I would say that my rain stick is probably the most popular instrument I own. The children love the hushing, captivating sound, and it requires very little skill to play. Basically, if you’re capable of grasping with your hand and turning with your wrist, you’re a natural! I’ll give you instructions here to make your own full-size rain stick, as well as to make mini rain sticks with the children.
Here are your materials:
Plastic Tube(I use the fluorescent light shatter guard you can buy at Home Depot for a few bucks. Find it in the lighting department. You can do it. They can help. You could also use cardboard tubes like a gift wrap tube or paper towel tubes, but I like the clear tubes because you can see what’s making the sound. The children seem to be as fascinated by the sight as by the sound.)
Curling Ribbon (Like the kind you use for wrapping presents, if you’re an over-achiever like that.)
Pins or Nails (You want their length to be just a little less than the diameter of your tube. We don’t want them poking through the other side!)
Packing Tape and Black Electrical Tape
Dry Beans and/or Seeds in a Variety of Sizes (Example: Rice, Popcorn, Kidney Beans, Garbanzo Beans, and Lima Beans)
Start by preparing your tube. Tape the curling ribbon at the top, and wrap it around your tube, taping it at the bottom as well. If you like, do a second section of ribbon, intersecting the first. This is the guideline for your pins. Push the pins in along the ribbon, about every inch and a half to two inches. This is pretty tough work. You may want to have gloves or a thimble on hand- literally. With the pins through, it looks something like a helix. (Sorry, I didn’t warn you advanced Biology would be involved.) Once your pins are in, you need to seal your bottom cap with electrical tape.
Now the fun part! Fill your tube, about 1/4-1/3 full of a mixture of dry beans, rice, and seeds of varying sizes. Then seal your top cap with electrical tape. Don’t forget to cover the holes in the caps. I’ve seen teachers empty the contents of their tubes at a make-and-take session I was doing. I guess they were so captivated by the sound, they didn’t notice the pile they were creating on the floor! Use your packing tape to cover the outside of the tube, to keep the pins from falling out or being pulled out (not that any kids you know would be that mischievous). I find that running the packing tape down the length of the tube in two or three strips works better than wrapping it around the tube. With a flip of your wrist, you’re ready to rock!
* If you want to make individual mini tubes with the children, you can cut the shatter guard tube in halves or thirds, and prepare as above. (Putting in the pins requires too much hand strength for the children to do alone.) Then, let the children help you put in the seeds and/or beans and seal the top. Since the tube only comes with two caps, you’ll have to improvise by cutting paper or wrapping tin foil on the end, then covering it with the electrical tape to make it durable.
I have used my rain stick in a variety of ways. I’ve used it to simulate rain as I’ve talked about seeds. I have the children ball up like a seeds and then with the sun and rain (cue the rain stick), they stretch up and start to “grow”. This is also a great way to transition, having them “grow and go” when they hear the rain.
You could easily find ways to use the rain sticks when teaching about water, weather, rain, sound, or music. I made the small ones with the children after reading the book, Listen to the Rain, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. Because the children can see the items inside, you can encourage inquiry by asking questions like, “Where does the sound come from?” “Which ones get to the bottom first? Why?” How else would you, or could you, use your rain stick?
Top rain photo by Zanderalex.