How Might You See Beyond The Stick?

Sticks. They cause adults stress. I know: I’ve been, and sometimes still am, the stressed out person when I see kids with sticks. The longer stick, the pointier the stick, the closer the stick is to others, the bigger the concern. Then there are the sticks that look like guns, and those cause even more stress. I cannot tell you the amount of stick play that I’ve stopped in the past because of the very nature that the play involves a stick. Yesterday though, I was challenged to think differently.

As always, we started our day out in the forest. Shortly after we got out there, Paula and I noticed two children that were coming towards us with a stick, and oh no, it certainly looked like one of those gun sticks. What were they going to do? I’ll admit that I was tempted to just tell them to put the stick down, but instead, I wondered aloud about it. Thank goodness I did! They saw the stick as a letter. But which one? This one stick then turned into a great conversation about letters, sounds, words, and even, syllables. I’ve been spending some time lately exploring the norms of collaboration. We speak about the importance of “presuming positive intentions.” Should this apply as much to our interactions with children as it does with adults?

Paula and I had to have a similar mindset when we saw two JK students coming towards us with the tallest stick that I’ve seen in a long time. Just to make the stick better, of course it had a great, big point at the top. I’m sorry to say that I’ve told MANY children before to put sticks like this “down on the ground” before even inquiring about why they might have these sticks or how they planned to use them. My teaching partner, Paula, had a different approach. She spoke to these two children about the stick. They discussed how “strong” they were, and that’s why they could carry it so well. Then they transitioned to measuring with the stick. I love that this measurement decision happened organically. We didn’t discuss it. The kids led it.

This truly ended up being one of the best math talks of my entire teaching career. Each question and answer gave me a little more insight into the children’s mathematical thought processes. 

As incredible as these stick experiences were, I can’t help but think about the number of times that I would have stopped them from ever happening. What if we started more of our conversations with kids with a question or wonder instead of a closed statement? Would the open opportunity to at least hear student thinking and plans, lead to the possibility of some rich, new learning? I’m not always sure it’s easy to see beyond the stick, but I wonder if it’s necessary.


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