Making rain stick in home school

by Mary Ann on December 10, 2010

granny child with rainstick picture

Grandma and Jack

I was watching Jack, aged almost 3 and Mary, 10 months. It was getting crazy. I was trying to write a blog and keep the tree from tipping over for the third time that day. I was thinking in my brain, “What can I get Jack interested in?” We have a large rain stick in the living room behind the couch. So I got that out.

Rainstick picture


Jack was fascinated. He turned it over and over again to hear it “rain”. I asked him if he knew how the rain stick worked. He didn’t. So I used my fingers to explain how there were crossed spins inside and small seeds. When the seeds hit the spines they make the sound. I could see that he was a bit confused.

cactus picture


“Jack, do you know what a cactus is?” “No?” “I’ll bet we can find one on the computer.” (I didn’t have any books on cacti in my Spark Station or in the library.) So we went to the computer and pulled up some pictures of cacti with long arms. I explained that when the cactus dies the arms can be made into rain sticks before they dry. I showed him some cacti with long spins and explained that the spines are pushed into the dead cactus. We got our rain stick and I was able to let him feel the ends of the spines in the stick.

Then, with Jack on one knee and Mary on the other, we googled “making a rain stick.” make Rain Stick pictureThe first thing up was a video series showing how to make a rain stick from a cardboard tube. We watched the video on how to choose a tube. We watched how to put in the spines, which were nails, pins or toothpicks. We watched the first part of how to cover the ends and we finished off with the video on what to put inside.

Jack was fascinated and watched all the videos. I helped him stay tuned in by having a running “familiar conversation”. “Look Jack, there are three lengths of tubes. Which size would you choose?” “Hey, look she is using nails and a hammer. You would like to hammer nails I bet.” “See those toothpicks, they would make a really different sound.” It went on and on and he was fully engaged with how it was done. (The hardest part so far was keeping Mary’s hands busy and off the key board!)

“You know what Jack, I’ll bet we can make a rain stick.” “Yeahhhhh”, he said. So we went to our really great junk box and found a long tube that we thought might work. I handed it to Jack, he put it up to his eye and said, “Hey, its my looker looker”; so much for the rain stick. The only other tubes we had were toilet paper tubes. I though it might work.

We went into the kitchen with our tube, some straight pins and duck tape. Jack was content to watch me make the stick. He tried pushing in a pin but decided it hurt his thumb. So we talked about dead cacti, thorny spines and rain sticks while I pushed in pins and taped on an end. Jack chose red lentils and some rice to go inside. He was interested with how the spines looked inside the tube. He understood now what I had been showing him with my fingers and he showed it back to me. Then I taped the other end and covered the whole thing with duck tape. A rain stick is normally covered with paper or cloth and then painted or decorated but I wanted to be sure those pesky pins didn’t come out.

Jack excitedly turned it over. It didn’t “rain”. There was just a spattering thunk. Hmmmmm. He tried it a few times. Then he looked at me and with a serious face said, “It’s too little (meaning short). He had figured out that there was no rain sound because the tube was too short. Amazing! Aren’t children smart.

I told him that we could construct a rain stick out of three toilet paper tubes taped together. He was all for that and rummaged in the junk box for the tubes. Then his enthusiasm waned. He and Mary busied themselves with trucks on the living room carpet while I taped the tubes. Then I called Jack in and told him I was going to use toothpicks this time and showed him how it worked. Then he was off with Mary and the trucks. I finished the tube and called Jack in to put the rice inside. I finished taping the ends and covered it with duck tape.

smiling boy picture

Happy Jack

Then I called Jack in and he gave it a try. His face just beamed when it “rained.” When his mom got home he showed her the rains stick and I told her about the dead cactus. She looked at Jack and said, “Jack knows about cacti. Remember the story about the boy and his bottom.” A wide grin spread over Jacks face as he recalled the Dr. Seuss story about a boy who sat on a cactus. Now it all came together in his mind.

It was a great time. And how much time did we spend; about 40 minutes. That is all, for the videos, the conversations and the making. Just a mere 40 minutes,and it was almost like we did a lesson on rainsticks. Then I wrote my blog and Jack and Mary played with the trucks.

Helping children LOVE learning (begin learning) is about catching a spark from a child (in this case seeing his interest in the rain stick) and then responding and encouraging to learn. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time. It doesn’t have to take a huge amount of preparation. You just need to stop doing your own thing and choose to help them do theirs.

I have since made a trip to the library. I have some books on cacti and musical instruments in my Spark Station for when Jack comes again. Who knows, maybe we will make one or two.

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