Three Sticks and Learning Together

“To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks.” – A. A. Milne

I found this quote a few weeks ago while I was looking for something that might describe some of the magical stick play we were observing in the woods. While it wasn’t what I was looking for, it did get me thinking. Of course an “A” is more in meaning than just three sticks, but can three sticks be more than just an “A?”

One rainy morning, I asked friends to gather three sticks and join me under the tarp shelter. I posed the challenge, “What can you do with your three sticks?” Friends began arranging. It wasn’t long until someone said, “Look! I made a triangle.” Then nearly everyone used the sticks to create triangles. C- had one very long stick and two very short sticks. “I can’t make a triangle!” Friends looked at the sticks she had arranged. I affirmed that indeed those sticks will not make a triangle. C- said, “But I want to make a triangle!” J- kindly suggested, “You need two longer sticks.” C- bounded off and returned with two longer sticks to replace the short ones and completed a triangle.

“What else can you make with the sticks?” N- worked with her sticks, placing two vertically and one across the top. “This is a door!” she announced. J- tried to rearrange his sticks to match his friend’s creation. J- said, “Hey, Denise, I want to make a door like N-, but I don’t know how.” “You can ask N- how she made it. Maybe she will tell you,” I suggested. J- turned to N- and asked, “Hey, N-, how do you make a door?” N- said, “Like this,” and she picked up her sticks and replaced them one at a time demonstrating how she had created the door. J- carefully followed each step. “I made a door. See?”

Now it was J-‘s turn to create. He stacked his sticks rotated around the midpoint to make an asterisk symbol. “Look, I made a star.” N- carefully looked at the star and tried to arrange her sticks to match, placing the ends of the sticks in the center of the star. N- said, “I can’t make that. J- has six sticks, and I only have three.” “Does J- really have six sticks?” I asked. N- counted the ends of the sticks. “Six,” she stated with a hint of frustration. J- counted, touching each stick, “There’s three. See? One, two, three. They’re on top of each other.” N- picked up her sticks and stacked them to make the star.

A few days later, I offered the same activity. Repeating open ended activities allows for skill practice, confidence building, and creative extension. Friends eagerly began to see what they could make. We were gathered around a rectangular mat; therefore, friends were sometimes seeing images rotated 90 or 180 degrees. They quickly noticed that the letter I on its side is the letter H, an N on its side is a Z. Here are some of the images friends made with three sticks:

Some friends brought really big sticks to the activity- because bigger is sometimes just more fun! Teacher Colleen worked with these friends as they created BIG shapes.

They made big triangles. Then, they wanted to make a big square. “We need another big stick!” After that was accomplished, they turned the big square into a big circle, gathering just the right sticks to complete their plan. What do you do with a big circle? You play the game “Dancing in the Middle!” then have lunch.

“To the creative, three sticks can be an A…..also the letters I, H, T, K, F, Y, N, Z, and a triangle(but not always), a door, a star, the number 1, and a penguin’s foot.” -Nature Explorers of RVNS

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