We have a teenage cousin who’s really cool—a camping minimalist who loves old-timey survival skills. He can make something out of virtually nothing, wherever he goes. One skill he recently shared with us is wattling—an old fence-building technique connecting upright rods (sticks) together by interlacing twigs and vines. And, it turns out, with a slight adjustment, it’s actually a very accessible, kid-friendly building method.
This project gives children multiple ways to participate—gathering sticks, breaking materials down to size, weaving/building, supervising, you name it. This is a great activity for a mix of ages—with at least one preschooler (or older) in the mix, as younger siblings will have fun and benefit from transporting sticks and following along with their elders. And once they’ve learned how to do it, kids will be able to apply this skill to lots of other outdoor projects. You never know when a good fence (or great wall) is going to come in handy!
Kids are doing a lot more here than simply building a structure. Gathering materials and working outdoors is an opportunity to build gross motor skills and helps promote an active lifestyle. Since you left it to the kids to decide how to handle this mysterious set of dowels and sticks, you presented an ambiguous problem, wide open and perfectly appropriate for young problem solvers. When kids discuss how to handle it with you and each other, they engage in rich dialogue, the underpinning of collaboration and communication skills. Kids must listen to others and articulate their own thoughts aloud. Most of all, consider this: You started the wall, but then turned it over to them unfinished, which put them in the role of creative directors. The outcome of the project truly is uncertain, and children really do have to think, plan, gather, haul, and arrange their materials and plans until they come up with a result that satisfies them. Of course, this also builds persistence, giving children a first-hand understanding of the value of hard work. For one small wall, that’s pretty great.