All kids need a place to call their own – a spot where they make the rules and finally get a chance to be in charge – even if it's only for a brief period. Forts provide the perfect spot for that tiny taste of autonomy, as well as an opportunity for the creative, unstructured play that kids crave. Even better, building a fort together gives you and your kids a chance to bond over something fun, whether you're piling cushions and blankets on the couch to ride out a rainy day, or poring over blueprints in preparation to construct an epic tree house in the yard. Read on for ideas on crafting a little play spot that's just right for your child.
A Fort from a Kit
If your kids are fort fanatics and you're tired of having your furniture commandeered, consider investing in a fort kit. These kits include a variety of curved and straight poles – similar to those used in tents – as well as plenty of connectors to join the poles together. By combining the poles in different ways, kids can craft a number of different fort designs, from simple playhouses and castles to submarines and more. Kits allow for long-term installations for kids who tend to use their forts for an extended period, but are also relatively easy to dissamble and store when you're ready to take them down.
Some kits even come with sheets of fabric or canvas, while others require you to supply your own. Many are multi-purpose, and some come with specialty features like glow-in-the-dark connectors or princess-themed decor.
There's no easier way to build a fort than to incorporate your kitchen or dining room table. Simply clear the table and drop a tablecloth over that extends to the floor – boom – instant fort. Use whatever type of tablecloth you have on hand, or break out the sewing machine to transform a plain cloth into one designed to serve as the perfect fort cover. Consider adding windows from scrap fabric, or cutting a slit to serve as a door. You can also go all out and tailor the tablecloth to your child's interests, decorating the fort as a pirate ship, castle or candy shop. Not only is this type of fort construction relatively cheap and easy, but it's also simple to clean up – simply fold up the tablecloth and tuck it away for the next rainy day.
Blanket and Pillow Fort
The blanket and pillow combo is the classic living room fort, where parents sacrifice order for a bit of kid-friendly fun. This type of fort is a special treat for kids because it gives them a chance to break the rules, dragging pillows, blankets and chairs around the house to create the perfect hideaway. The simplest blanket forts require draping the blanket off the back of the couch and weighing it down with pillows on the corner to create a floor-level fort. For a more creative approach, why not line up the dining room chairs and throw a blanket over top to create a secret path to your couch, which requires its own blaket and pillow cover, of course. With this type of fort, anything goes, so use what you have on hand to craft the perfect secret spot for kid-friendly play.
It only takes one giant cardboard box to construct an epic playhouse; use a box cutter to carve out windows and a simple door, and let your kids go to town with markers and crayons to decorate. If your kids are older or you can't find a large enough box, join multiple boxes together to make a box fort that puts store-bought playhouses to shame.
This activity is perfect just before or after a move, when boxes are plentiful, but you can also swing by the grocery or package store to pick some up just for fort buidling. Stack smaller boxes like bricks to form walls, and unfold a larger box to create a cardboard roof. You can also unfold multiple boxes and tape them together to form a large cylinder – cut a hole for the door and throw a blanket overtop and you've got a cardboard box hideaway [source: Cassler]. Another option – unfold multiple boxes and tape them together with duct or packing tape to form walls, then let kids decorate to create castles, playhouses or even an entire town.
The classic tree fort can range from a simple wooden platform perched among the branches to a two-story marvel bigger than some homes. Depending on what you have in mind, you may be able to construct a tree fort using scraps of lumber, or you may need to hire a structural engineer to ensure your design will hold if you have something more elaborate in mind. No matter what type of tree house you build, a backyard fort provides plenty of lessons for kids, from working with their hands and safe tool use, to respecting and appreciating nature. If you have older kids, you can also incorporate them into the planning, teaching them how to use math, science and engineering to design the tree fort of their dreams. When you're ready to build, choose flexible supports and floating brackets to allow the tree to sway safely in the wind [source: The Family Handyman].
No tree? No problem. Create the same effect by constructing your fort on a simple raised platform in the yard, with a ladder or rope ladder to provide access to the fort itself.
Want to keep your kids busy in the yard without a lot of effort? A simple clothesline fort is the way to go, giving your kids a cozy place to play away from prying eyes. Simply drape a flat sheet over the clothesline and use stakes or rocks to hold down the corners, forming a pup-tent shape. Lay a tarp or blanket over the ground to keep kids dry and clean and to ensure a safe spot for playing. This minimalist spot will entertain the kids while you enjoy a backyard barbecue or get-together, and best of all, you can leave it up as long as you want – or at least until it's time to dry the laundry.
Creating a bed fort gives kids a place that's truly theirs, and also provides a bit of much-needed privacy, particularly for kids who share a room with siblings. Curtains serve as one of the easiest tools for constructing a bed fort – simply hang a curtain rod parallel to the bed so the child can pull the curtain closed for some alone time. This works especially well for beds that are tucked into an alcove, though you can always hang a second curtain at the head or foot of the bed to serve as an extra wall and close off the fort.
If you have an old hula-hoop, create an exotic bed canopy with a bit of extra fabric. Hang the hoop above the bed and drape the fabric from the hoop so that it surrounds the edges of the bed. The child can pull it closed for privacy, or leave a small opening to create a cozy hangout spot.
PVC Frame Fort
If you like the simplicity and ease of constructing forts using a kit, make your own frame using simple and affordable materials like PVC piping. Parents can cut the PVC to the desired length, and then kids can help join the pipes together to form a simple playhouse. The best part of this type of fort design is the wide selection of sizes and shapes the kids can design – the shape your fort takes is truly limited only by their imagination. Use scrap fabric or old sheets and blankets to cover your DIY frame and complete your fort.
Don't want to spend money on piping? Roll old newspapers to make your own fort frame [source: Waken]. It works similar to PVC, but costs nothing, and serves as an excellent way to recycle household materials instead of throwing them away. Encourage your kids to use plenty of layers of paper to ensure the structure is sturdy and durable.
Snow or Ice Fort
Make the most of winter with a fort constructed from snow or ice. Skip the loose, freshly fallen snow and pack slightly older snow into small boxes, plastic containers or even sand toys to make bricks from the powder. Stack your bricks to form walls then pour water over the snow to "set" it and make sure it stays in place [source: National Building Museum].
If you simply can't wait for the next big snow storm, you can also use ice to create a similar effect. Wait until the temperature outside dips below freezing, then fill plastic containers with water and allow them to freeze. Pop the ice blocks out of the containers and use them to construct your own private igloo. Increase the cool factor by adding a bit of food coloring to each block before it freezes to create a translucent, multi-hued effect [source: Davidson].
The coolest forts on the block combine play set and hideout into one outdoor element. Construct a simple wooden platform to support your structure – the fort itself may be closed in or simply a raised area were kids can gaze out over their domain – then determine how many fun ways you can add to access the fort. Consider cargo nets, rope ladders, rope swings, monkey bars or mini-rock walls that stretch to the ground. Add to the excitement with a slide, fireman's pole or even a mini zipline that let kids make quick escapes from the fort during play. Increase the wow factor by tailoring your fort playset to your child's interests – taking on the form of a pirate ship, submarine or castle for your little bucaneers, knights or princesses.
Looking for some kids crafts that also make great gifts? Check out our guide to Kids Crafts That Make Great Gifts now!
Author's Note: 10 Forts to Build With Kids
Fellow Reddit fans might recognize the ice fort mentioned in this article from a winter 2013 post on the site. Many thanks to user UnspeakableFilth for his tutorial on how he built his amazing colored ice fort. I'm waiting for temps to drop low enough in my area so I can give his idea a try!
- Cassler, Darin. "Post-Moving Fun: How to Build a Box Fort." Olympia Moving and Storage. Sept. 27, 2012. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://olympiamoving.com/2012/09/27/post-moving-fun-how-to-build-a-box-fort/
- Davidson, Jacob. "Man Braves Subzero Temperatures to Build Amazing Multicolored Ice Fort." Time. January 2014. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://newsfeed.time.com/2014/01/15/man-braves-subzero-temperatures-to-build-this-amazing-multicolored-ice-fort/
- Family Handyman, The. "Tree House – Building Tips." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.familyhandyman.com/garden-structures/tree-house-building-tips/view-all
- Howdoesshe.com. "14 Amazing Tablecloth Forts to Build With Your Kids." October 2014. (24 November 2014) http://www.howdoesshe.com/14-tablecloth-forts-to-build-with-your-kids/
- Inhabitots.com. "Gallery: 10 DIY Indoor Forts and Play Spaces." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.inhabitots.com/10-diy-indoor-forts-play-spaces/0207_sunset_farmhouse1_l/?extend=1
- National Building Museum. "Buildings Made of Snow." (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.nbm.org/about-us/national-building-museum-online/buildings-made-of-snow.html
- Waken, Allison. "Newspaper Forts." Crafts For Kids, PBSParents.org. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.pbs.org/parents/crafts-for-kids/forts-for-kids/
- Walker Davies, Sally. "5 Tips for Building the Ultimate Snow Fort." Popular Mechanics. Feb. 11, 2014. (Nov. 24, 2014) http://www.popularmechanics.com/outdoors/recreation/5-tips-for-building-the-ultimate-snow-fort-16479111