As a child did you play in a fort? Was it made from a box or a blanket or in a tree? Did you make it yourself or did an adult make it for you? Was it temporary or permanent? Did it melt the next warm day?
A red cloth crawling tunnel is my first memory of a “fort”. It was my private place where my imagination could soar. It was whatever I wanted it to be. Maybe it was a castle, or a submarine, a teepee or the North Pole, my own apartment, or maybe just my own bedroom. I would pretend to be the character appropriate for the dwelling. I also remember my mom draping a blanket over a clothesline and sometimes over chairs.
Forts can be built out of various materials depending on whether the fort is just for today or to last a childhood. The simplest forts are made with blankets, pillows, sofa cushions, appliance boxes or anything you wish. Even though there will be frustrations when forts fall down and fail, and there may be fights with siblings, the benefits outweigh the detriments. Fort building exercises problem solving skills and creativity. Independent, unstructured play time is valuable for children. Some physics and logic may even be discovered.
My children had many forts inside and outside. In the winter they loved mounding snow and hollowing out their igloos and even had multiple roomed igloos with connecting tunnels. Under a blanket spread across two twin beds was a great space for playing. Stuffed animals, books and pillows pilled on the beds held the blanket in place. Playing beneath the low-hanging branches of a huge spruce tree was a favorite hide-out from which they could see out, but passers-by never looked in. Our youngest son was heartbroken when the tree was trimmed up.
My husband had the unique privilege as a child of having a three-storied tree house. The tree which held it was so large that its trunk circumference was greater than two men could reach around. Even adults are enamored with tree houses and will spend lots of money building elaborate elevated homes or just places for escaping everyday life.
Sometimes parents build forts for their children. My eldest son built a castle façade for his little girls. My brother-in-law and nephew dug a hole in their back yard. This hole was eight feet wide by eight feet long and four to five feet deep. It had a sump pump and electricity in it. A childhood neighbor built an eight foot by eight foot by six foot high fort for his sons, which was perched on two ten foot tall telephone poles. It was awesome. I recall one time when we girls were allowed to sleep in it overnight. It did not have electricity, but we had flashlights.
For our children we had an elevated platform above a covered sandbox. It had a plastic/cloth cover and a ship’s wheel from a closed Long John Silver’s restaurant. Later our youngest son slowly enclosed it. He paid for the wood for the walls and other “improvements” he eventually made. He took ownership of it. His fort became headquarters for lots of imaginative play.
Yes, fort building can be messy and maybe even costly, but endure the mess. Let them play and have mysterious adventures at home. When the siblings argue and fight, let them learn to negotiate and compromise and take turns getting the best and sharing. They aren’t just building forts they are building memories, friendships and skills for life.