Let’s Play: Indoor Forts Inspiring Creative Free Play

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Pop-Up Forts

We celebrate Christmas with our extended family which means we pack suitcases, ship gifts and fly off to Grandma’s in Michigan the morning after school is out for winter break. This also means the break offers little down time for us, so I declare the weeks of December as our free time. We limit holiday gatherings and play dates to one a week. We say, “No way!” to the mall crowd. We carve out more time at home. We make time to sled, if the snow falls. There is definitely time to make a batch or two of our favorite holiday cookies. We have time to just be. We make sure to wander through downtown after dark to enjoy the people, lights and an ice cream at Herrell’s on a cold night. No rushing about… Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Play: Special Places

What to Play? by Carrie St. John

Clubhouses, Forts, Tents & Hideouts

Two summers ago Forbes Library in Northampton had this incredible wooden house on the front lawn just outside the Children’s Department. The installation was called “Little House to Honor a Request for Poems: A Traveling Writing Hut” and was installed by Plainfield, MA artists/husband/wife team, Gene and Susan Flores. Visitors were encouraged to go in, hide out and write or draw a little something to hang up and share. We made repeat visits over the summer. It was just steps from West Street and the busy intersection at Rt 9 but entering inside transported us to a secret, special place. The size was perfect. The walls were made of horizontal wood slats alternating with branches. Sunlight and shadows made stripes on the floor. You could see out and pedestrians could catch glimpses inside. There was a desk with pencils and paper and a stool facing the entry. Simple furnishings. We talked about that little house for months.

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Visiting that house put us on a search for the perfect playhouse. My daughter is always searching for a space of her own to hide out with friends, play out of adult ear shot, read books or draw secretly. Some days that three foot space at the end of the couch hidden in the corner is just perfect. Other days she hides out under the dining room table she asks to have covered with blankets, or she disappears up onto her bunk bed. Last year we added a fabric tent cover over the bed to make a bed cave. The idea of that wooden house at the library kept coming back. Last winter I called my construction minded older brother (He built his own house 20 years ago.) and we made plans over the phone. We have this 4×4 space in the playroom nestled between 2 closets. My dad and I built a free standing loft for my college dorm. I understood the basics. My brother checked and re-checked for safety. “Make sure she can jump up and down without it moving an inch.” That 4×4 space became our indoor, two-level clubhouse complete with trap door. Finally, her own little wooden house.

Summer came and my daughter was seeking that same secret space in the garden. We had been to the North Amherst Community Farm to take a Compost Worms for Kids class. During the break they encouraged kids to explore their children’s garden. The outdoor teepee covered in flowering vines was everyone’s first stop. I put my thinking cap back on for the prefect outdoor playhouse. This spring I made her a teepee from bamboo poles and twine. She asked to plant peas, green beans and flowers. I added in a clematis vine to fill in a shady area over the next few summers. A neighbor offered a tree stump from the October storm for a seat. We did it. The outdoor clubhouse was complete.

This need for a space of her own is strong at our house. I understand. I had this same feeling as a kid. My brother and I would walk back to the woods behind our house to look for spaces to set up camp. I would climb the giant pine trees behind the house to disappear at times. Kids need their own space to be kids. Why not encourage it? My daughter can disappear into her space after a big day at school and pop out 20 minutes later refreshed and ready to go. She fills her clubhouse with favorite toys, books and drawings. There are imaginary games, elaborate toy setups and simple down time. I only go in when invited or to hand off snacks. Whether a temporary blanket tent or a more permanent structure, it is just HER space to play!  Read the rest of this entry »

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