My kids have a lot of toys. To be honest, it is ridiculous how many toys they have. I have a daughter and a son, so the variety is huge. Dinosaurs and dolls. Barbies and monsters. Baby dolls and stuffed animals. They have art materials, apps, workbooks, and the list goes on. Most recently, we bought them robotic dogs to add to their massive collection. The robotic dogs are hilarious. They dance, they do tricks, all kinds of interesting things. Precisely four days after their arrival, the dog toys are sitting in a corner as if they have been there, untouched, for years. They have not even been charged after their initial charge. Why are these cool, new toys being neglected? They are being ignored because currently, our kids are opting to play with sticks, dirt, and leaves. To be specific: “Stick Soup.”

What is “Stick Soup”? It is a concoction that my kids developed at the dog park a few months ago. The ingredients include water, dirt, rocks, sticks, flower petals, and other nature items. The origin of this creation is a story I doubt I will ever forget. I took our big St. Bernard to the dog park with my two kids for our usual outing. On these daily walks, I let each child bring a Ziploc bag to fill with nature items that they like. The excitement of filling their “nature bags” never seems to get old. On this day, their bags were so full they were ready to bust, and we were almost ready to head back. There is a certain point at the end of the trail where two bowls of water sit for the dogs to drink out of. My kids absolutely love to refresh the drooly water bowls with fresh water from two large jugs that a nearby neighbor provides daily. On this day, there was a kind woman who asked me about our dog. I turned to her and proceeded to brag about our beautiful pet when I saw her smile fade, and a look of horror took its place. I followed her angry glare to my kids to see them dumping their nature bag contents into the dog water. Sigh. Her friendliness faded in a nano-second, and she scolded us, “You know that water is for the dogs…right?” she exclaimed. I quickly began apologizing to her and muttering some lame excuse. She did not even let me finish; she literally stuck her nose up in the air and walked away. 

Do not judge me for this: but when she was out of sight, I busted up laughing. As soon as I turned to rinse the bowls and fill them with fresh water, I saw that my kids had long sticks and were stirring their chosen bowls. My daughter cheerfully shouted to me, “Look Mommy! Stick Soup!” They were both so incredibly proud of their creations. I explained to them that there was drool in those bowls, people would not like this idea because the water is for the dogs, and we simply could not just continue with this. They screamed and cried as I dumped out their stick soup. I reassured them that they could fill up their bags again, and we could re-create their “Stick Soup” at home. We did just that. We got home and each of them got their own large bowl filled with water, a large spoon, and their nature bags. They gleefully mixed and mixed the ingredients into a muddy mess. They played for hours. This has become a routine, and it has gone on for months. Each morning, we go on our journey to collect the contents for stick soup.

I continue to be amazed that the kids are entertained by nature for about half of their day. This simple, effortless activity has been extremely helpful during this time of quarantine. Our loose schedule: breakfast, lessons, walk, “stick soup” creations, lunch, and then onto screen time and toys until bath and bedtime. 

Thank you, stick soup! I love to see my kids playing in the same ways my mom and dad described when they were young. Playing outside in the fresh air, getting dirty, and getting away from screen time. 

A George Carlin stand-up comedy routine I watched years ago discussed something similar. George angrily ranted and raved about kids indulgent, useless toys these days. He explained that when he was a child in the 1950s, he was content with “digging a hole in the ground with a goddamn stick.” He said something along the lines of, “You make a little hole with your little stick, you feel accomplished, you smile, and that was it!” I like that “Stick Soup” feels like this same idea. Getting back to the basics. Although it peeves me a little that their new, shiny toys go unused at times, they are receiving so many benefits from this simple activity. “Stick Soup” has done much more for my kids than just entertain them. It has promoted a strong interest in plants. It has encouraged them to get their hands dirty. It has promoted cooperative play because they are constantly helping each other to produce their best individual products. It has motivated them to ask me to research what specific nature items are. It gives them a sense of pride each time they are finally done with their “work.” I cannot tell you how many pictures I have of “Stick Soup.” I love that they are enjoying this, and I hope we continue for years to come.

I encourage you guys to let your kiddos give this little game a try. If you have a large bowl, a large spoon, and access to leaves, sticks, rocks, and dirt, that is all you need. I realize not everyone has a green space available on their property. For this situation, I would encourage you to let your kiddo take some type of container on your next walk, fill it with nature items, and bring them home to create some “Stick Soup.” 

Have fun with this if you can, folks! It is a joy to watch—the kids do all the work of gathering materials, and guess what? Clean-up is as easy as dumping it right back onto the ground when they are done. Right back into the Earth where it came from. A “win-win” for everyone. 

Happy creating!