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Directions for Pick Up Sticks

Pick-up-sticks is a challenging table game that can help develop and maintain fine-motor skills, test color discrimination and encourage creative and cooperative problem-solving. Good hand-eye coordination provides the edge between a winning backhand and a missed ball, an accurate forward pass or the perfect putt. Making and playing pickup sticks improves your ability to visualize the possible results of your own moves, and the potential responses of fellow players. This helps you create the right strategy for each play.

Making the Pieces

  1. Lay a 3-foot by 5-foot poster board or drop cloth on a table or workbench.

  2. Cut off the pointed end of each bamboo skewer with a hacksaw, if you are making a table-size set of pick-up sticks. Smooth the ends with a folded square of medium sandpaper.

  3. Paint one stick black, seven sticks red, seven blue, seven yellow and eight green. Paint 36-inch long mailing tubes, instead, if you are making a backyard version of the game. Deep Fun coach Bernie DeKoven has used the cardboard tubes from carpet rolls to make giant backyard pick-up sticks.

  4. Apply a coat of clear acrylic sealant to each painted stick in the tabletop set.

  5. Apply three coats of clear acrylic to each painted mailing tube or cardboard carpet roll in the giant set of pick-up sticks, allowing the sealant to dry 24 hours between coats.

Playing the Game

  1. Pour the sticks from the container onto the table so that they land in a jumbled heap, if you are playing the tabletop version of this game. Have all players help stand the oversize pick-up sticks on end while linking hands, if playing the giant backyard version. Run away from the giant pick-up sticks as they fall in a pile.

  2. Roll a 6-sided die to determine who goes first in the tabletop game. Play goes to the left. Work together in two to four teams of two or more players if playing the giant version of the game.

  3. Pull a stick from the pile without dislodging or jostling any other sticks. Pass to player two once you move a stick.

  4. Tell player two to pull sticks until he dislodges one, and then pass to the next player in the tabletop game. Team two pulls sticks together and passes to team three, who passes to team four, if you are playing the giant game. Continue until all the sticks are pulled.

  5. Count your points. According to Brenda Hyde of Old Fashioned Living, the black stick is worth 25 points. Players get 10 points for each red, five for blue, two for green and one point for yellow.


    Pick-up sticks also is called jackstraws or spillikins. Jen Cort, director of student support services and counseling department head at Sandy Springs Friends School in Sandy Springs, Maryland, lists pick-up sticks as a fine-motor skill development activity for pre-kindergarten children.

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Things Needed

  • 3-foot by 5-foot poster board or drop cloth
  • 30 bamboo skewers, 12 inches to 18 inches long, or 30 mailing tubes, 36 inches long
  • Hacksaw
  • Medium sandpaper
  • Black, red, blue, green and yellow acrylic paints
  • Paintbrush
  • Six-sided die

About the Author

Jane Smith has provided educational support, served people with multiple challenges, managed up to nine employees and 86 independent contractors at a time, rescued animals, designed and repaired household items and completed a three-year metalworking apprenticeship. Smith's book, "Giving Him the Blues," was published in 2008. Smith received a Bachelor of Science in education from Kent State University in 1995.

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