I’m really excited to bring you today’s post, all about creating storytelling journey sticks with your kids. The amazing and uber-talented Jessica, from Collect. Make. Explore. is here to show you how to incorporate elements of your hikes, adventures and outings into beautiful physical storytelling devices. I love the lessons this project teaches – from being observant in nature to inspiring creativity in retelling the story of your adventures. This would be a great project to start this fall while the leaves are turning and there’s lot of adventures to be had.
How many times does something beautiful happen in life, be it simple or extraordinary, and you think to yourself, wow I wish I could hold onto this day a little longer? We may rembember the overarching feeling or event, but the little details eventually slip through our hands like tiny grains of sand, getting lost in the crevices of our minds. Wouldn’t you love to have an intuitive way to access all the little details that make a day so magical? Like dew on the morning grass, the everyday moments of our family’s journey shine brightly, but quickly get pulled back into the earth or sky – our natural narrative truly is our fleeting anchor.
The story we tell ourselves shapes who we become. If you want your children to learn to love and respect the natural world and better yet, to understand their part in it, it needs to be an integral part of their story. The lasting memories you create as a family can live on through the art of storytelling. We as humans are more likely to attach importance to a story when we see ourselves as a part of it. And when children are asked to recount the story of their daily adventures and explorations, they become active learners, leaders, and caretakers of their environment. Just like that, they understand in some basic way that their journey is shared with that of the world.
By using verbal and visual maps, we can more easily recount our days, and tap into those individual grains of sand that might otherwise get lost with the passage of time. Creating a journey stick is one way to poetically strengthen our connection to the natural world, as they intertwine person, place, and time. The most amazing thing about this method of remembering is it’s ability to capture individual perspective and personal narratives. Something a standard map can’t touch. When we look at a map we see the lay of the land, yet when we tell our story the land comes alive. I’ve made journey sticks with my little ones, ages two and four, while out on the trail. I’m excited to share our experiences with these storytelling tools with you and get you started making your own memory maps!
History of journey sticks
First, a little background on the journey stick for you. Aboriginal people in Australia used journey sticks to more easily recount their journeys to other people upon their return. They found a large walking stick, collected materials found along the way, and tied them to the stick in chronological order. Native Americans also decorated sticks to recount their journeys and tell about their travels. These sticks can be used as storytelling and navigational tools. The collected materials and markings have various purposes. Some things can be used as markers for natural features in the land, such as tree bark to indicate passing through the woods. While particular symbols carved into or painted onto the stick could show weather patterns, natural features, or events that took place.
Making your own journey stick
To start the process with your family, show your children pictures of journey sticks to familiarize them with the concept. Talk to your kids, show them pictures of journey sticks before setting out on the trail. When you go, be prepared – bring various colored string, scissors, and crayons on your hike. You can either create your journey stick at home after your adventure or while you are out exploring. You can make one journey stick for the entire family or individual sticks for each child, if they’re old enough.
Make it part of the adventure to find the perfect stick. When we began our hike, our perfect journey stick happened to present itself right before the trail began. Once we had that, the kids played while I wrapped various colors of string on the stick to create layered stripes of color. For each part of our adventure that day we tucked little physical reminders of that part of our story under the string, creating a visual narrative. I used thin string, but would recommend yarn because it would be stretchier and easier to manipulate objects through.
You can alter the actual creation of the journey stick to fit the age group. Younger children, such as the toddler age range, may like to have sticky clear contact paper attached to a large piece of bark or cardboard. They can then attach their materials to this as they hike along to make their own version of a journey “stick”. While older children may want to use a pocket knife or other tool to carve simple images into the wood. The most important thing to remember is to not push focus, but instead lead them with a gentle hand. Breaks from the project at hand are fine, come back to it when they are ready. It is a shared journey after all!
Tell your story
Later that night, I helped the kids use the stick to recount their hike to their dad. It was amazing to hear the details come pouring out in order as we touched each object on the stick from top to bottom! The shale from our initial stop at the creek was coated with a thin layer of dried mud. This reminded them to tell their dad about the large patches of cracked dry mud that they peeled apart at the creek.
Another part of our stick held a leaf from the woods where we found a giant toad sitting still as a stone alongside a log. The feather we found led to speculation on the bird it was from and made them remember the sounds we heard in the trees. And on it went until we finished the story of our day. I didn’t write any of this down until writing this post, and looking at the objects, I too can remember the details of our day that happened weeks ago.
Add adventures to your journey
We’ve taken our journey stick to the beach, the forest, the field, and even little trips around the backyard or neighborhood! Each time little reminders stick with us upon our return. Love tracing and tracking the landscape this way. Little bits and pieces of memory are now displayed in the kids “garden” out back. We have a special ceramic vessel that our stick fits perfectly in, so there it lives, tucked within the dirt and leaves for when we need it next. Hope this has woven some inspiration into your day. And that you are moved enough to pick up a stick! Enjoy your journey!