Pooh Sticks: Or, How to Investigate a Stream with Kids
July 3, 2014

When I get to a bridge while hiking, I like to stop and gaze at the water. My daughter, not so much. At 4, she is more interested in action.

That’s why I was delighted to be reminded of the game “Pooh sticks” when talking with Susan Brown, the youth and family outdoor community coordinator for AMC. We were discussing other trail games and I didn’t ask much about Pooh sticks. I thought I remembered it perfectly from reading the A.A. Milne books to my daughter.

The rules, I thought: 
Like Winnie the Pooh, you drop a stick from the upstream side of a bridge, then walk to the other side to see it moving downstream with the current. Right? Easy! (Just remember not to break sticks off of living trees. Gather fallen ones off the ground.)

The wrinkle I found:
I tried this game the next time I was hiking with my daughter. And the next time. In both cases, although it was spring, the low bridges we crossed passed over such tiny creeks that my daughter’s stick got stuck on rocks and never made it to the other side. But it didn’t really matter. Just having a reason to go hunting for a stick and dropping it down, talking about the current and which way it was headed, gave us a pretext for staying near the water longer and observing how it gurgled and flowed. Perfect.

The real rules:
When I got home, I investigated more and realized that Pooh sticks is actually a more competitive sport than my version. Two or more players are meant to drop their sticks, and see which one comes out the other side first. The person whose stick is faster wins.

The even more competitive version:
I also discovered that the World Pooh Sticks Championships have been held annually in Great Britain since the 1980s. With individuals and teams competing, the championship draws a quirky crowd and raises money for charity. With all the hubbub, you might not get so much time for nature study, but it still sounds fun.

However you play, I recommend giving Pooh sticks a try. After that, if sticks are plentiful, you may want to build a house like Eeyore’s.

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Look for signs of life in streams, ponds, puddles, or vernal pools. Local nature centers often offer trips to seasonal vernal pools.



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