A Pinecone, A Stick, And A Little Magic!

Over these past couple of weeks, an amazing thing happened during our outdoor learning time: students invented stick baseball. And while playing baseball with a stick and a pinecone may not seem blog post-worthy, it’s the very thing that’s had my teaching partner and I continuing to discuss and question classroom materials.

It all started on May 11th, when a JK student found a baseball out in the forest. When a few SK students saw him with the baseball, they all began to play catch together. This lasted for a little while, until they decided that they wanted something more: they wanted to play baseball. But nobody had a bat outside, so these resourceful Kindergarten students thought that they could use a stick instead. They quickly realized that the ball was too big and too heavy to hit well with a stick. My teaching partner, Paula, questioned them on what they could use instead. One student thought that a burr ball might work, but another student thought that it would hurt if it got stuck in someone’s hair. This child suggested a pinecone instead, and with that, stick baseball was born.

What was truly incredible about this game is that it lasted, and evolved, over multiple days. Students continued to reflect as they played.

More students got involved in the game, and they began to offer feedback to each other.

There was problem solving, teamwork, and thinking involved in this game.

Math skills — from keeping track of the score to considering the thickness of the bat and the weight of the ball (measurement) to using directional language through play — all made its way into this stick baseball game. Not once did Paula or I suggest that the students continue playing, but each day, they ran out to the forest with the intention of doing just that. They easily spent over four hours playing stick baseball, and the thinking, discussion, problem solving, and teamwork were incredible to witness, and far exceeded even what I shared here. When I think of the finalized Kindergarten Program Document and the Four Frames model, I could say that all of the Four Frames were addressed in some way through this game.

There is so much about this stick baseball game (and experience) that I love, but one of the biggest things that has caused me to reflect the most, is that during this same time that the students ran out to the forest to play with a stick and a pinecone, there were more conventional toys (or items) available for use in our outdoor classroom. The children never once thought about staying to play there though, and almost all of our students make the same decision that these boys did. In fact, even those children that do stay in our outdoor classroom space, play the most with the wood pieces and tires. Even when they use conventional items, such as chairs, they use them in very unconventional ways.

This makes us wonder more about the materials that we use in our classroom.

  • What outdoor items could we bring indoors?
  • What materials should we reconsider in our indoor and outdoor classroom spaces?
  • Even though we’ve highly reduced the number of items in our classroom, could we reduce them even more, and how might this impact on the play and the learning?

I can’t help but think again about John Spencer and A.J. Juliani‘s book, Launch: Using Design Thinking To Boost Creativity And Bring Out The Maker In Every StudentIn it, they mention that it’s often through boredom that creativity happens. Maybe when we put out a little less, provide a long enough time for exploration, and follow-up with enough questioning and support to extend learning, we see more of the “incredible,” like stick baseball. What do you think? What could be possible in all grades? It’s after an experience like this one that we’re tempted to replace all toys with open-ended natural materials, and wait and watch for the “wonderful” to occur. 


6 thoughts on “A Pinecone, A Stick, And A Little Magic!

  1. My favourite memories of my kids growing up are often of the times camping and in the beach where they created more with less..

    • Thanks Kit! I wonder if there’s something to be said for this. I also keep thinking about students with various life experiences. Our current group of students have many diverse experiences. Does this schema lead to more imaginative, creative play? Would all students benefit from doing “more with less,” or do some students need more in order to build the schema to eventually get to this other point? I’m not sure, but it’s something I continue to grapple with … and may even be another blog post in itself.


  2. I remember a group of Senior Kindergarten students for almost a semester playing invisible baseball on our playground at school. The would divide up into teams and play these imaginary, invisible games – complete with strikes and balls, students run bases, switching sides etc. We finally rustled up a large ball and there invisible baseball game change over into real kickball games instead.

    • Thanks for sharing this story, Sue! I wonder what’s lost and what’s gained by this change over to real kickball. What’s the value of both of these experiences?


  3. What a wonderful example of innovation in play. I connect with the discussion of boredom leading to innovative and creative play – I’d like to read that book!
    As well, I agree that sometimes sofisticated ‘learning’ materials can get in the way of invention and planning in play. I have always said that the outdoor classroom is the perfect place to witness inquiry because children are naturally encouraged to play and learn using basic and natural tools. Adults must really reflect on how children are playing in order to capture the learning. As well, they themselves must be innovative in their interactions to scaffold learning for the child, including ‘noticing and naming’.
    Children access schema and exhibit symbolic play therefore driving creativity and learning, sometimes far beyond the what the walls of the proverbial classroom can offer. Thanks for always sharing Aviva!

    • Thanks for the comment, Sarah! What wonderful points about the outdoor classroom. These are definitely things that I’ve noticed this year, as we play, explore, inquire, and learn in our outdoor classroom and forest space. It’s really quite incredible! I continue to wonder how we can bring more of this same kind of learning indoors to increase the richness of both spaces.


      P.S. The book is a wonderful read, and I think you’d connect with many of the ideas in it. I think that it shows how a little bit of “Kindergarten” can be present in all grades.

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