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Playing with Sticks

April 29, 2010

“Put that down!”

My head snapped up in surprise, to see another mother glaring at my son as she grabbed her own little boy by the shoulders and dragged him away from the sandbox, where our two boys had been playing side-by-side.

I didn’t know her name, nor she mine. Our relationship began when her son scampered into the sandbox and settled down a few feet from Shane. We smiled at one another, learned the names and ages of each other’s children, and chatted a bit, just small talk, as we kept careful eyes on our boys.

Her sudden reaction completely caught me off guard. I watched her storm away, feeling completely confused about what just happened. Then I looked back at my apparent juvenile delinquent, trying to figure out what had upset her so much.

All I saw was my little boy, quietly digging in the sand with a short, stubby stick.

I honestly didn’t see the harm in it — there were no sand toys in the sandbox, no shovels or rakes or scoops of any kind — and Shane had simply looked around, saw there were no shovels, and quickly discovered something else he could use. He wasn’t waving it around, poking it at anyone, or otherwise acting dangerously. He was just using it as a tool, just digging in the sand.


Maybe I’m a bad mother. This other mom certainly seemed to think that I was, for failing to immediately leap up to confiscate that stick. But I have to confess: I let my son play with sticks. And rocks. And mud puddles and piles of dirt. Just this week we’ve marveled together over all the different stones that can be found in a gravel walkway, and explored the concepts of big and little, heavy and light, as he attempted to lift various rocks along the edge of our driveway. I’ve allowed him — encouraged him — to dig in the dirt with small sticks, to draw in wet sand with scavenged bits of driftwood, to huff and puff and struggle as he made a valiant try at dragging a fallen branch across the yard.

I never looked at a stick and saw it as a weapon of mass destruction in my toddler’s hands. Rather than freaking out when he picks one up, I’ve been teaching him how to be safe. To keep it pointed down, away from other people. To never use it to hit or hurt someone in any way. To walk carefully, rather than run, while holding a stick. My view is, kids are drawn towards sticks, and I’m not always going to be nearby to grab them out of his hands, so maybe it’s better in the long run to teach him how to play with them safely.

Or maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. After encountering that other mother’s reaction on the playground, I’m doubting myself a bit. What’s your take on this? Do you let your kids play with sticks, or do you take them away?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Heather permalink
    April 29, 2010 11:39 pm

    I don’t think Shea’s ever picked up a stick, come to think of it. I’d probably let him, if he wasn’t near another kid (I would be worried he would intentionally or accidentally hurt the other kid, but that might be my own worry). On his own, I don’t see the harm.

    We don’t let the daycare kids play with big ones, because inevitably they DO use them on others and/or with such a crowd moving at such a quick pace, accidents are bound to happen (they happen with actual toys).

    I would absolutely not think you, or anyone else, was a bad parent for allowing their toddler to play with a stick, so long as he wasn’t actively endangering others (and it doesn’t sound like he was). Sounds like the other mom overreacted big-time.

    • April 30, 2010 5:23 am

      When I was teaching, we never let the preschoolers play w/ sticks on the playground — there was just too many kids to watch at one time to trust that we could keep an eye on a child playing with a stick, too. Large groups of kids like that do move way too fast! I’d toss any sticks I found over the fence, out of reach.

      I guess I was just so surprised by her reaction, because it was this stubby little stick, no more than four or five inches long, and pretty fat, and all he was doing was using it to dig a hole in the sand. If he had been wielding it like a light saber I would have been on him in a second, redirecting him. But he was just quietly scraping at the sand, and the other child was several feet away. Thank you for your insight — I was really caught off balance by the entire situation!

  2. Heather permalink
    April 30, 2010 8:35 pm

    Yes, that sounds very, very strange…..

  3. May 1, 2010 10:16 am

    In my house playing with sticks is a must! I think you are doing a wonderful thing by teaching safety first and then letting your son explore the natural world. Parents are fearful of way too many things these days & we just can’t afford to make nature something else for our kids to fear. The only way they’ll care for it in the future is if we teach them it’s ok as kids. 🙂

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