Building Fairy Houses Promotes Learning, Creative-Free Play & Citizen Science

Building Fairy Houses Promotes Learning, Creative-Free Play & Citizen Science

By Andrea Caluori-Rivera
MassLIFT AmeriCorps Member at Hilltown Land Trust & Kestrel Land Trust

A few weeks ago kids gathered at Hilltown Land Trust’s Bradley Sanctuary in Williamsburg to explore the woods and build fairy houses for future trail visitors to see.

The task was simple: head out into the woods, collect items, choose a spot and start building.  Two hours later, the entrance to Bradley’s woods featured creative structures leaning against tree trunks, hiding behind rocks, or settled right on the trail.  Each house was unique and showed an innovative use of materials: sticks, acorn caps, fallen leaves, moss, lichen, birch bark and more.  While we were out collecting materials, we came across salamanders, heard birds, and observed the different textures and colors nature offered to help us create our little structures.  It was a great way to spend a Saturday morning and wonderful activity that fosters skills such as teambuilding, creative play, engineering, design and citizen science. Hilltown Land Trust’s Bradley Sanctuary is open to the public and available for you and your family to build your own simple fairy houses! Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Fairies Gather Here

Fairy Summer

There’s a magic to childhood, especially early childhood. Developmentally, I’m told, it’ll last another year, two tops. Yet I don’t want my son to lose his belief in magic. I (want to) believe in fairies. I want my son to stay open to that which he cannot see.

What did Dwagon do today?

My son prompts our bedtime story, then leaves the telling to me. Blurring the line between real and imaginary, I spin an improvised tale of a magical dragon who lives in the Holyoke Range. Dragon often finds himself in similar situations to my guy, with similar fears and worries.

Given our nightly sojourns with his magical friend, I’m surprised by my kiddo’s early summer assertion that fairies aren’t real. He turned to me for confirmation,

Wight, Mama?

Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I was relieved when he accepted this at face value, then gladly helped his human playmate build a fairy house. Later that day, he constructed more under our lilac bush.


It took a while to find my stash of confetti hearts that night. A few sprinkled around the entrance seemed enough to create the intended effect.

The next morning, I lingered at the sink, watching out the window. A perfect vantage to observe his discovery.  Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Great Day for Snow Play!

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Go Out in the Snow a Bit Each Day!

It’s a great day to get out into the snow!  Just add kids and go!  But before you head out, prepare so as to optimize the fun! Set up a healthy snack for the kids to energize and hydrate, then have them take a bathroom break BEFORE getting dressed in their winter gear. While they eat, gather up the warm clothes by the door. Layers. No cotton. Wool and other fibers are warmer. Long underwear. Turtlenecks. Sweaters. Snow pants. Snow jacket. Warm socks. Waterproof boots. Winter hats. Warm mittens you can tuck up into the jacket sleeves. And extra mittens to swap out when the first pair gets wet. When its really cold, add a neck warmer and leg warmers. Cover all the skin you can in layers. Then open the door and let ’em out… and the kids will just play!

Snow has a magic effect. There are the traditional snowy day activities. Sledding. Slipping and sliding on patches of ice. Climbing snow hills. Building a snow person. Walking through the drifts. A snowball fight. Constructing a snow fort or igloo. Making snow angels. For variety, as the winter lingers on, present some other options.

  • Paint Snow: Fill spray or squirt bottles with water and food coloring to paint in the snow (Avoid spraying each other as food coloring can stain.).
  • Build Winter Fairy Houses: Build mini houses with icicles for walls. They can be houses for snow fairies similar to summer time fairy stick houses.
  • Make Mini Snow People: Use snowballs and tiny foods like raisins and nuts for faces and toothpicks for arms for mini snow people.
  • Blow Bubbles: Blow bubbles on a cold, cold day. They freeze.
  • Hula Hoop: Have a hula hoop contest dressed in all those layers.
  • Flashlight Tag: It gets dark early, so consider a game of flashlight tag before dinner.
  • Box Sled: Use a cardboard box or trash can lid for a sled.
  • Tracking: Go on a hunt for animal tracks in the snow.
  • Indoor Snow Bin: IF it gets too cold outside, bring a plastic bin of snow inside to play. Add a few action figures, toy trees and some ice cubes or sugar cubes for building and pretend to have a tiny winter landscape inside.

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Enjoy the season!

January Collections

We are always collecting and saving items in bins and on shelves for creative projects. This month add a few things to enhance snow play:

  • spray or squirt bottles
  • food coloring
  • flattened cardboard boxes and large trash can lids make great sleds
  • traditional summer playthings like bubbles or a hula hoop
  • large plastic bin to bring snow inside

Related Post: 9 Resources for Surviving & Thriving the Winter in Western Massachusetts


Carrie St. JohnCarrie St. John

Carrie was born, raised and attended university in Michigan. As a child she rode bikes and explored her rural neighborhood freely with siblings and neighbor kids. Mom and Dad never worried. The kids always made it home after hours wading in the creek and climbing trees in the woods. After college she moved to Kyoto, Japan to study traditional Japanese woodblock printing. In 1995, she began a career at a small Chicago firm designing maps and information graphics. Life brought a move to Northampton in 2001. Carrie completed her MFA at UMass in 2004. Her little love, Sophia, was born in 2005. The two live in downtown Northampton where they constantly make things, look forward to morning walks to school and plan each spring for additions to their plot at the community garden. Carrie is a licensed family care provider and continues to do freelance work for clients in Chicago.

Little Homes for Little Folks: Make Your Own Gnome Home

Little Homes for Little Folks
By Alethea Morrison of North Adams, MA

(Photo credits: Mars Vilaubi)

As a child, I would try to make gnome houses out of twigs and moss, always with rather disappointing results, but one of the best things about being a parent is getting to relive parts of your childhood with the skills of an adult. The opportunity to try my hand again at building a miniature house presented itself when our favorite neighbor cleared some trees in the woods. My son Xavier was distressed for the scores of Bwidgewits who were surely displaced. We sprang into action, building a lodge for them out of scrap bricks and slate and covering it with moss. It wasn’t half bad for a first effort.

Then I discovered the Storey book Nature’s Art Box, which has projects for crafting things from natural materials, including directions for some little houses made from bark and twigs and moss. This was going to be a dream come true for me. At the first blush of spring, my son and I collected materials, then dried the soggy wood in the garage for a few weeks. When it was ready, we assembled our toolbox, including the secret weapon not available to me as a kid — a hot glue gun.

  • The first step was to cut the walls. The directions indicated garden clippers should be used, but my bark was pretty thick, and I ended up using a bow saw.
  • Then I used my friend the glue gun to bind the walls together. Bark doesn’t have very straight edges, so for a greater area of contact, I taped the joints using thin sheets of birch bark.
  • Twigs, also hot-glued for adhesion, make a roof.
  • A carpet of moss over the roof makes it look so much homier.
  • The pine-cone chimney was Xavier’s idea and, in my opinion, was a stroke of genius.
  • The moss door makes the house Greyling-proof, since they are afraid of moss and other lovely things.
  • We added a pine-cone door knob, too.
  • Xavier wanted the door to be able to swing open, which I thought was a pretty tall order, but the moss was already attached to thin, flexible bark, and it wasn’t so hard after all.
  • Nature’s Art Box also had directions for some miniature furnishings, which we made to fit into the house.

Within a week, we were very gratified to see a bunny come to visit the house and whisper through the walls to the Bwidgewits. Was he soliciting advice and protection, passing along gossip, or maybe just asking permission to eat the hay we lay in front of the little house over new grass seed? If only we knew.


Alethea Morrison is the Creative Director for Storey Publishing, a local publisher based out of North Adams, MA.  Storey has been publishing wonderful how-to books on do-it-yourself titles that are down-to-earth and always inspiring for over 25 years!  Topics range from gardening, cooking, crafts, nature science, animal care, farming, traditional skills and home improvement.  Read Alethea’s other blog posts at Inside Storey, the online community of Storey Publishing.

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