Race Sticks Down A Stream

Decorate some “racing sticks” and follow them down a stream.

What You Need

  • Elastic bands (optional)
  • Feathers (optional)
  • Masking tape (optional)
  • Paint (optional)
  • Scissors
  • Painting sponge (optional)
  • Sticks
  • Varnish (optional)

What You Do

  1. Prepare your sticks for the race
    You can have an impromptu stick race at any time by picking up sticks and racing them down a stream. Just stand on a bridge or in a stream and let the sticks go at the same time.
    Another way to do this activity is to prepare your sticks beforehand.
    Taping the sticks with masking tape allows us to have “racing stripes” on our sticks, before we paint them.
  2. Paint your sticks and let them dry
    Each person in our family picked their favorite color and painted a series of sticks. We did this in case we lost some sticks during the races. In the end, we never lost any sticks, so you might not need to paint so many.
    We painted the sticks and let them dry, then applied another coat to make sure our sticks were very colorful.
  3. Remove the tape when the paint is dry
    Check out our awesome racing stripes!
  4. Varnish your painted sticks
    If you put the painted sticks in the stream, the paint will wash right off. But if you varnish them with a polyurethane water-based varnish, it keeps them shiny and colorful.
  5. Find a fast stream that doesn’t have too many obstructions
    You can wear rubber boots or waterproof shoes and stand in the stream. Or you could toss the sticks from a bridge above, if you can get down off the bridge quickly to chase your stick downstream.
  6. You could decorate your sticks with feathers
    We added colorful feathers because we found it difficult to see our sticks in the dark stream at times. We attached them with elastic bands.
  7. Practice releasing the sticks at the same time
    And get the sticks as close to each other as possible if you want a “fair” race. We found that even if the sticks were only a few feet apart in the stream, it could dramatically impact which stick would go faster. Experiment with your sticks in different parts of the stream, both side-to-side and different starting points.
  8. Learn about the parts of a stream
    Streams will naturally form three parts:

    • riffle – fast bumpy parts
    • run – fast smooth parts
    • pool – slow parts

    Try to identify those parts in your stream. What causes riffles?
    Most macro-invertebrates, or small stream creatures, will seek shelter tucked under rocks. Where do you think you would find them in your stream?

  9. Rescue your sticks
    Sometimes your sticks will get stuck. That’s okay! You can rescue your sticks as long as the stream is not too deep. Otherwise, it’s okay to let a stick float away. That’s why we made extras.
  10. Make a finish line
    We showed the “finish line” by putting a longer stick across the stream in a pool, where the water was not running too fast. This allowed us to rescue our sticks safely, and resolved disputes about who “won.” But it’s not really about winning as much as enjoying a fun day outside in a stream!