Sticks are a versatile, free tool that can be used in a variety of STEM and STEM-adjacent activities in the classroom. If you enlist the help of your students to gather them, they’re fun from the start.
The diversity in sticks means every hands-on activity may look a little different. No two sticks are the same, after all. This promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity, all key components of a well-rounded STEM activity.
Let’s take a look at activities that touch on concepts like basic engineering, patterns, math, science, and more using sticks and twigs.
Raft Building STEM Project
Introduce students to basic engineering and science concepts with this STEM project that uses sticks as the base for floating rafts. Start with brainstorming sessions to get creative juices flowing about how best to build the rafts. This is a great way to build teamwork as a group activity, too. If you’re not near a body of water, tubs of water work to test the finished products.
Building With Sticks & Play Dough
Sticks and play dough are the basis for this simple project that taps into students’ creativity and fine motor skills. It’s a great way to introduce 2D vs. 3D structures or shapes as part of a hands-on geometry lesson. If you’re using these simple tools as a culminating activity for an art class, you could introduce straws, plastic critters, or other materials to add to their structures.
Teach your students about natural habitats with survival skills thrown into the mix in a lesson on stick shelters. This is a great group activity, particularly during the design phase, as they put their heads together to determine the best shelter no matter the weather. Link the lesson to any content around animal habitats, adaptations, and differences in shelters depending on climate.
Stick towers using popsicle sticks are a common teaching tool for intro lessons on engineering, spatial planning, and team building when done in groups. Using natural materials like twigs and sticks can make the activity more challenging. Depending on the lesson, set objectives like building the tallest towers, the most structurally sound tower, or a play on habitats and shelters.
3D Skeletons from Sticks
Use 3D stick skeletons to teach younger students about shapes and older students about math concepts like measurement and planning. This is a great way to compare and contrast the structural integrity of different kinds of sticks as students find which are more structurally sound than others. The more room you have to work with, the larger the skeletons can become!
Stick Mini Rafts
Introduce science concepts like inquiry and testing hypotheses in this fun activity about building mini rafts. Use string to bind rafts made out of twigs and sticks and large leaves for the mast. This activity works best when sticks are of a similar shape and diameter, so you may need to guide students if they’re helping in the collection phase.
STEM Bird Nest Challenge
Tap into students’ analytical and critical thinking skills with this bird nest activity. This is a great way for students to connect to the natural world around them, as birds need to find ways to create a habitat even in urban areas. Have students think about nest materials in urban vs. rural areas, and incorporate what they can find along with the twigs and sticks they’ve gathered. Try the Tree Textures activity from Trees & Me and encourage your little learners to build a nest using sticks and other objects found inside and outside.
Focus on the engineering and physics aspects of the activity or use this as a culminating activity for lessons about tools in ancient times. Have older students connect to how similar technologies are used today.
Animal House Engineering
Use this hands-on activity to solidify science topics around animal habitats. Pay close attention to animals like beavers and birds who gather sticks for their homes. Go a little further with think-pair-share activities for younger students or creative writing prompts for older kids around ideal living conditions if they were these animals.
Students may need to forage a bit for a few more materials, but that can be part of the fun of this hammock challenge. You can also provide them with leaves, pieces of cloth, or recycled paper to finish their hammocks. Treat this one like a science experiment, complete with a design process and hypotheses around the best type of hammock for their purposes.
The kind of maze you choose for students to create depends on your space constraints. Small-scale stick mazes are great for engaging students’ planning, spatial awareness, and fine motor skills. Larger-scale mazes make great group activities as students come together to test their critical thinking and organizational skills.
Jump the River Problem-Solving
Sneak in concepts around basic engineering, planning, and problem-solving with this playful activity that gets kids outdoors and moving. The challenge here is crossing the river at different widths controlled by the teacher. That can mean jumping over or creating bridges or rafts. Any materials should be easily accessible outdoors to get students to think more creatively.
Rhythm sticks are great tools for brain breaks and indoor recess activities, but you can do more than knock two sticks together to make sound. This activity turns thicker sticks of varying lengths into a xylophone straight out of nature. If you already use music in the classroom, this is an easy addition to your repertoire and a great way to reward or engage students. Try the Tree Textures activity from Trees & Me and encourage your little learners to make a nest using sticks and other objects found inside and outside.
Use sticks and bendy twigs to replace those alphabet posters in your classroom with this activity. The perfect number of students for this activity would be 26, but this works well in groups and pairs, too. If you’re working with young students and introducing a letter a week, you can also adjust this to have students create their own mini alphabets for each letter.
Outdoor Log Activities
Get students outside for activities focused on body awareness, sensory processing, and balance. Tie in science concepts around gravity or use this one as a break in classroom routine. True log balancing activities work best in a smaller group setting with more supervision, but you can adjust activities with larger groups to do things like giant tic-tac-toe with sticks and stones.
Tree & Nature Art
This is truly a student-led activity and a great way to end a science unit on trees or introduce an art-focused activity into the week’s lesson plans. Rather than lead students on a step-by-step activity, lead them on a nature walk where they can get inspired to create art based on what they find. If this is overwhelming for students in your classroom, offering options can help.
If you have access to a pile of sticks, you have access to this diverse list of engaging activities. Support students in developing an appreciation and curiosity about the natural world around them. You may find that they start looking at sticks a little bit differently once they’ve unlocked their potential.