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A simple rain stick makes an easy and versatile do-it-yourself project for kids whether they’re learning about Native South American cultures, musical instruments, or even the weather!
A rain stick is a percussive instrument whose actual history is a bit obscure. While many people associate them with Native North Americans, evidence suggests that these instruments were used primarily by indigenous people in South and Central America. Similar instruments have even been found in ancient sites as far away as China!
The traditional musical instrument is usually made from a hollowed-out, dried plant stem such as bamboo or cactus. Then, pins or cactus spine rods are inserted in a criss-cross pattern throughout the length of the stem. Finally, the instrument is filled with pebbles, rice, or dry beans before the ends are sealed.
When the completed rain stick is gently turned from end to end, the pebbles cascading down the series of rods produce a sound similar to falling rain. Presumably, the instruments were used as part of a rain-making ritual or in religious ceremonies.
Whatever its actual history, geographic origin, and use, a rain stick is a peaceful sounding instrument that’s easy to make at home. And, it’s much quieter than a homemade drum! If that’s important to you.
There are many ways to make beautiful and elaborate rain sticks. When my kids were tasked with making a homemade instrument for their homeschool music class, we chose to make an easy, diy paper towel roll version. However, if you have creative and ambitious older kids, they could follow the same principles using a piece of bamboo and small nails to make a more sophisticated project.
You’ve probably got everything you’ll need to make a simple cardboard tube rain stick lying around your house. And the simplicity of this craft means that kids ages 6 or 7 and up can do most of it themselves which makes it a fun, hands-on learning project – always a favorite at our house!
At this point, you may be finished with your craft, especially since duct tape is available in so many fun colors and designs. However, if your kids want to create a cover for their rain stick, let them get creative!
Megan wanted a cover for hers, so I had her color a design on a piece of plain white computer paper. I explained that an abstract design would work better than a detailed drawing since we were going to wrap the paper around the tube and part of whatever she colored would not be visible.
Once your child is satisfied with her design, there are a couple of easy ways to attach it to the rain stick.
One option is contact paper. I placed my daughter’s drawing face down on the adhesive side of a sheet of contact paper, leaving about an inch of extra contact paper on either side of the picture. The extra bit made it easy to stick one end to the paper towel tube. Then, we just rolled the rest of the paper around the tube using the extra adhesive at the other end to seal it.
The other option is using clear packing tape to stick your child’s cover to their rain stick. I’d suggest wrapping the entire stick to protect the paper from dirt and tears.
If you’d like a more authentic-looking rain stick while still keeping it simple with a paper towel roll, consider coloring the cover paper to look like wood. You could even attach feathers to the ends using leather string which is available at most craft stores.
It took us about an hour to do this project and we were all very pleased with both the appearance and sound of the completed rain sticks.
Although we made ours for the kids’ music class, keep this project in mind for other applications, such as hands-on geography, weather, or cultural studies. You could even make it for a punny but fun rainy day activity!
It might even spark your interest to explore the countries of the world through traditional instruments related to each. An Aboriginal didgeridoo, anyone? Or an Indian sitar? Music often entices even the most reluctant learner to dive into a study of other people and places.
If you and your kids decide to make rain sticks, please leave us a comment or post a picture on social media and tag us. We’d love to see it!
Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.
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