting the “Day in the Life of…” series! I bring you, ladies and gentleman…

“A day in the life of a stick”

I’ve had the pleasure today, of observing children at play at our Jump Up Outdoors Winter Program and was intrigued to see the evolution and metamorphosis of a simple stick. From the branches of a gum tree a small branch about 85cm in length and the diameter of a thumb, had fallen on the grass close to the trunk of the tree. As the Jump Up Kids prepared to head down to camp, they found the stick and tied a small piece of material to the end of it, to make a flag. It was held aloft proudly as its owner lead the group across the oval and into camp. As the children raced off to explore their environment and start playing, the stick was dropped beside the bags and shoes. Not long after, someone was looking for a walking stick to climb the hill, so they grabbed the stick and headed off. When they made it to the top of the hill, the stick had become superfluous and was again discarded. A few children walked past the stick without a second glance, before it was again picked up, this time by a 7 year old boy who needed to make a spear to protect his fort. So he then collected a potato peeler and got to work. Close to an hour was spent sharpening and shaping the stick till it was just the right size and shape to be a spear. During this time, a group of 6 children had gathered with their own sticks to sharpen. Once all the spears were ready, the group hung a hoola hoop so that it dangled from a tree and used it as a target through which they aimed to throw their spears. A fierce competition ensued with the complexity of the spear throwing increasing with each round…the distance to be thrown was increased, the spears were thrown through a spinning hoola hoop, etc. All the while, each child demonstrated strong ownership over their own stick/spear. As the variations for spear throwing were exhausted and the group slowly disbanded the original stick was poached by a younger child who had been sitting by the campfire watching the competition. With the sharpened stick in her possession, the younger child returned to the campfire and called out to the group at the top of her voice “Who wants a marshmallow?”. Now a prized marshmallow stick, the sharpened stick was placed into the fire till the marshmallows either melted off the stick or were deemed the perfect hue of golden brown, ready for eating. Having eaten enough marshmallows for the day, our younger child started breaking off small pieces of the stick and gently placing them on the fire. The children sat around the campfire and watched the stick ignite and burn. As they watched, they were busy hatching a plan for when the coals from the stick were cold. They planned to use the coals as ‘face paint’ to camouflage their arms and faces when hiding in their cubbies.

My reason for reigniting the “Day in the Life of…” series is to demonstrate how simple it can be to provide our children with rich opportunities for creative object play. For those of you wondering why we should be interested in creative object play, here’s just some of the benefits….inexpensive, readily available, develops innovation and creativity, promotes fine and gross motor skill development, develops problem solving and playfulness.

Research in the area of complex object play and its relationship to overall competency in adult life is of growing interest and is being closely watched by ‘work readiness’ experts. All indications suggest that providing children with opportunities for rich, creative object play not only brings them great joy in the short term but provides vital skills for longer term success throughout their life.

So start with a stick, but don’t stop there. Look for opportunities for the children in your life to include a wide range of objects in their play…boxes, water, tools, kitchen equipment, rocks….the list of possibilities is endless, as are the benefits they will gain from playing with them.

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