Fort Kit!

This morning we revealed our Twelfth Night present to the girls—an upgrade in the DIY fort kit Rebecca had brilliantly concocted for them a few years back. An expansion pack, if you will, on a previous roaring success.

They did not immediately give their delighted “ooh ooh ooh!” reaction that they are so good at, which is not surprising given that it was “just” a reboot, and came at the end of the holiday season. And yet, what matters more is that a few minutes later they were climbing all over the dining room, hanging rope, testing suction cups, and demanding that I fetch even more clothespins, and then got teary as we tried to peel them away to get to school on time.

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Industrious fort building, poorly documented

A DIY fort kit is a great way to give a gift that inspires creativity, free play, and civil engineering practice. And it can be really cheap.

Want to build your own? Here are the essential components:

Fabric

Go for a variety of sizes, but all pretty large. You can always supplement from your active linen closet, but it’s fun for kids to have stuff that’s specific to fort building and that reduces any tension on your part about how the stuff is used. Search your drawers, attic, free stuff listservs, or thrift stores for some combination of old and colorful:

  • Sheets, light-weight blankets, tablecloths, etc. (If storage space will be an issue, skip the blankets.)
  • Large scarves (or even one or two small ones for “windows” and little gaps)
  • Curtains (the kind with lots of loops on top are a particularly great find because they can tie on to rope without any clips)
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Curtain with top loops making a dividing wall.

Building Basics

  • Clothesline (at least a couple sections of 20-50 feet. Lightest weight generally fine.)
  • Bungee cords (go for not super strong ones. Dollar store!)
  • Clothespins (lots!)

Also Fun

  • Swimming noodles as bendy structural elements.
  • Those velcro straps for keeping your cords neat
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Velcro straps providing purchase for clothespins on a swim noodle
  • Binder clips, rubber bands, hair elastics, or unused loops from those potholder loom kits.
  • Suction cups with hooks (You might want to test these out before handing them over—cheap ones often won’t hold, or might damage furniture. On the other hand, good ones greatly expand the range of attach points and might allow you to more easily redirect builders away from places they shouldn’t tie rope to.)
  • Tent fly (a good way to recycle part of a busted or no-longer-waterproof tent)
  • Non-slip pads (as would go under a rug)

Container: A picnic basket, market basket, dedicated laundry b2016-01-06 12.14.54asket, or plastic storage tub would all work nicely. A basic kit doesn’t require a huge container; for while we had ours stuffed in a cloth Winnie-the-Pooh honey pot from goodness-knows-where, and it fit easily on a bookshelf/toy shelf.

***

Fair warning: For best results, anticipate requests to (a) eat in the forts (b) sleep in the forts (c) leave the forts up forever. With (b), we’ve found the best approach is to say “OK, but you need to go to bed a little early, and if you have trouble falling asleep, then you’ll have to move to your bed.” Without the power struggle, they inevitably find that it’s not as cozy as they expected and move into the bed.

Happy building! Add your tips in the comments!

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Earlier fort kit. So little!

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